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Never Fear, Underdog Is Here

Aug. 15, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The idea going in was to get some serious work done yet has some fun, too, but it appeared after Georgia Tech’s “kicking” scrimmage Sunday in Bobby Dodd Stadium that Paul Johnson was none too pleased with what had happened.

Apparently, kickers Scott Blair and Justin Moore did not steal the show.

Senior offensive tackle Austin Barrick, meanwhile, was none too pleased either.

He wanted to return a punt, and this might have been his last chance.

All sorts of riff-raff were allowed to field punts and kicks in the light-hearted portion of Sunday’s work, but Barrick – who was recruited to Tech in 2006 as a tight end, and even tried his hand briefly in the spring of ’08 as an A-back – was robbed.

“They were kicking away from me,” he said.

Barrick’s grin and Sunday’s shenanigans served as reminders of where the Yellow Jackets are right now.

They’re not under extreme pressure as an overwhelming favorite, nor do they qualify as a full-blown win-or-else-the-Earth-will-be-scorched-and-coaches-fired underdog.

Given a choice, the Jackets – like most — would choose the latter role. You can argue that they have that choice since they were picked by ACC media to finish third in the Coastal Division yet ranked in most preseason polls in the middle teens nationally.

“I think we were ranked fifth best in the conference in the preseason [behind Coastal mates Virginia Tech and Miami and Atlantic foes Florida State and Clemson ]so we’re kind of playing that underdog role again,” Barrick said. “I know we have the potential to do the same thing we did last year. We’re just going to have to keep working hard.”

All the Jackets did last year was win the ACC.

Some fans seemed more sullen that Tech lost to Georgia then tickled about that conference title, and debate will not soon cease on which should matter more.

The players’ feeling on this is clear.

“We just set our goals the other night, and the No. 1 goal is to win the ACC championship again,” Barrick said.

Asked the other team goals, he said, “lead the nation in rushing and third down conversion [rate], win the bowl game, win turnover differential . . . I’m not sure on that one.”

Soon, the tape recorder snapped off and Macon Telegraph reporter Coley Harvey said, “What about beating Georgia?”

Barrick said, “Oh yeah, of course.”

Some might mistake this as the Jackets caring too little about the big game. I see it as proof they’re not obsessing about it, which was clearly a problem during one recent seven-year streak.

The season is nearly three weeks away, the trip to Athens more than three months away.

No sense dwelling. Better to focus, and keep perspective.

Besides, I bet there will be a re-prioritization of goals the third week of November anyway.

For now, why let a snapshot cloud the big picture?

“We always have some doubters, every year,” said senior linebacker Brad Jefferson. “You can say we’re an underdog or whatever. We don’t think too much about that. It doesn’t matter what you consider us; we know what we have to do, what our goals are.”

It’s your job, or choice, to over analyze or obsess. As long as the Jackets don’t to the same, their chances for success are greater so they punt away from danger.

“When you’re at the top you always have a target on your back, and when you’re an underdog there’s less pressure,” Barrick said. “But you’ve got to work the same when you’re in both positions. As long as you stay focused on the goals, you can get there. None of that other stuff really matters.”

Whadya think? ACC title, or state championship? Send your thoughts to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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