April 19, 2013
By Jon Cooper
– There’s nothing like football to bring a college campus together.
Georgia Tech proved that Thursday afternoon, as the Yellow Jackets put on the inaugural International Football Clinic. The goal was simple: bring Tech students from outside the United States — of which there are an estimated 4,000, 2,700 undergrads — inside the world of football, Georgia Tech style.
“They’re far away from home. I can only imagine if I was in another country, and there to study, to pass the time I’d want a hobby and I’d probably start learning about a sport there,” said football assistant director of operations Mike Huff. “So it gives you a break from your studies as well, but at the same time, they get to learn about football. The ultimate goal was for the students to have fun, and I think we achieved that goal, and they also learned something about football.”
The idea for the clinic was sparked by video of a similar football clinic for international students at Rice University’s student orientation. It became reality in a joint effort by the Georgia Tech Student Government Association and the school’s Athletic Association.
“When we saw a clip from Rice University and we tried to incorporate this somehow with our international population,” said SGA Athletic and Recreational Services Committee Co-Chair Kris Surapaneni. “They don’t know too much about American football.”
They are better informed now.
More 80 students of different ethnicities, attended the nearly two-hour clinic and ensuing picnic, attended by the team and coaches.
The clinic kicked off in the football conference room, with an introduction to the game by Head Coach Paul Johnson. Johnson covered the basics — literally everything from common terms, the names of the positions and number of players on the field to the ways to score, the number of points for each score, to the different kinds of penalties, plays and even signal-calling.
Putting all the intricacies of the game into an easy-to-digest Football 101 package was quite an undertaking.
“We had to go look at it as, ‘How would you teach somebody who has never seen this sport before or never participated in it before?’ said Huff. “So you start with the basics, the rules of the game. What’s a pass? What’s a run? How do you score a touchdown? How many points do you get for a touchdown? A field goal? A safety?'”
Johnson, whose teams run The Spread Option Offense, arguably the most complex in college football, had no problem keeping things simple while mixing in enough humor that translated even to the football novices.
He got laughs joking that wide receivers were ‘receivers who are wide,’ and referring to quarterback signals as “guys yelling things like ‘Green-36, which means nothing.'”
The nearly 25-minute session was followed by questions from the audience. Among them were such challenging questions as the longest winning streak in Georgia Tech history — that stumped everyone until the Athletic Association’s Simit Shah saved the day with a very good estimate — explaining the safety, and even handling questions about if opponents ever knew Tech’s signals (Johnson answered they probably did) and if the number of running plays Tech runs has any correlation to the lack of wide receivers (Johnson said it didn’t).
“I thought they had some great questions,” said Johnson. “You could tell they were really attentive and they wanted to learn. So it was fun.”
Following the Q&A and a brief highlights video, the group got a tour of the locker room and got to try on football gear, from shoulder pads to helmets.
They then followed the Ramblin’ Wreck and ran through the tunnel onto Grant Field, where the team awaited.
Students then broke up into eight groups and rotated around the different stations, covering different facets of the game, from throwing the football, to blocking, kicking an extra point, getting to sack the quarterback (hitting a heavy bag) as a defensive lineman, defending as a defensive back, and even getting to catch a pass and run into the end zone. The latter required a touchdown dance.
Roars of laughter and cheers could be heard from every area of the field. It was genuine laughter and cheering, the sound of friendships being made as much as football fans being born.
“It was so much fun,” said junior B-Back Zach Laskey. “We get to interact with some of our fellow classmates. It was pretty awesome just seeing all our fellow classmates faces. You could tell a lot of them hadn’t seen the game a lot and they were having a blast. It was fun coaching them and they were loving it. They took it in. We all had a good time.”
The students agreed. Some, who prior to Thursday may have known little more about football than that lots of people crammed into Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday afternoon to watch it and yell a lot, felt an attachment to the game and to Georgia Tech.
“It was great. I didn’t know so much of football,” said Chinese-born student Zoey Zhang, who is in pursuit of her master’s. “To be frank, I never even finished [watching] one football game before. But now I learned about the game. It’s not only about physical strength. It’s about agility and responses to the actions. It was a really good experience for me. It was great to hang out with the players, which I will be watching [Friday]. It’s really something interesting for us to participate and to cheer, being part of Georgia Tech.”
“It was really fun. I met a lot of interesting guys and they were so friendly and so encouraging,” added L.J., also a grad student of Chinese descent. “They just tried to make me enjoy the game and I really did. The most interesting part I did was kick the ball and I made it every time. That impressed everyone, also me.”
The turnout impressed everyone and laid the groundwork for future events like this.
“We’re ecstatic with the results,” said Athletic and Recreational Services Committee Co-Chair Ahsan Khan. “This is in the midst of a week on campus where there are a lot of exams going on, so it’s a great study break for everybody. Just looking around at the overall atmosphere, we couldn’t be more happy. Georgia Tech’s Office of International Education, they helped us out a lot with getting the word out and they’ve expressed interest in partnering with us in the future for this event.”
“This is the first time we’ve done this,” said Surapaneni. “We hope for it to be a tradition in years to come. Once [other international students] see this video we’re hoping there will be a lot bigger turnout the next time we do this. Another thing we might talk about is incorporating this after international orientation.”
Johnson is up for more clinics like Thursday’s.
“Hopefully we’ll build on it,” he said. “It’s something we can do every year, if we do one for the regular students or we’ve talked about doing one just for females. At some point we may be able to do some of that as well.”
He laughed at the suggestion of doing a clinic for the media.
“That might be better.”