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Paul Johnson Peps Volleybees

Dec. 2, 2009

by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor

ATLANTA – It was nearly time to cash in, and Georgia Tech’s Volleybees didn’t have much capital. So coach Tonya Johnson called in the moneymaker, or whatever you want to call the Yellow Jackets’ football coach.

After crushing back-to-back losses at home to Miami and No. 15 Florida State, the Yellow Jackets were 18-9 and with three matches remaining in the regular season in danger of being left on the outside looking in once NCAA bids went out. They needed a lift, big time.

“I asked Paul Johnson to come and speak to my team, something to pump them up because we needed to win our last three matches of the regular season to even stand a chance to get a bid,” Tonya Johnson said.

“In [the football team’s bye] week, and he came in talking about playing for all the marbles, and brought in a bag of marbles and gave to the kids that they keep in their pockets. We turn them in before every match, and we give them back out after the match.”

Next, wins over Virginia, Virginia Tech (a 3-0 reversal of an 0-3 loss on the road to the Hokies earlier in the season) and at Clemson landed the Jackets (21-9) in the NCAA tournament. They’ll play Baylor (22-9) Friday at UCLA.

“It’s very, very special,” said Brittany Roderick. “She told us we were going to have a guest speaker. We had no idea who it was. We come out of the locker room he’s standing there. Now, obviously we see him around… but he’s kind of a celebrity around here.”

Tonya Johnson found what she was looking for, something the Jackets had lost.

“I was ready to pull out all the punches,” she said. “I just felt like we needed somebody who had a presence that the kids knew who could come in and say some of the things that I’d been saying all season, but say it differently and have it coming from someone else.”

Roderick: “Even though he said basically the same thing that Tonya tells us every single day, it’s different coming from a different person and knowing that, OK, our coach really does know what she’s talking about.

“So then he opened a bag and it was full of marbles and there was enough for all the coaches and all the players and he’s like, ‘Guys, these last couple of ACC matches are for all the marbles.’ We’re like, ‘God, it really is.’ “

Senior Chrissy DeMichelis had her marble with her Tuesday. “I have the big one,” she said with a smile.

Roderick confirmed it.

“She had it before the Clemson match and, surprisingly, we’re very superstitious about that kind of thing,” she said. “Chrissy gets it again because we played really good against Clemson. So she gets the big marble.”

Call it a Johnson & Johnson tag team.

“I just thought that as high profile as he is to take even two minutes out of his busy day and spend time with our team meant an awful lot to us,” Tonya said. “That has certainly helped our play in the last two weeks of the season.”

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