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#STINGDAILY: Shouldering the Burden

Aug. 12, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

No player on the Georgia Tech offense has played in more games (37) or made more consecutive starts (18 and 26 of 27 over the last two seasons) than senior center Jay Finch. In fact only one, Yellow Jacket has more career starts than Finch’s 28. That’s guard Will Jackson, who has 29.

Throw in tackle Ray Beno, who is right behind Finch in starts (26) and consecutive starts (17) and the Jackets boast the kind of durability and continuity up front that teams dream of.

But there is a potential wrench thrown into this dream scenario. Finch sat out all of spring practice, and the initial scrimmage of camp following a pair of off-season shoulder surgeries. The Acworth, Ga., native wants nothing better than to get back on the field and consecutive his consecutive starts streak on Aug. 31 opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium against Elon. His status is still to be determined.

“I’m very excited to get started because clearly, as everyone knows, I had surgery so I’ve been on road to recovery,” he said. “I’m more excited about the upcoming season. A lot of naysayers said I wasn’t going to be able to come back from what I had but clearly I don’t think that’s the case because I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t.”

Where he is now is still far from where he wants to get, however. That actually would be where he was last season, when he was named Honorable Mention All-ACC in both the media and coaches’ voting — that followed being named Most Outstanding Lineman in the Hyundai Sun Bowl win over USC.

But the rewards of last season came at a price. It meant playing with a hurt shoulder which required a pair of off-season surgeries to correct. One was on the acromio-clavicular (AC) joint, which connects the shoulder to the body, the other repaired a frayed labrum. He knew he needed surgery but soldiered on with an eye toward being healthy in 2013 and beyond.

“One (the AC joint) I knew I had going into the season last year and then the other one (the labrum) kind of developed throughout the season, wear and tear,” he said. “But that’s why I just went ahead and took care of them before this last season. I wanted to be as healthy as possible looking to pursue my career further after college.

“I like to think most collegiate athletes aspire to play at the next level as I do, myself. I just felt like this off-season was the best time to get it done and not wait until after my senior season,” he continued. “I didn’t want it to be a deciding factor if someone was looking to pick me up, ‘Well, he just had this and this guy’s just as big, just as fast but he didn’t have them….’ Hopefully I can show film after this season, I’ll be like, ‘I had them, I’m good and I’m ready to play.'”

Finch doesn’t know if he’ll be physically good, although he’ll be mentally ready for the season opener but he does believe that once he does get back and the entire starting O-line is in tact that this year’s Yellow Jackets are ready for big things, especially with the experience on the O-line.

“This is definitely one of the more experienced groups,” he said. “Will, myself, Beno, we all came in the same class, Shaq [Mason]’s been starting since his freshman year, that was two years ago. So depending on who starts coming into the season at right tackle, we have a lot of experience across the board and I think that will give us, not necessarily and edge, but chemistry which is really good.

“We’ve played a lot of games together,” he added. “With chemistry, you don’t always have to say something but you’ll know what each other’s thinking. It makes it a lot easier to react and play on the field. Without having to ask, you can just go because each other is on the same page. You can read each other.”

Finch would prefer to read his teammates’ minds than continue reading the papers, which has been something of a mixed bag during the off-season. On one hand ACC media picked Georgia Tech to finish fourth in the Coastal Division, with only six writers picking them to get back to the championship game and only three of those having them come out on top — interestingly all six had the Jackets playing Clemson.

But not all the press was bad, especially personally, as Finch was selected to the Preseason Rimington Award Watch List. Named for Nebraska’s former two-time consensus First-Team All-America center, the award goes to the most outstanding center in the FBS.

He knows the prestige attached to the award, even if he’s not necessarily completely up on Rimington.

“That was before my time,” he said, with a laugh. “He played for the Cornhuskers, I know that much, but I haven’t studied his film too much. It’s a great honor to be on that list because as I’ve come to know, it’s for the top center in the nation. To even be considered eligible or worthy to be in that category is a great honor.”

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