Sept. 1, 2002
By Jeremy Noel – For someone who has a Superman logo tattooed on his left biceps, Georgia Tech junior running back Tony Hollings certainly didn’t take a Clark Kent approach to things in the Yellow Jackets’ season-opening match-up with Vanderbilt.
Rather than fumbling around in a phone booth changing costumes, Hollings came out of the gates with his cape flying in a record-setting “super” performance in his debut in the Tech backfield. Hollings will next lead the Yellow Jackets (1-0) into a road tilt with Connecticut (0-1) Saturday at noon in Storrs, Conn. The game will be regionally televised on Fox Sports Net South.
Leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Well, not exactly. But Hollings, a converted safety, did run past and through would-be tacklers in gaining 153 yards on the ground against the Commodores, becoming the first Tech player to gain over 100 yards in his first game at running back. Such a performance certainly came as a surprise, even to the man who accomplished the feat.
“I certainly didn’t expect to get that many yards,” said Hollings. “I thought that maybe I could rush for 100 yards, but to get 153 was pretty exciting. I had set a lot of records in high school, but I know high school doesn’t really matter right now. Having a record in Division I football feels pretty good.”
Faster than a locomotive? Sort of, as Hollings’ speed certainly showed early and often in his debut as he consistently bounced runs to the outside for big gains. Two of the runs resulted in Georgia Tech touchdowns, including a 56-yard jaunt that culminated with a leap into the end zone that even Krypton’s favorite son would have been proud of.
“My basic goal was to come out and run hard, protect the ball, and get into the speed of the game. My line and our fullback Jimmy Dixon both blocked really well and that allowed me to get the yards that I did. On that long run, I saw the cornerback coming from behind so I dove into the end zone to make sure that I had the touchdown.”
A game with 153 yards and a pair of touchdowns, not bad for someone who hadn’t played in the offensive backfield since finishing his prep career nearly three years ago. For Hollings, the decision to try to change positions came with the hiring of new head coach Chan Gailey last winter. The Jeffersonville, Ga., native decided to approach Gailey with the idea soon after the coach’s arrival on campus.
“Everyone was telling me to go talk to Coach about changing positions to running back,” said Hollings. “I wanted to wait until he was settled in before I went and talked to him. He told me that he wants his players to play the position that they feel they’re best at and that he would give me a shot at running back. If I didn’t do well, they would move me back to safety. But if I did well, I could stay on offense. Fortunately I did well, so they let me stay.”
Although somewhat out of practice, Hollings was not unaccustomed to running the football, as he had gained over 1,000 yards as both a junior and senior at Twiggs County High School while playing both running back and quarterback in an option-style offense. Still, there was a good deal to be learned when spring practice began last year.
“When I moved to running back in the spring, I had to watch Sidney Ford, Gordon Clinkscale and Jermaine Hatch early on to pick up on the offense and the steps,” recalls Hollings. “Those guys taught me a lot in the few weeks that we practiced together and I was able to pick up on that.”
All of the lessons learned in spring and fall practice certainly paid off in the Jackets’ season-opening win, but much like his superhero idol, Hollings will have little time to rest before returing to duty on Saturday. But, judging from the debut, Tech’s offensive unit and its fans will be looking for more good things from the Yellow Jackets’ new-found “Man of Steel.”