Sept. 2, 2003
Rivalries. When talking about college football in the South, it is a subject that cannot be avoided. For Georgia Tech, Saturday afternoon’s tilt with 17th-ranked Auburn will mark the renewal of one of the region’s richest collegiate rivalries, as the Yellow Jackets and Tigers will meet for the first time since the 1987 season at newly-renovated Bobby Dodd Stadium. While most players on the Tech roster were less than 10 years old the last time the two schools squared off on the gridiron, Jacket senior center Hugh Reilly just may have the most familiarity with just what a rivalry with Auburn means.
You see, for Reilly, it wasn’t the match-up between Georgia Tech and Auburn that captured his attention as a youth, but an even more storied tiff in the state of Alabama that drew his interest. Often only referred to as the Iron Bowl, the annual renewal of acquaintances between Auburn and Alabama was a staple in the Reilly household, as family patriarch Michael played under the legendary Bear Bryant for the Crimson Tide from 1966-69. After growing up as an Alabama fan for most of his life, Reilly can easily grasp the notion of being ready to face the Tigers this weekend.
“Well, my dad has a double-incentive for this game,” said Reilly, a preseason nominee for the Dave Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.
“He played at Alabama, so growing up I was always a fan of theirs and I knew how big that rivalry was to my dad. I’ve heard more about the Georgia Tech and Auburn rivalry this week, but I’ve always known about the Auburn and Alabama rivalry from watching a lot of those games growing up with my dad. I know that he’ll be talking about it this week. I don’t remember him necessarily having a lot of good things to say about Auburn, other than they always played hard and it was always a good game.”
One of the Yellow Jackets’ more experienced offensive players, Reilly has started every game in the last two seasons, anchoring Tech’s offensive line in the process. After beginning his career on the defensive line, Reilly played virtually every snap in 2001 at right guard and was named the team’s Most Improved Offensive Player. A year ago, he moved to center and was a key member of a group that helped the Jackets’ offense remain productive throughout the year, despite the loss of the nation’s leading rusher four games into the season. His performance did not go unnoticed, as he earned honorable mention All-ACC recognition. With three seasons under his belt, Reilly certainly understands how important it is for Tech to continue to improve as it faces Auburn this week.
“I think that everyone is really looking forward to this week’s game,” said Reilly, who is a civil engineering major at Tech. “Obviously both teams will be looking for a win after last week. I think we came back from BYU and said that we can make some good things happen on offense. I thought we really played hard, but we didn’t play as smart as we should have. We know that we are capable of playing better than we did last week, we just need to stick together and work to be more consistent. If we keep playing hard, we can know that there is always a big play that’s waiting to happen.”
The excitement of the Jackets’ home opener has been enhanced by the fact that Tech will have the chance to christen newly renovated Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field. With a sold out crowd of 55,000 looking on, the interest level in the 91st renewal of the rivalry between the Yellow Jackets and Tigers is not something that has been lost on Reilly and his teammates, especially the importance of the contest for both teams.
“We all know that this is a huge game for us,” said Reilly. “It will certainly have a big impact on our season. Since we played last Thursday, we were able to watch Auburn’s game against Southern Cal and get an early look at them. It looked like they played hard, but also made mistakes just like we did. They’re a very talented team and it will be a great opportunity for us to compete against one of the top teams in the country.”
In his career at Alabama, Reilly’s father Michael posted a 3-1 record in games against Auburn, with the only loss coming in his senior season. On Saturday, his son Hugh will look to finish his Tech career with a spotless record against the Tigers, including a win as a senior. If that’s the case, perhaps the Jackets and Auburn getting together to renew old friendships will spawn a new friendly rivalry in the Reilly household.