Oct. 11, 2001
By Jack Williams – Georgia Tech’s Greg Gathers knows all about football on both sides of the ball. He used to run for touchdowns when he played tailback in junior high school. Now the guy, at defensive end, keeps busy scoring a perfect 10 in another phase of the game.
Make that a whole lot of 10s, 10-yard losses to be exact.
“In some ways, a quarterback sack is just as important as a touchdown,” Gathers said this week. “The sack is a momentum changer, a play that turns games around every week. It’s the most exciting play in football to me.”
A junior from La Place, La, Gathers knows a thing or two about quarterback sacks. In two and a half years on the Tech squad, he has recorded 28 sacks and needs just two more to become the school’s all-time sack leader.
Only all-American Coleman Rudolph ranks ahead of Gathers. Rudolph recorded 28.5 sacks in his Yellow Jacket career. Gathers also is on the verge of setting a new Tech mark in the tackle-for-losses category. He has 51 and is just one behind Rudolph.
Gathers takes a shot at both records Saturday afternoon when Tech plays host to NC State for its Homecoming celebration in a key Atlantic Coast Conference game. The contest is set for 3:30 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field will be regionally televised by ABC.
“If I should get the record, it will be very meaningful for me,” Gathers said, “because of the great Tech players who have come before me. We’ve had so many outstanding defensive players here who went on to star in the NFL.
“At the same time, however, let me say that winning the ACC championship is THE most important thing. If I had 40 sacks or 50 and we didn’t reach our goal of winning the ACC, then it would be a dismal year.”
Gathers says rushing the passer always has been his football strong suit. “When I’m out there, I have a hunger to get to the quarterback,” he says. “It gives me great satisfaction to get a sack and give my teammates a lift.”
Tech head coach George O’Leary thinks Gathers excels because of one very special asset. “Greg is a smart football player,” the coach says. “He picks up things very well and football is very important to him. Actually, he can play the run as well as the pass.
“I don’t think Greg is going to win a 40-yard dash, but he has great quickness. The other thing is he has good hand strength and he has great flexibility.”
Gathers learned his trade well by watching some of the best sack-men in NFL history. “Lately, I watched Marco Coleman of the Redskins probably more than any other player,” he said. “Some of my other favorites have been Lawrence Taylor, Bruce Smith and Warren Sapp.”
At 6-1 and 260 pounds, Gathers is not nearly as tall as some of those stars he so admires. But size never has proved a problem.
“Greg understands leverage very well and uses his height to his advantage rather than letting it be a disadvantage,” says Ted Roof, Tech’s defensive coordinator. “Greg uses his hands real well and that allows him to get off blocks and make plays.”
Tech now has suffered two heartbreaking ACC losses in overtime. “In the first one against Clemson, we had such a long layoff before that game, I think our defensive team was out of sync,”Gathers said. “We did not have our usual swagger. But I give credit to the Clemson quarterback (Woodrow Dantzler). He played a terrific game. If I had to vote for someone on an opposing team for the Heisman Trophy, I would vote for him.”
The Tech defense bounced back to play well in a win at Duke and also did a good job, for the most part, in the tough loss to Maryland.
The Tech end thinks the Jacket defense still has room for much improvement. “We have some wrinkles that need to be ironed out,” he said, “and we have some key defenders out with injuries. That means others, including myself, need to step up.”
The Tech end thinks the Jacket defense recovered somewhat in last week’s win over Duke. “We still have some wrinkles that need to be ironed out,” he said, “and we have some key defenders out with injuries. That means others, including myself, need to step up.”
Gathers played extremely well at Duke and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week.
In his hometown just outside New Orleans, Gathers began his football career in Little League circles playing offensive tackle and guard. Then he was a tailback in junior high.
“When I went out for the high school team (East St. John’s) as a linebacker, the coach told me I would get on the field quicker as a down lineman,” he said. “So I moved to tackle and then to end. The move to the line actually was the best thing that has happened to me in football.”
One of Gather’s high school teammates was Kerry Watkins, red-shirt junior wide receiver on the current Tech squad. “We played together for two years at La Place,” Gathers said. “Our team had a 10-2 record when I was a junior and Kerry was a senior.”
Gathers also played basketball early in his high school career and threw the shot put for the track and field team. “But when I got to be a senior, I devoted all my sports time to football,” he says.
When his high school career drew to a close, Gathers was heavily recruited by colleges. “I guess maybe 20 or 25 schools recruited me,” he said. “I strongly considered Florida. LSU came on really strong near the end. But I liked Tech when I visited here. I knew this was a school with strong academics and I also liked the fact that the big city of Atlanta offers many opportunities.”
The Jacket end majors in management.
Gathers was named to the pre-season watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Award, given each year to the nation’s top linebacker or lineman. He has lived up to his notice, and then some. His five-game statistics for this season are of the block-buster variety. He ranks fourth on the Tech team with 25 total tackles and almost half of them (12) have been behind the line of scrimmage. He has seven quarterback sacks.
And the guy’s just getting warmed up. Georgia Tech’s sack-man, as usual, is on the prowl.