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#STINGDAILY: Full Circle

Dec. 28, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

For Will Jackson, Georgia Tech’s appearance in the Music City Bowl will be not only a farewell to his college football career but a homecoming as well. He and fellow offensive linemate Shaq Mason are Tennesseans after all.

So, long before the Yellow Jackets traveled to Nashville, they went to work. There were tickets to acquire. Family and friends would have to be accommodated. Each player would be given six tickets to Monday’s game, and that just would not do, oh no.

“As soon as I learned where we were playing, I had a good strategy,” said Jackson, a graduate student from Knoxville. “I got on my cell phone, and started texting injured guys I knew wouldn’t be playing; guys like [safety] Jamal Golden and [snapper] Sean Tobin.

“And I went for guys from far away, like [A-back] Austin McClellan from [Wildwood] Florida. I was pretty proud of that. Shaq has a lot of people coming down. We had to battle.”

They both won. Jackson and Mason are convinced, more or less, that they have taken care of everybody important. You might not believe the numbers.

“I have 115 [tickets] on will call, and that’s not including the people that went ahead and bought tickets already,” said Mason, who is from Columbia, Tenn. “It might be more. Most of the [teammates] were just like, ‘Hey man, we know we’re going to your home, so you got my tickets.’ I think Will and I probably got the majority.”

Jackson, who in mere days will begin to, “chase the NFL dream,” said, “Oh my gosh. I’ll probably have between 40 and 50 [family and friends].

“I’ve probably had as many as 15 come to a game in Atlanta, but in terms of sheer numbers this is by far the biggest. I’ve had to fight a little harder for tickets because demand is so great.”

Playing in a bowl game is special enough, yet this game is all the more unique for more reasons for Mason and Jackson.

Mason will play against his cousin, although he is not likely to be on the field at the same time as Ole Miss running back Octavious Mathers (No. 5).

“He grew up in Columbia as well, but he moved away as we got into seventh grade to Murfreesboro,” Shaq explained. “We grew up on the same teams and all that. We have texted pretty much every day.”

For Jackson, the Music City Bowl will mean more than other games he’s played for Tech.

“It absolutely does,” he said. “I think it’s special to me because obviously I started my career in Tennessee, and my last game will be here, in the stadium where I grew up watching the Titans play on Sundays.”

This is the last chance for Jackson to take a leadership role, and he’s taking seriously that opportunity to help the Jackets to win consecutive bowl games after last year’s 21-7 win over Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl.

“If anything, it might be a challenge for younger guys who haven’t gone through this before. Older guys who have been through the bowl grind, we know the routine,” he said.

“We know how business goes. It’s more important for younger guys to stay focused. The veterans make sure younger guys are staying on top of things.”

Having already been in MBA classes after graduating last spring with a degree in Business Administration, Jackson will also take classes this spring. Simultaneously, he will train in metro Atlanta with the goal of landing a tryout with an NFL team. Or two. Or three. He does not expect to be drafted.

“Hopefully, a team will take a chance on me and invite me to their camp,” he said. “I do anticipate training with people who specialize in pre-combine training.”

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