| Gathers sacks Navy QB Brian Broadwater|
during Tech’s 40-13 victory Saturday.
ATLANTA – In this age of college football, it is rare that a player can come into a program and play on a regular basis as a true freshman, much less start a game during their first year on campus. Despite that trend, Georgia Tech sophomore defensive end Greg Gathers did just that a year ago, becoming one of the anchors of a young Yellow Jacket defensive front.
The LaPlace, La., native came to Tech knowing that he had the tools necessary to make an impact for the Yellow Jackets, but never expected to start every game of his freshman season on the Flats.
“I didn’t think I’d come in and start right away,” said Gathers, whose Yellow Jacket team visits NC State in a nationally televised game (ESPN) at 8 p.m. Thursday. “I did have a feeling that I would come in and play early on. We had a lot of guys that had seen playing time but hadn’t started, and I knew I would have an equal opportunity to start.”
Gathers made the most of his opportunity, recording 71 tackles on the year, including 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Both his sack and TFL totals were good enough to lead the team a year ago.
The immediate insertion into a young defensive group of a year ago has put Gathers in the rather unique position of being looked to as a leader on the defensive side of the ball despite being only a sophomore this year. While some players may see that added responsibility as a burden, Gathers truly has embraced the role and does not feel that only being a second-year player should matter.
“Since I came in and started immediately, I haven’t really had a chance to think about being ‘just a freshman,’ or ‘just a sophomore,'” said Gathers. “That was something that I had to deal with in high school as well. As a sophomore, I played behind a USA Today prep All-American and I felt that I was just as good as he was. But, the fact that he was a senior and I was a sophomore made me have to sit and wait for my turn. Now I don’t look at it that way, I play as many snaps as anyone else, and have to be one of the leaders out there.”
While Gathers’ statistics indicate that he is a good fit for the role of defensive end, a number of other schools didn’t see it that way while recruiting him out of East St. John’s High School. His size was questioned on a number of occasions, as coaches felt that he would be too small to compete at the end position, and passed on offering him a scholarship. Gathers, however, never felt that his size was a detriment to his ability to play on the defensive line at the Division I level.
“I’m not the average size for a defensive end, I’m listed at 6-1, but I’m actually only about 6 feet tall,” admits Gathers. “All during the recruiting process, people talked about my height and that they were looking for people that were 6-3 or 6-4 and 260 pounds. I never let that get me down and I looked at people like Corey Moore, who was only about 5-11, 230 pounds and I said I can be just as good as anyone else. That was one thing about Tech, they told me not to worry about how tall I was or how much I weighed, as long as I came in and made plays, that’s what matters.”
It is that enthusiasm and desire to succeed that Gathers feels has rejuvenated the Yellow Jacket defensive unit at the start of the 2000 season. Along with that, Gathers sees improved talent, albeit young, contributing to Tech’s success on the defensive side of the ball this fall.
“We recruited some very athletic linebackers and the defensive linemen all got stronger during the off-season,” said Gathers. “Recardo Wimbush, Jeremy Muyres and I were all freshmen last year and now we’re more confident than we were last year. We know that we can stop people on any given Saturday, plus we have the leadership of Chris Young, Recardo and myself, along with Felipe Claybrooks.”
Avoiding the sophomore slump in 2000 has not been a problem for Gathers, as he has continued his solid play up front for the Tech defense. Perhaps his best outing of the young season came on Saturday against Navy, as he recorded six tackles, including three for losses, one sack and forced a fumble which he returned for his first touchdown as a Yellow Jacket. Perhaps it was Gathers that was the least surprised by his scoring jaunt in the third quarter to give Tech a 27-6 lead en route to a 40-13 win.
“Before the game when I was in bed, I thought it would be nice if I could pick up a fumble in the game,” recalls Gathers. “I pictured myself making an interception for some reason, but I was saying to my self that it would be nice if I was able to return one for a touchdown. I saw the ball pop loose and I pursued it like were are taught to do in practice, and I was just able to pick it up and take it in.”
While Gathers may not be clairvoyant in seeing his defensive exploits in his dreams, his play and that of the entire Tech defense are major reasons that the Yellow Jackets find themselves at 2-1 entering Thursday’s game, and will be looking for even further improvement as the 2000 season progresses.