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Toe Meets Leather as Tech Opens 2004 Season

Aug. 29, 2004

ATLANTA–Georgia Tech begins its quest for a school-record eighth consecutive bowl berth as the Yellow Jackets open the 2004 season by hosting Samford at Saturday at 1 p.m. Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.

The game will not be televised but can be heard on the ISP-Georgia Tech Radio Network, including Atlanta flagship WQXI 790 The Zone.

Coming off a 7-6 record in 2003, capped by a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl, Tech returns seven starters on offense and seven on defense for head coach Chan Gailey.

Headlining Tech’s returnees are three first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selections in senior free safety James Butler and junior defensive end Eric Henderson on defense, and junior tailback P.J. Daniels, the ACC’s leading rusher last fall.

Daniels, who gained 1,447 yards in 2004, is a preseason nominee for the Walter Camp Player of the Award. The Houston, Texas native is joined in the Tech backfield by senior fullback Jimmy Dixon and sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball, the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2003, when he passed for 1,996 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Ball’s targets include senior wideout Nate Curry, the Jackets’ top returning receiver who caught 37 passes for 426 yards and three touchdowns. The rest of the receiving corps in unproved but talented, including senior Levon Thomas, junior Damarius Bilbo and freshman Calvin Johnson.

Anchoring the offensive line are three returning starters in senior tackle Kyle Wallace, senior center Andy Tidwell-Neal and junior guard Brad Honeycutt.

Defensively, Butler and Henderson have both received preseason all-America recognition.

After leading the ACC in sacks last season with 11, Henderson pairs at defensive end with junior Travis Parker, a converted defensive tackle.

Butler, a preseason nominee for the Jim Thorpe Award, leads a veteran secondary that also returns junior strong safety Dawan Landry and junior cornerback Reuben Houston.

Juniors Gerris Wilkinson and Chris Reis, a pair of Academic All-ACC selections, anchor Tech’s revamped linebacker corps after moving there from defensive end and safety, respectively.

Samford, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference and NCAA Division I-AA, posted a 7-4 record under head coach Bill Gray, the 2003 OVC Coach of the Year in the Bulldogs’ first year in the league.

The Bulldogs got a head start on the 2004 season with a 30-24 victory over West Alabama Saturday.

Samford returns the OVC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in wide receiver Efrem Hill, a consensus all-America and finalist for the Walter Payton Award, and free safety Cortland Finnegan.

Samford quarterback Ray Nelson, who passed for 2,759 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall, threw five touchdowns against West Alabama, three of them to Hill, who had 15 touchdown catches in 2003.

“Offensively they’re spread out,” said Gailey. “They still like to the run the ball a little bit, but they’re very spread out. They’ve got one really great receiver. They did a good job moving the ball last year. We’ll have our work cut out in pass defense. “They are a bend-but-don’t-break defense. They make you earn it all the way down the field and they do a good job of stopping the run. They really try to get the eighth man in the box in a lot of different ways.”

GEORGIA TECH VS. SAMFORD

Georgia Tech has a 5-0 record against Samford. However, all five meetings came from 1903-45, when the Birmingham, Ala., school was known as Howard. The Yellow Jackets won all five games by shutout, outscoring the Bulldogs, 170-0.

The first two meetings were played in Birmingham in 1903 and 1911. Tech then hosted the Bulldogs at Grant Field three times in seven years from 1939-45. In the last meeting, Tech won 43-0 on Oct. 13, 1945, the Jackets first season under legendary head coach Bobby Dodd.

Since 1978, when NCAA Division I was split into Division I-A and Division I-AA, Tech has a record of 17-1-1 against I-AA schools. Both the loss and the tie came at the hands of Furman, which defeated Tech, 17-14, in 1983 and then tied the Jackets, 17-17, in 1986. Since that tie, Tech has won 13 straight games over I-AA opponents.

TECH IN SEASON OPENERS

Georgia Tech has a record of 76-31-4 in season openers. The Jackets fell at Brigham Young, 24-13, in last year’s opener but had won four in a row prior to that. When the season opener is at home, Tech’s record is 63-11-3.

SCHOOL-RECORD SEVENTH STRAIGHT BOWL

Georgia Tech’s appearance in last year’s Humanitarian Bowl was its school-record seventh straight bowl berth. On their current streak, the Yellow Jackets have also played in the 1997 Carquest Bowl, the 1999 and 2000 Toyota Gator Bowls, the 2000 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, the 2001 Seattle Bowl and the 2002 Silicon Valley Classic. Tech previously played in six straight bowl games from 1951-56 under legendary head coach Bobby Dodd.

Georgia Tech is one of just 11 schools in the nation to play in a bowl game each of the last seven years. Florida State and Virginia Tech are the only other Atlantic Coast Conference schools in this elite group. The list also includes Florida, Georgia, Kansas State, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon, Purdue, and Tennessee.

BOWLING ‘EM OVER

After its Humanitarian Bowl victory, Georgia Tech now owns the nation’s best winning percentage in bowl games, among teams with at least 20 bowl appearances. Tech’s record now stands at 21-11 for a winning percentage of .656 in postseason play. The Jackets lead Penn State (23-12-2, .649) and Southern California (27-15, .643).

Tech ranks sixth all-time in bowl victories with 21 and 13th in appearances with 32.

In 1955, the Jackets were the first team to win each of the four traditional major bowls-Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton.

BEST BOWL WINNING PERCENTAGE1. GEORGIA TECH 21-11   .6562. Penn State   23-12-2 .6493. Southern California  27-15   .6434. Oklahoma     23-13-1 .6355. Mississippi  19-12   .613MOST BOWL VICTORIES1. Alabama      292. Southern California  273. Penn State   23   Tennessee    23   Oklahoma     236. GEORGIA TECH 21

SEVEN BOWL TEAMS ON 2004 SCHEDULE

Georgia Tech played eight of its 13 games against bowl teams last season, including victories over Auburn, NC State, Maryland and Tulsa. The Jackets also faced Florida State, Clemson, Virginia and Georgia.

Tech’s 2004 slate includes seven of 11 games against teams that played in bowl games in 2003: Clemson, Georgia, Maryland, Miami, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Tech’s non-conference triumvirate of Samford, Connecticut and Georgia combined for a 27-10 record in 2003, the nation’s fifth highest winning percentage for a non-conference schedule.

Toughest Division I-A Non-Conference Schedules(By Percentage, Based on 2003 Records).829    Oregon State (34-7).789    Iowa State* (30-8).769    Cincinnati (30-9).755    Arkansas State (40-13).730    Georgia Tech (27-10)*.718    Houston (28-11)        SMU (28-11)* Includes I-AA opponent

SEVENTH STRAIGHT WINNING SEASON

Georgia Tech recorded its seventh straight winning season in 2003, the second-longest string in school history, and the longest since Tech had 18 consecutive winning seasons from 1908-1925 under John Heisman and William Alexander.

623 AND COUNTING

Georgia Tech has an all-time record of 623-421-43 (.594). Entering their 112th year of intercollegiate competition, the Yellow Jackets rank 18th among all Division I-A teams in all-time victories.

NFL HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE

Georgia Tech’s third-year head coach Chan Gailey has 30 years of coaching experience, including 14 years in the National Football League. Gailey spent two years (1998-99) as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, compiling an 18-14 regular-season record and leading the Cowboys to the playoffs both years, including the 1998 NFC Eastern Division title.

Gailey is one of nine current head coaches in NCAA Division I-A who have previous head coaching experience in the NFL. The others are Rich Brooks (Kentucky), Bill Callahan (Nebraska), Pete Carroll (Southern California), Mike Riley (Oregon State), Al Groh (Virginia), Lou Holtz (South Carolina), June Jones (Hawaii), and John Robinson (UNLV).

Of those nine, only Gailey and Robinson (Los Angeles Rams) have led a team to the NFL playoffs and compiled a winning NFL record. Groh (New York Jets, 2001) had a winning record in one NFL season but did not reach the playoffs, while Callahan led the Oakland Raiders to the playoffs once but did not compile a winning record.

NEW FACES ON COACHING STAFF

Georgia Tech has two new faces on its coaching staff, both on the defensive side of the ball. Giff Smith joined the Tech staff from Tulane and will coach Tech’s defensive line, while Brian Jean-Mary (pronounced jon-muh-REE), who came from North Alabama, will tutor the Rambling Wreck linebackers. Jon Tenuta enters his third season as Tech’s defensive coordinator.

On offense, quarterbacks coach Patrick Nix has been elevated to offensive coordinator, while wide receivers coach Buddy Geis has been promoted to assistant head coach.

GOLD RUSH

After posting one of the top rushing seasons in Georgia Tech and ACC history, junior tailback P.J. Daniels vaulted into 12th place on the Yellow Jackets’ career rushing list.

Daniels gained 1,447 yards last fall, the second-best season total in Tech history (Eddie Lee Ivery, 1,562 in 1978) and fourth-best in ACC annals.

Player  Years   Att.    TD      Yards1. Robert Lavette       1981-84 914     45      4,0662. Jerry Mays   1985-89 695     18      3,6993. Eddie Lee Ivery      1975-78 609     22      3,5174. Joe Burns    1998-01 614     31      2,6345. C.J. Williams        1994-96 539     20      2,3656. David Sims   1974-76 379     21      2,2747. William Bell 1989-93 418     14      2,0268. Leon Hardeman        1951-53 337     22      1,7949. Ronny Cone   1979-83 381     11      1,77710.Joe Hamilton 1996-99 501     18      1,75811.Lenny Snow   1965-67 445     18      1,74312.P.J. Daniels 2002-   355     12      1,702

THREE ALL-ACC SELECTIONS RETURN

Three Yellow Jackets who made the 2003 all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors return for Georgia Tech in tailback P.J Daniels, who led the league in rushing, defensive end Eric Henderson, who was the ACC leader in sacks, and free safety James Butler, who was second in the ACC in interceptions.

All three were also named to the ACC All-Academic football team, along with defensive end Gerris Wilkinson, wide receiver Nate Curry and safety Chris Reis.

Tech also features the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year in quarterback Reggie Ball.

SWEET HOME ALABAMA

Tech has two freshmen from Alabama, including true freshman offensive lineman Nate McManus, who could see action in his first college game against the school located just minutes from his home in Birmingham. McManus attended Mountain Brook High School, while defensive end David Brown hails from Madison, Ala., where he attended Bob Jones High.

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