Sept. 29, 2002
By Jeremy Noel – In order for any football team’s offense to be effective, the men that make up the offensive front five have to be able to get the dirty work done in the trenches. Perhaps few people are literally more in the middle of that operation than Georgia Tech junior center Hugh Reilly.
The Roswell, Ga., product and his cohorts up front put together one of their top performances to date in 2002, dominating the line of scrimmage and allowing the Yellow Jackets to roll up 396 yards of total offense in a 21-13 victory over North Carolina on Saturday. On the year, Tech is averaging 200.4 yards rushing per game, a total that ranks third in the ACC and 29th nationally.
The need for a big day from Tech’s offensive unit was not something that went unnoticed by Reilly as the Jackets prepared for the Tar Heels last week.
“As an offensive line, we really came out with the mindset to play really hard yesterday,” said Reilly. “We felt that we had a big responsibility in the game with a freshman running back. We had to give him some confidence and some room to run. We knew we were going to have to play well because the coaches told us that we were going to try to get things going with the running game, and we put a lot of the burden on our shoulders. We knew that we had to play well for the team to be successful.”
The rookie running back in question was Ajenavi “Ace” Eziemefe, who benefited from the strong play of the men up front, gaining 136 yards on 32 carries and one touchdown against UNC in his first start in the Tech backfield. Reilly and friends up front were happy to see such a stellar debut for Eziemefe, who moved into the starting role after the Jackets’ lost junior Tony Hollings to a knee injury a week ago.
“I think it was great for Ace to have a big day,” said Reilly. “He really came in there and played a great game. He made some great runs, and he’s going to do nothing but get better. He’s an amazing athlete and I think he’s going to really be able to help us this year. Also, I think people were interested to see how we would react to the injuries. We knew we just had to go out there and keep playing as hard as we do and just do everything that it takes to win, and we’d be all right. We never had a doubt that we could overcome these things if we just stuck together and played our game.”
Many of the leadership roles on the offensive line go to the center position, and for Reilly, 2002 marks the first year in that role. After making the transition from guard to center, he credits the cohesive unit up front for easing the move.
“It’s been a pretty good transition,” said Reilly. “It’s a little different as the center, but everyone out there has the responsibility to play. We try to keep each other going and we help each other and communicate well. We work well together. I think the five of us being out there and getting along so well and being able to play together so well makes a big difference.”
Another transition that had to be made by the entire offensive line came in the spring with the addition of new coach Joe D’Alessandris, who joined the staff after a successful five-year tenure at Duke. According to Reilly that change has only helped Tech’s performance on the offensive side of the ball.
“Coach D as been real good,” said Reilly. “We’ve got a few different things going on, but we had a good spring practice and got a lot of things going then. Now with the preseason and the first few weeks of the season, we’ve really come together. He’s been a great coach for us and has really got us going.”
While the play of the offensive line often goes unnoticed by the average observer, Reilly doesn’t feel that is a problem for the Yellow Jackets’ up-front men. Recognition by coaches and teammates makes up for any lack of support from those outside the football program.
“Like I said, we really get along well and are a close group,” said Reilly. “The rest of the guys on the team know what we do and they tell us we’re doing a good job and that’s what really matters. The guys on the team are appreciative of what we do and we are appreciative of what they do, because it’s a team game and that’s what really matters.”