Aug. 7, 2013
By Jon Cooper
More than a few Georgia Tech football players cite weight training and especially the work of Strength and Conditioning Coach John Sisk as an invaluable part of preparation for the 2013 season.
Offensive linemen Will Jackson and Ray Beno, B-Back David Sims and defensive end Emmanuel Dieke, are no exception, but as big a key to their preparation for this season may not be the weight they’ve put on their frame as much as the weight they took off their shoulders.
Jackson, Beno, Sims and Dieke are playing in 2013 having already received their bachelor’s degrees.
“It feels great,” said Beno, a two-year starter at offensive tackle and a Dean’s List student, who graduated in April with a degree in Business Administration. “I see some of these young guys and I kind of joke around, I’m like ‘You’ve got a long road ahead of you.’ But coming in here, having already gotten my degree, it feels great. It feels like a weight’s been lifted off of me. I’ve enjoyed my last four years here and I’m hoping to enjoy this last one.”
“I was joking earlier it’s kind of like a victory lap,” said Jackson, a three-year starter on the O-Line and a three-time member of the ACC All-Academic team, who graduated the same day as Beno, with a Management degree and is enrolled in Tech’s Master’s program, seeking an MBA in Business Administration. “I’ve finished my undergraduate degree, I’m starting work on my MBA, I’ve got work opportunities, possibly lined up, depending on what happens with football at the next level so it’s cool. This season is for me. I can really just look back on all my experiences and take them and apply them to the season and focus on football. To not have that weight of chasing that undergraduate degree and to be graduated and to walk across the stage and have a Georgia Tech degree is something that I really can’t put into words.”
Jackson and Beno discovered the freedom and elation of graduation in the spring, something Dieke and Sims experienced back in December, when they participated in graduation ceremonies.
“I’m just blessed to be able to graduate from Georgia Tech, It’s a tough school, not too many people can say they’ve graduated from a top institute like this,” said Dieke, who started the first 12 games of last season at defensive end — he is in the DL mix this year — and graduated with a degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. “Being able to get that out of the way I’m just able to focus on football and trying to have the best season I can to get to the next level.”
“I feel relieved,” said Sims, the Yellow Jackets’ leading returning rusher and the third-leading active rusher in the ACC (1,368 yards), who graduated last Fall, as a Management major. “I don’t have to worry about taking this class or that class to try to graduate, making sure I do what I’m supposed to do to get on track. It’s a lot of relief. Last year, after the season, you finally graduate, it finally hits you, ‘You’ve got your degree and you have one year [of eligibility] left.’ I still have to take classes but it’s just not as pressing.”
While all four players have their degrees in-hand but they’ll still be hitting the books, as the NCAA requires them to complete at least six credit hours, via class or internship.
But that’s a small price to pay to continue playing football. That’s why they came back to fulfill their eligibility. Of course, they also have a wealth of wisdom and experience to pass on to their teammates. It’s wisdom and experience gained in a combined 84 career starts — Jackson is tied for the team lead with 29, Beno has 26, including 17 straight, one off the team-lead for consecutive starts, Sims has 17, Dieke, 12.
Head Coach Paul Johnson feels the foursome’s ability to share their wisdom through leadership on the field, in practice and in the locker room is where they can make the biggest impact.
“Most of the guys who have been here long enough to graduate have played a lot,” he said. “So I think our guys look up to them because they have experience and they have played.”
That role suits them just fine.
“I feel I can be a good role model because I know what type of transition they’re going through, especially going from high school to college. Just getting acclimated and different changes,” said Dieke. “So any questions they have for me, I’m happy to answer for them, help them get better situated.”
“Oh, during camp, definitely, I’m always around,” said Beno, who said he was in the midst of declaring a second major. “I’ve told them if you have any questions, about class, what to do during downtime during the season or if you have anything on the field you need to ask me I’m always here for them.”
“A lot of these younger guys, they’re grinding through school,” said Jackson. “They’re really focused on getting their degree, which is what you need to do. I can serve as a sounding board for them.”
For Sims, it’s a matter of giving back, the same way upperclassmen gave back to him.
“I had a lot of guys who tried to help when I was a freshman,” he said. “They taught us how to manage our time, make sure you go to class and how to balance your work and being good on football. I’m going to try to do the same thing to help out some of the younger guys. I let everybody know, from one through whatever number we’ve got that if they need something I’m there.”
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