Aug 15, 2013
Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
There’s no debating the old adage that there’s no place like home.
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Thomas O’Reilly certainly doesn’t need convincing.
“It feels great,” said O’Reilly, who remembers going to every Yellow Jackets game in 2010. “Only living 25 minutes away, I can come home on the weekends, mom can do my laundry if need be, I can go home for the night and get a nice home-cooked meal. It’s just nice to be around and if there’s anything I need my family’s right there.”
Georgia Tech aggressively pursued the Marietta native and Pope High School star, eventually losing out to Auburn, in part because of the lure of then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle, hurry-up offense.
After redshirting as a freshman — where, coincidentally, he was on the scout team and practiced against the defense of Ted Roof, then Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and the defensive line coached by Mike Pelton, AU’s defensive line coach, both now with Georgia Tech — O’Reilly chose to transfer to Georgia Tech. The move came after Malzahn left Auburn to coach at Arkansas State, even though it meant his sitting out 2012 as per NCAA rules.
While O’Reilly planned on enjoying his homecoming off the field, he expected finding a home on it in Paul Johnson’s Spread Option to be more difficult. Yet, that, too, has come to fruition early on in training camp.
One of the nation’s top recruits at offensive guard coming out of high school — ESPN.com ranked him the eighth-best offensive guard in the nation and the 145th player nationally, while Rivals ranked him 19th at OG and No. 35 among all players in Georgia — the 6-3, 305-pounder has found himself getting reps at center, thanks to an injury bug that has feasted on Yellow Jackets’ centers.
“He’s got a better chance to play there than where he was. So we’ll see,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson back at the beginning of camp.
Johnson liked what he saw.
While the move and play with the first unit for last Saturday’s first scrimmage was more by process of elimination, O’Reilly has shown he’s not over-matched. He can expect to see snaps with the first unit again in this Saturday’s scrimmage. First unit or second depends on the status of redshirt-senior Jay Finch, who is working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery.
“Thomas O’Reilly will be No. 2 if Jay [Finch]’s the starter,” said Johnson following Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “Right now Thomas O’Reilly is No. 1 and Jay’s No. 2.”
It should be noted that O’Reilly is not new at center. He’s been pressed into action there before and has come through.
“It’s one of those positions that all throughout high school I was never solidly a center,” he recalled. “I played mostly guard but I was always that guy that if someone went down or they needed someone to play center for a few games I could fill that role. So it seems everywhere I go I end up back at center one way or another.”
O’Reilly doesn’t know how long his stay at starting center will be and isn’t doing much more than just going day-by-day. But even if he should get supplanted once the veterans come back he plans on keeping his eyes, ears, and mind open.
“We have a couple of guys that have played a lot of games,” he said. “One of the guys I like to talk to a lot is Jay Finch because he’s played the position and he’s started like 20-plus games. So learn from your elders. Learn from the older guys. I’m just trying to soak everything up and learn all the little tricks of the trade. If I ever have any questions they’re great to go to. They really help a lot.”
Until Finch and the other injured players do come back, O’Reilly will continue to help Georgia Tech out a lot even as he learns Johnson’s offense on the job.
“I’ll just keep my head in the playbook and learn the position better,” he said. “There are always things I can improve on. It’s been a while since I’ve played center so it’s getting back into it. I’m just hoping to have a good year. We really want to show people what we can do this year.”
Get Sting Daily in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register hereto get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.