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Georgia Tech Weekly Football Press Conference

Oct. 17, 2006

HEAD COACH Chan Gailey

On Calvin Johnson’s game against Clemson two years ago?

“I don’t think I was that surprised by what happened in that game, because I’d been on the practice field with him. It was a time when, maybe, everybody else realized what he was capable of and what he was going to be, but it didn’t surprise me or any of the other coaches.”

Did the bye week come at a good time as it turns out?

“Since it came here, it was the perfect time (laughter in the room). You spend more time on Clemson. You take time with guys that are a little banged up and try to get them well. You do the best you can to prepare. It really has been a fortunate situation. And with no school yesterday and today (Tech had its fall break), we’ve been able to spend some time with them, and that helps tremendously.”

How is your team health-wise?

“We’re okay. We’re not 100 percent. We’ve got some guys who have some things nagging, and we’ll continue to rehab them and get them ready. We’re not 100 percent, but we’re fairly close. For mid-year, we’re not bad.”

What stands out from the Tech game and Calvin’s performance at Clemson two years ago?

“All of it, from the first catch where he ran behind the guy and came out of no where to catch the ball. Then the one in the corner of the end zone. Everyone remembers the last play, but there were a lot of things in that ball game that were big.”

Did that game speak as much for Reggie as it did Calvin?

“We picked out Calvin because it was the first time people recognized him and noticed him as a glimpse of what was to come. I think it was more a testament to our whole football team, nobody giving up. The word we used that week was perseverance. We realized we were going to have to persevere to win that ball game. The guys did. They never gave up. The defense did an unbelievable job on second-and-one at the end of the game. Yeah, it was Reggie. Yeah, it was Calvin. But it was a bunch of other people, too.”

You go back 10 or 12 years and all but one or two games have been decided by six points or less. Do you know going into this game that it’s likely going down to the last game or last series?

“That’s the way you anticipate it happening. They probably expect it to go down to the wire, too. I think we both feel that way.”

On the challenge of facing their offense, which has been very successful running the ball.

“They’re a very physical running team. Their offensive line and tight end are doing an unbelievable job of blocking. They create problems for you because they run the ball so well, and that’s really helped their passing game and a new quarterback. They’ve got three guys who can run the football. It’s a challenge for our defense to try and stop their running game.”

How much has Chansi Stuckey meant to them?

“Stuckey’s a great player. He makes things happen on the reverse, on the quick screen, down the field in the middle. He makes things happen in a lot of different ways. That’s why he’s valuable. He’s not one-dimensional. A guy like that in your offense helps your quarterback, your running game, a lot of things.”

How has Reggie handled his highs and lows and being in the spotlight for a long time?

“In the second game of his collegiate career, he was carried off the field on the shoulders of the student body, and they were chanting `Reggie, Reggie, Reggie.’ Where do you go from there? That’s awfully hard to be able to handle that as an 18-year-old. That’s hard to handle as a 28-year-old or a 38-year-old, much less an 18-year-old. It’s not been easy for him. But he’s learned a lot and handled things well through the years. He’s such a great competitor, and I’m pleased that he’s having a good year this year. He just needs to keep going.”

He seems to mirror the way the team goes. Is he, in many ways, the pulse of the team?

“I think it’s more the quarterback position. The quarterback position in the game today does that. Every now and then, you run across a situation where the quarterback position doesn’t have a big influence on where a team is, but for the most part, that’s the way the game is today. I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just saying that’s the way it is.”

Is there an example of something that stands out for you about Reggie’s development?

“I think there are a lot of reasons, not just him being a four-year starter, though that’s part of it. We’ve got experienced players at every other position for the first time in his career. The offense that Coach (Patrick) Nix has put in and done a great job with probably fits him very well, and he feels very comfortable doing it. So, I think there are a lot of plusses that are playing into him having the type of year he’s had thus far.”

On Clemson running the football to power its offense.

“They are epitomizing the old coaching adage of putting people in position to be successful. Their taking their players and allowing them to do what they do best. That offensive line – allowing them to do what they do best. That quarterback – putting him in position to be successful. Don’t ask him to do something he can’t do … yet. They’ve got great runners; use them. They’ve got Chansi Stuckey; use him. They’ve got Aaron Kelly; use him. It’s been very impressive to watch them morph into what they are today from where they were.”

On putting together the present run of five wins. Is there a different mindset that has prevented (so far) the stumbles that occurred in past years?

“I don’t know. If I knew, I would have fixed it a long time ago. I wouldn’t have waited until this year to do it. I don’t think you ever put your finger on things like that. You go prepare your best each week and see what happens. That other team is doing the same thing. They’re preparing their best that week and hoping to win one. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Was the atmosphere in Blacksburg the closest thing you have seen to what you’ll face this week, and did that experience make you more ready?

“Auburn was pretty raucous. Clemson up there two years ago was pretty nasty. There are a lot of tough places to play. You can go to NC State, and it’ll be tough. There are a lot of places that can be tough.”

Do your players handle that as well as anybody does?

“I think so. I think they go out and play their game. They don’t get intimidated by anything. They have a great deal of respect, but I don’t think they’re intimidated whatsoever.”

On Clemson’s defense overcoming key injuries.

“They may have had some injuries, but I don’t think they’ve missed a beat. They play with a lot of speed. They rotate a lot of defensive linemen through there. Clay has moved into the middle now and is going sideline to sideline. They’re doing an excellent job on defense. They’re playing typical Clemson defense to me. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in years past. They’re a very good defensive football team.”

Can you figure out what the computers (rankings) have against your football team (Tech is ranked 19th in the BCS rankings)?

“I think I’ll sleep okay (laughter ensues). If that was my biggest problem, I wouldn’t have any problems.”

On Tech defensive end Michael Johnson’s two plays at the end of the Maryland game.

“(It was a) tremendous confidence builder. He always plays hard. It’s not going to up his level of play. But it’s going to allow him to play with more confidence, and his production and his confidence had probably taken a step up. He’s a great player that we can now put in the ball game in certain situations and expect him to be able to handle his side of the field. He’s just a sophomore.”

What does it say that the four highest-rated teams in the ACC do not include Miami, Florida State or Virginia Tech?

“Any year in the ACC, anybody can step up. That’s what it probably shows. I think most of the coaches realize that you’d better be ready to play every week. You can’t take a week off, because there’s somebody waiting there ready to move up a notch. This is a pretty strong conference, in my opinion, top to bottom.”

Have we seen the last of having one or two schools dominate the conference?

“It would be difficult for one team to remain at the top year after year in this conference.”

What has Calvin Johnson done this year that has made him better?

“He understands coverages better. He understands where people are in the zones, and where the creases are … the few times he sees zone. He’s done a good job of running with the football after the catch. That’s something he’s always been able to do, but he’s had more opportunities and made more big plays that way this year.”

How much of Calvin’s statistical numbers this year is his improvement, how much is Reggie’s improvement, and how much is placing more emphasis on getting him the ball?

“You could say a little bit of all that. Patrick Nix has done a great job of coming up with some new and better ideas to get him involved in the offense. It’s a little bit of all that.”

GEORGIA TECH PLAYER QUOTES

Calvin Johnson, WR

On playing at Clemson – “It’s going to be a real hostile environment the whole game and they have some of the best fans. I have fun playing there. It’s always a tough game, playing there.”

On something that stands out in his mind from up there – “(Making) the game-winning catch. If I see it on TV, but I don’t just go and look at it.

On watching other receivers – “Other then watching my teammates on film, I really can’t say that I watch other receivers. I really pay attention to the defense when I’m watching film or just watching a game on TV. I watch what their effect on the DB (defensive back), if they get up on their route like I do.”

On what has been the biggest improvement for him – “I’m doing a better job on my route running. Getting myself wide open, maneuvering the DB without touching him to where I want him to be at.”

On Reggie Ball’s development – “Every year he has taken steps. This year you can definitely see how many steps he has taken with our record and the success of our offense right now. He has taken control of the offense out there, whether it is practice or the game. He is a whole different player.”

On living up to people’s expectations – “For me it’s not hard, I have my own expectations. I don’t worry about what everybody else’s expectations are. I only need to worry about what I expect out of myself.”

On being discussed for the Heisman Trophy – “It’s always an honor. It’s nothing that I came into the season trying to accomplish. I don’t talk about it, but when I hear it I really don’t think about it too much because I am trying to focus on what I need to do to help us win the next game.”

On why wide receivers don’t usually win the Heisman Trophy – “The more you have the ball in your hand, the better chance you have of winning it.

On the team succeeding in hostile environments – “We just always figure to be the underdog. But we know that we are just as good as the next team. That’s just the way I see it. We have all the talent in the world on this team, so I feel we are just as good as the next.”

On the team’s confidence – “You have to be confident. We have beaten these teams before that we have left on our track this year. We are real confident that we can go out there and win the rest of these games left as long as we go out there and work real hard in practice.”

On what this season could be for Tech – “I think about it all the time. There are two or three big games we have left, all of them are big, but there are several big ones that are going to tell whether we make it to Jacksonville or not. But I’m still focused on this game right here, and the next one after that, but you still think about those games that you have to get under your belt to make it there.”

On the team being more consistent this year – “It’s all in practice. In the past few years we would come off a big game and would not have such a big game the next weekend. This year coaches are not letting us have any lackluster practices, and we are making sure that we practice hard every day and get after it.”

On jumping to the NFL – “I’m just trying to get a degree from Georgia Tech. That’s why I came here, and that’s what I am going to do.”

On agents contacting him – “They call, but if I don’t have a number in my phone, then I know it’s somebody that I don’t need to be talking to. They send stuff, but I just forward that to my folks.”

On what made him decided to be a wideout – “I really did not like basketball, so I quit that in ninth grade. Baseball is what I played all my life, and that is what I wanted to be all my life. But then I started playing football and saw all the attention I was getting and I stuck with that.”

“I played running back and cornerback in middle school, because I did not hit my growth spurt until high school, and then I played receiver.”

On playing baseball – “I played since I was six years old. I was pretty good at it. Football became my focus in high school. I played center field. When I decided to play football here at Tech, the baseball coach here (Danny Hall) wanted me to play, and I talked to him but told him that I was not going to play because I needed some free time.”

On the Clemson game two years ago changing the way people look at him – “That was my coming out. That’s when everybody learned about me. It was a big game for me and it gave me some publicity.”

On his parents’ role in his life – “My mom was a real disciplinarian. My dad was cool and all. Both of them were cool, but my dad was more laid back.”

On his mother earning her PhD (Education) – “She had been working towards that for a long time, so it’s a great compliment for her, and I am very happy for her.”

On playing through his leg injury and coming up with big games despite it – “Basically once your adrenaline starts rushing it really does not bother you until later in the game. After the game gets started, it’s a factor, but not too much.”

Joe Anoai, DE

On being more consistent this year – “I’d say the depth of our team as well as the experience. We have been there and done that, we’ve learned from it. We hear what people say about us when we win a big game and then lose a game we probably shouldn’t have. I would say more focus as a whole team in order to get the job done to get to where we want to be.”

On winning the big games – “I think that goes to show for our coaches and the way they prepare us. They explain how the crowd is going to be, especially from the older players that have been there. We tell the younger guys on how it’s going to be and pretty much you are their enemy and they don’t like you when you go up there. The last thing they want to see is an opposing team come into their house and beat their team. We understand how it’s going to be up there (Clemson). It’s going to be a very hostile environment, and if we are not ready, it’s our own fault.”

On where this game ranks compared to others – “It’s pretty similar to the Virginia Tech game. It goes to show for all our conference games. A lot of people talk about our league being down, but it’s like the SEC, when you play tight competition week in and week out, players get banged up. If you don’t come with your mind right week in and week out, you are going to lose in this conference.”

On the game two years ago in Clemson and what stands out – “Being a defensive player, I would say the play right before the punt. We held on third and fourth down when they needed no more than a yard in order to get the first down and take over the game. I would say the perseverance which showed the character of this team. Like Maryland two weeks ago, we don’t give up.”

On the stretch ahead – “It’s not hard mentally at all. When you play a team like Clemson, and if you get the job done, then you know what to expect going into another big game against Miami. The downfall is physically. We know that there is going to be a lot of hitting going on, and it’s going to be a very physical game. They have huge guys that can run and we know that we are going to be pretty sore after this game. Hopefully we can go in there, achieve our goal, and get out of there healthy.”

On Clemson’s ground attack – “I don’t think it compares to anything statistically. They lead the nation in rushing, and they are up in the top three in points scored. It’s a great challenge. They have a huge offensive line, guys that can run, guys that can read blocks well and get into the secondary and make people miss. Then again, we do a pretty good job in stopping the run, and if we come to play, we should put our team in a pretty good position to win the ball game.”

On the biggest challenge Tech has faced on the ground – “I think we have done a better job this year. Virginia in my freshman, sophomore and junior year it seemed like they were doing something that we just could not stop. They had a great offensive line for the past four years and I think they had the upper hand on what they were doing and how they were executing. That was definitely the best running game that we have faced in my opinion.”

On Clemson possessing that type of ground game – “They are more of a spread type offense. They like to run zone schemes a lot, but in their own right they have big bodies they can move very fast, so they do a good job at what they do.”

On trying to offset that advantage – “I like to play with speed. Unless they are a 350-pounder, I usually don’t have too much trouble with playing with the bigger guy. I am pretty strong myself, but I think as a whole if we can play with speed, we can penetrate their line and hopefully win the line of scrimmage battle.”

On Calvin Johnson – “I am not really amazed by him any more, I have seen it all from him. He is the type of player that as I say this, he might show us something new in this game. That’s the type of player that he is. I’m just glad to see that it’s finally coming together for him. For the type of talent he is, it’s expected to see him put up the numbers that he’s putting up right now, and I’m just glad it’s happening my senior year.”

On Reggie Ball’s improvement – “I don’t know if impressive is the right word. It’s expected. I know the guy, he’s my friend. If we did not play football, I would still hang out with him. He’s a big time person, not only in football, but in life in general. He’s worked his butt off all year, he had the best offseason since we’ve been here, and he deserves to win. He’s earned everything that’s coming his way right now.”

On him trying to prove something this year – “I think we all do as well as he does. I think we all do as a team. Any team that isn’t ranked, or taken as serious as they want to be. Every team wants to be in the position that Ohio State is in right now, that USC has been in for the past three years. Everybody wants to be there and until you get there, you are continually trying to prove that.”

On the BCS rankings – “The only thing that is paying attention to it is our eyes. We see it, but I don’t think anyone in this program is taking it that seriously. We are not worried about that, and as long as we are in there and we continue to move up week in and week out, and we get ourselves to where we want to be in Jacksonville, we will be just fine.”

On the Clemson-Tech match-up – “It’s always a great game. It has become a big rivalry. When we went to Death Valley a couple of years ago, that might have been one of the best finishes in college football. Last year when they came up here it was a grind it out type of game, all defense, and we held. It’s been good for us and hopefully we can keep it going. But at the same time, when you play a team as lethal as Clemson when they can hurt you in two plays and the game can be totally switched especially at their place with the momentum and the crowd, it’s kind of scary, so we definitely have to come in focused and ready to play.”

Tashard Choice, RB

On Oklahoma’s (and former teammate) Adrian Peterson’s injury – “I was watching the thing that morning on College Game Day about his dad, and I actually talked to him that day when he got out of church with his dad, that really hurt. That’s one my old teammates, and he really works hard, and for a freak accident like that to happen is tough.”

On the injury – “He was just making the play, getting the ball and he has a knack for getting to the end zone and when he did, I looked when I saw him get up. They said he would be out for the season and I know that really crushed him. I have not talked to him since but I know how he feels right now.”

On Tech being more consistent this year – “The team really understands that you have to be prepared day in and day out and work hard, because every team is going to present different challenges. This year we understand what is making the little things count. Every game we are doing the little things which is putting is over the hump. Every team is going to present different challenges and you have to prepare to win and prepare for different things to happen. We understand that we are a team, trust one another on offense, defense and on special teams.”

On Clemson’s high powered offense and what Tech needs to do – “As long as we go out and play our game on offense, defense and special teams, we will be okay. I think if we go out there and play to the best of our abilities we will be okay. Clemson is good on offense, defense and special teams, so we have to go up there and play our best game.”

On Clemson’s running backs and elevating him – “It’s cool. Every game you try and be the best. Understand ever game you have to prepare like that. I know James Davis he is from Atlanta and I had a chance to meet him. They run the ball well. They do a lot of things to make big plays, so when I get a chance, or we get a chance to make big plays, you have to make them.”

On Reggie Ball’s performance this year – “Big time. Ball is the leader on offense, and I think that everything that he did in the fall and everything he did in the summer has really helped him out. Watching more film, and the offensive line is doing a good job, and he is trusting his teammates and understanding that he does not have to do it all by himself, that he has playmakers around him. That’s one thing that has really helped his game this year and the coaches have really structured the offense to fit his best qualities and I think that’s great.”

On both teams averaging a lot of yards on the ground – “I think in a game like this, the biggest difference will be turnovers, field position, or making a play here or there. It may not be a play that you see or make the difference in this game, but it’s going to be the little things because of the quality of the two teams that is going to play. I think we are going to have to make some big runs, and pass plays, but it’s going to be little things like converting on third down that make the difference.”

On Calvin Johnson becoming more of the Tech offense – “I think the last couple of years they have been trying to get him the ball, but they were not able to. This year he is getting the ball more and the offense is structured for getting him the ball. He is the best receiver in the nation, so having him go out there and catch the ball opens up more things for us on offense because defenses have to play him differently than most. It’s key to see how they play No. 21.”

On the long run – “Our main goal is to make it to Jacksonville, because it’s the only thing we can control. We understand that you have to take it day in and day out and that you have to prepare. We understand the big picture, but that’s not in our head right now because it’s down the track. We have to prepare to play Clemson this week, and prepare to play Miami next week and that’s how you have to look at it.”

On Calvin being his choice for the Heisman – “If I had a vote I would pick him because I am biased. There is a lot of good talent out there. Every person that is on the Heisman ballot is deservedly so. Everybody works hard and makes plays for their team, so you can’t say. Since I’m from Georgia Tech I will pick No. 21, because he is the best talent I have ever seen.”

On Calvin still doing things to impress him – “Everyday. Just today we were walking from the locker room, he jumped up and grabbed a pole, 15 feet in the air, and I just called him a show off.”

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