Walk-ons Represent Tech Well

Oct. 27, 2009

by Kristy Rivero

ATLANTA — You know of Jonathan Dwyer. You know Josh Nesbitt. Do you know Michael Ray? Do you know Stephen Mann?

Ray, a senior from Roswell, Ga., and Mann, a redshirt freshman from Malabar, Fla., play football for the Jackets and both are walk-ons. That means all the work of two-a-days in the summer and practices in the fall and none of the fun stuff like playing in games and taking road trips.

So while the rest of their teammates traveled to Virginia Friday, these two started their weekend off early, right? Think again.

At the brand new Cedar Ridge Elementary in Dalton, the kids were excited about “Football Frenzy Week”. To celebrate, they wanted some real live football players to make a visit. But football players are a little busy this time of year, so when they made their request to Georgia Tech Athletics, they were prepared to get some autographed posters instead of actual players.

The job of trying to fill the request fell to Leah Thomas, assistant director of Sports Performance Programs. She knew it would be a tough sell. A 90-mile trip up I-75 was the last thing a busy student-athlete wanted to do on a rare Friday off, but she mentioned it to Mann anyway.

To her surprise he said yes, and with his classes done at 11 a.m. Friday, Mann and Ray made the trip.

“I was as impressed as always with the kind of student-athlete that we have at Georgia Tech,” said Thomas. “These guys were willing to give up their Friday afternoon to travel such a long distance just to make a small difference in these kids’ lives. It was fun to watch.”

When they arrived in Dalton, they discovered what “Football Frenzy Week” really meant to the kids at Cedar Ridge. Five hundred kids were packed into the gymnasium that erupted in cheers when Mann and Ray entered. They spoke to the crowd about the importance of school and the work it takes to succeed both on the field and off.

After the assembly, the students returned to their classrooms and Ray and Mann visited the rooms to sign autographs and answer questions.

“It was worth making the long trip up to Dalton,” Mann said. “Those kids were great and it was a great opportunity for us to share with them our story and remind them of the importance of hard work both on the field and in the classroom.”

The Jackets won their rain-soaked game against Virginia on Saturday for their first victory in Charlottesville since 1990. Stephen Mann and Michael Ray won the hearts of 500 kids in Dalton.

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