Oct. 1, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
– There will be something more important in determining the today’s result in Raleigh than whether Georgia Tech can check NC State wide receiver/return man T.J. Graham, or if the Yellow Jackets trample the Wolfpack’s wounded D-line.
Tech’s chemistry matters most.
The key, or at least one of them, was in the doorway to the Jackets’ new meeting room the other day, jabbering. It was Stephen Hill, actually. He opened the door moments after Jeremiah Attaochu finished filming a faux fireside chat with Wes Durham in the grand space.
For a moment, there was some confusion. Attaochu wanted to know if he was allowed to keep the GT polo-style shirt he’d been given to wear on camera. Meanwhile, Hill was in the doorway, creating commotion in trying verbally to hurry his teammate – who was about 25 feet away — out of the room.
Attaochu was one of a few people wearing befuddled expressions. Where exactly did he need to go so quickly?
Hill said something like, “These people are waiting for you,” pointing down the hallway outside the room.
“The . . . uh, the people with the boat,” came the response.
Dentists from coast to coast would’ve been proud to put Hill’s smile on their literature and claim him as a patient and proof of their work.
It was the junior wide receiver doing the work. Hill was cooking up a scheme whose design never became clear. Laughing, he vanished shortly thereafter, leaving baffled onlookers.
This isn’t the first time it’s been said that a team sinks or swims with chemistry. The Jackets are atop the water, but doing more than swimming; they’re sailing.
As has been recorded, chemistry issues were, well, issues last season. There wasn’t exactly a massive thundercloud over everybody, but there were times when the Jackets blended bleach and ammonia in the corners.
Small, noxious clouds (plural) popped up.
The Hill-Attaochu interaction, though odd and impossible for an onlooker to understand at core level, was a three-dimensional manifestation of a construct that is largely metaphysical.
These Jackets – in this case one from offense and one from defense — show signs of genuinely liking each other, caring for one another, and most importantly caring about what they’re doing.
Chemistry is a tough deal to assess, an undertaking that requires more subjective evaluation than objective. It’s more a touchy-feeling thing than a tangible object.
Hill and Attaochu, the sterling sophomore outside linebacker, are physical keys for the Jackets (4-0).
The nature of their relationship is more important. It’s representative of more like it in a group of people determined to surpass external expectations and put as much distance as possible between themselves and the misery of last season .
“When you have a bunch of guys who work hard, and want to be better . . . we’re all supportive of each other through good and bad,” Attaochu said. “There’s a lot more family this year. You can’t tell the difference between a freshman who’s not playing, red-shirting, and someone who is starting.
“I have a lot of friends on the other side of the ball. I talk to them, tell them how they’re doing, tell them how to push back [against defensive players].”
To a trained or semi-trained eye, the evidence is not hard to see. It goes beyond results on the field, which have been superb.
There were times last season when players going to and fro in or around The Edge Center might hardly seem to notice one another. If you didn’t know better, you might think somebody was on his way to a secret meeting that he didn’t want anybody to know about, that wouldn’t be discussed later.
Some heads hung. Hushed tones were not uncommon. Just about the entire second half of the season had a February feel to it: gray, cold, with a nearly imperceptible pulse.
What’ we’re seeing now is early October literally and figuratively, the best of times.
“This team has been fun to coach. They work hard. They don’t complain . . . ” head coach Paul Johnson said. “They want to be good. They listen and they try to do good things that you want them to do.”
Seems a simple concept. It’s not.
There’s just so much coaches can do to foster an uplifting environment, and Johnson and his staff have gone there. That’s a story, or stories, for other days. Some of them have been told.
Books are written on team-building. Some make sense. Some do not. Some work. Some do not. Some work some times, and do not work others. The Jackets are working it right now, and that’s huge … even if Attaochu wasn’t sure what in Hades Hill was up to the other day.
“I don’t even know what he’s talking about,” the smiling linebacker said moments after the wideout disappeared. “Me and Steve, we just come up with stuff; make it up. We’ve taken classes together, and we’ve gotten closer. That’s just part of it, part of what’s going on.”
I like the signs. I remember some absolutely non-sensible or un-intelligible quasi-conversations I had with friends and roommates when I was in college. We invented catch words and phrases. Can’t remember what was said, but I remember the feeling, the connection, a shared vibe line. No wonder our intramural football and softball teams kicked butt. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.