Nov. 27, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Will Jackson was born in Athens, and spent a couple years there. It wasn’t long enough to develop an attachment. Matter of fact, there is not much about the place that he either remembers or relishes and that includes information that he’s gathered in recent years.
The Georgia Tech senior offensive lineman knows this: He does not like the University of Georgia, housed in Athens, nor its football team in particular. His father was transferred back home to Knoxville, Tenn., when Will was still a wee lad.
There, deeper axis thoughts were formed.
“I’m 100 percent attached to Georgia Tech, I think the fact that I grew up in Knoxville and my parents are Tennessee grads, probably 90 percent of my family has gone to Tennessee . . . I grew up rooting for Tennessee,” Jackson said.
“I always hated Georgia. They were rivals of Tennessee and even more when you get around the fans. We had some less-than-positive experience at some of the games [in Knoxville].”
Emotion alone will not decide Saturday’s game in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I had the pleasure of working with Erk Russell for a long time [at Georgia Southern],” Tech head coach Paul Johnson said the other day. “He had all kinds of phrases, but one of the ones that stuck with me was, ‘playing with intelligent fanaticism.’ That’s what you have to do.
“You can’t go harikari and play with such emotion and out of control. You have to be able to funnel that, and control that emotion.”
The Jackets have grounds to be emotional. This series has not gone well. In recent meetings, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy said. “We’ve had chances and opportunities and we just haven’t taken advantage of them. We pretty much got bullied out there. We want to look past those days . . . and do something that represents us, this new defense.”
Emotion will not slow Georgia running back Todd Gurley, whom Johnson suggested has some Herschel Walker-esque hue, nor even quarterback Hutson Mason.
He’ll make his first college start Saturday, stepping in where Aaron Murray – the most prolific passer in SEC history – stepped out last Saturday while suffering a college career-ending knee injury.
Mason is a fourth-year junior. He’s caddied for one of the better quarterbacks in college history. He may not have a slew of live snaps under his shoulder pads, but he is no neophyte.
“When they put him in after Murray got hurt, they didn’t miss a beat,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “He’s not like some guy who was playing high school football last year. He’s been around the block.”
Roof has stories to tell. He’s played in this series, anchoring the Black Watch defense in the mid-1980s. There was the one where, in his senior year, the Yellow Jackets stoned the Bulldogs with quite a goal-line stand. “We had 13 on the field,” Roof recalls. “We didn’t want to stop at 12.”
He’s coached in this series as well, in the late 1990s and at the turn of the century. He was on the scene when the Jackets won 51-48 on that second field goal try after the first was blocked.
“You can tell . . . he played here at Tech,” Nealy said. “He knows the passion between Georgia and Georgia Tech and he shows it. He does that week in and week out. He’d be out there on the [practice] field, and he looks like he’s out there on the field with us. He’s reading and about to come down and make a tackle.”
Even if you weren’t born in Georgia, didn’t grow up here, and don’t have this series in your marrow, it does not take a lot of time to build respect for it if you’re a player.
Sophomore Adam Gotsis is from Australia, after all.
“Everyone has kind of had a rivalry in some game or sport. I’ve definitely played rival teams in basketball and football. It’s definitely not to this level,” the Aussie said. “You’ve got to have the mentality that it’s a dogfight. Nothing really has to be said.
“You’ve got a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. You know they’re coming in here to pretty much hit you in the face and you’ve got to have the same mentality.”
Get Sting Daily in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register hereto get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.