Dec. 9, 2016
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Getting to a bowl game has been the norm at Georgia Tech (last year indeed proved to be an aberration). But it’s never been easy.
Preparing to win that final test on the gridiron can be difficult as well, as bowl prep is usually delayed by the getting through an even more daunting task — final exams. While all schools have to go through finals week, none have to go through Georgia Tech finals week.
That’s the task the football team faced this week. The squad practiced on Tuesday and Wednesday, which was its first prep for its TaxSlayer Bowl contest against Kentucky and its first workouts since its 28-27 win at Georgia on Nov. 26, its second-straight win between the hedges. However, the beginning of finals on Thursday loomed.
Talk about a buzz kill!
Perhaps a little levity to ease the tension might help. It couldn’t hurt.
“I don’t know how [the players] feel, but I feel pretty good about finals right now,” head coach Paul Johnson said with a laugh following Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “I’m sure it’s a stressful thing but the thing I’ve learned here about grades is you have no idea. Just do the best you can. They have time off now so they don’t have any responsibilities [at the football facility] until they’re through.”
The defense’s approach to finals week is simply to grind through it — the same mentally tough approach that personified its play all season long, especially as it won 5-of-6 games to close out the campaign.
“Finals week is very stressful,” said redshirt sophomore cornerback Lamont Simmons, a business administration major who knocked off the first of his three finals on Thursday (he also has a final paper). “You’ve just got to get to it. It’s school. It’s going to be hard wherever you go.”
Simmons, a transfer from Southern California, says the finals experience is a little more difficult than at USA.
“I would say Georgia Tech is a lot harder … things are a little bit different [at] Georgia Tech,”
How the players plan to deal with finals is as different as the players’ schedules.
Junior corner Step Durham may have appeared a little more distracted than usual at practice this week but should be much more relaxed than most come the weekend and in the ensuing weeks, when the defense gets down to serious preparation for Kentucky’s wildcat-heavy offense
“My finals schedule is not that bad,” admitted Durham, a business administration major, who polished off two of his three finals this week. “I just have three finals. I’ve got one of them [Thursday] and one on Friday. The hardest one is next week but I’ll get through it.”
Sophomore linebacker Brant Mitchell was similarly realistic but also optimistic.
“I’ll probably be up late studying tonight because it’s kind of hard around here,” said Mitchell, a mechanical engineering major, with a laugh. “But it’s good. Everybody’s hanging in there trying to finish up strong and doing the best they can.”
The attitude of caring about and playing for each other, which defensive coordinator Ted Roof pointed to as one of the keys to the defense’s turnaround over the season’s final three games, was also as evident as the unit discussed finals week. In fact, just about every player felt his schedule, no matter how grueling, wasn’t as bad as someone else’s.
“It’s not too bad this semester,” said Mitchell. “I know a couple of guys who have it pretty tough. They’re going to be pretty stressed out .”
“I have it pretty good. Some other guys have it bad,” said Durham. “But I’m just happy that I will make it through.”
Once they do get through, the unit can start looking at the big-play capabilities of the Wildcats and their Wildcat formation. Georgia Tech is looking to make it four bowl wins in five years and three wins in three games against the SEC this season.
“I love playing the SEC,” said Mitchell, a Knoxville, Tenn., native. “We’re 2-0 against them right now, hopefully we’ll be 3-0. I think we’ve got enough time to relax and get focused in on it and make sure we finish up strong.”
Once they return to the field, focus shouldn’t be a problem for the Yellow Jackets. They’ll probably enjoy getting back on the field and hitting somebody. While it might be hard to realize at this moment, the academic rigors of being a Georgia Tech student also tend to pay off in the long run, as evidenced by the overwhelming success of Tech alums and the mental toughness generally associated with its student-athletes.
But in the meantime, what are they looking forward to most?
“I’m definitely looking forward to finals being over so I can focus on the game,” said Simmons.
“Just [getting] ready for Kentucky, that’s the biggest thing,” said Durham. “Just get ready [and] try to win this next game.”