Final Notes: Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey and some of his players met with the media for one final time on Sunday afternoon. We wind down our pre-Gator Bowl coverage with a final look at the Yellow Jackets.

Gailey knows that, at least in the stands, the Yellow Jackets will be outnumbered by Mountaineers. With West Virginia having taken part in three of the last four Gator Bowls, the Mountaineers certainly have the Jacksonville routine down to a ‘T'. The abundance of West Virginia fans combined with their familiarity of the Gator Bowl makes this feel kind of like a home game for WVU.

"I joked in one of the luncheons we had the other day about West Virginia being here so often that it was kind of them to invite us to their final home game," quipped Gailey. "It seems like every time I turn around, they're here. It is a great opportunity, and we're excited about playing here. Our football team had some big wins this year, and the gentlemen that you see up here have had a big part in those wins, and are a big part of the success for our football team."

Tech started off the season having one identity: junior wide receiver Calvin Johnson. While Johnson has certainly been the standout, it's been tailback Tashard Choice who has rejuvenated the GT offense. The junior transfer from Oklahoma finished the season with an ACC-best 1,304 yards on the ground and ten touchdowns. Choice has done his best work over the final half of the season. Entering Monday's game, the Riverdale, Ga. native has rushed for at least 100 yards in six consecutive contests.

"I think that early in the season, we had changed offenses somewhat," Gailey explained. "We were searching for the direction that we were going to go. The longer the season went, Reggie Ball, our quarterback, got banged up a little bit and we went more to more of a tailback-oriented running game. That's when things started turning around for Tashard, and for the statistics that he was able to put up."

Added Choice: "The main thing was the fact that coach, the offensive coordinator, and the running backs coach all decided that we needed to establish the running game. We saw certain things that the defense was giving us, and we really wanted to make sure the running game worked to we could free up Calvin and the other receivers."

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Johnson was asked if this would be his final game in a Georgia Tech uniform. The junior has six 100-yard receiving games this season. His totals for the year include 67 catches for 1,016 yards (15.2 ypc) and 13 touchdowns.

Even when he's not catching the ball, he's picking up yards through the air. According to the Georgia Tech Gator Bowl press guide, Johnson has drawn 19 pass interference or defensive holding penalties.

Stay or go, Johnson has left quite an impression both on and off the field of the Yellow Jacket program.

"I get to say it again: he's a great football player, but he's a better person than he is a football player," said Gailey. "It's just great to have him as a part of our football team."

As for his decision, Johnson hasn't announced anything yet.

"Like I always say, I'm not going to address that until the end of the season," said the unanimous first team All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner. "As far as I know, we've got one more game left and its tomorrow."

As for going up against West Virginia's often-criticized pass defense, Johnson cracked a bit of a smile when asked if he was looking forward to facing it.

"I guess with the coverages that they play a lot of, yeah, of course you feel like you can have some success," he admitted. "That's how you have to look at every game, though."

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Georgia Tech safety Jamal Lewis was involved in a car accident on Saturday that claimed the life of an off-duty police officer reported to be a close friend of Lewis and his family.

"I had breakfast with Jamal this morning," said Gailey. "Physically, he seems ok. He's got to go back for some more tests today. I told him ‘See how you feel. We'll go from there.' He is going to try the walk-through that we'll have right after lunch."

Whether Lewis plays or not remains to be seen, but his coaches and teammates have provided support for their fellow Yellow Jacket.

"We tried to give him that, but can you ever do enough? You don't know, but you hope that you can," said Gailey.

"We're more than a defense, we're a family," added defensive lineman Joe Anoai. "Anytime something as bad as that happens, you can't help but feel bad. We're just trying to give him as much support as we can. Myself and the rest of the defense, we're going to be out there playing for him."

The head coach did not know whether or not he would address the team as a whole regarding the situation prior to Monday's game against the Mountaineers.

"In general, we don't bring personal issues into the team situation," explained the former Dallas Cowboys head coach. "I think our guys handle that with our players very, very well. I don't think it has to be addressed team-wide for the most part. It's a feel situation. If you feel like you should (address it) then you do. If you feel like you shouldn't, then you don't worry about it."

Lewis, a junior, was a first team All-ACC pick this past season. If he indeed does not play, that would leave the Yellow Jackets without two of their starting defensive backs. Senior cornerback Kenny Scott was ruled academically ineligible, and will not participate in the bowl game.

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Finally, some of you professional wrestling fans may look at Anoai and think he looks familiar. The senior defensive tackle has a rich lineage of professional wrestling in his blood. His father and uncle ("Sika and Afa") made up the Wild Samoans tag team. Brother "Rosey" and cousin "Rikishi" are also wrestlers in the WWE.

"It was a little bit different," Anoai said of growing up in a wrestling family. "My father was on the road a good bit. Like I've said before, it was all for the family because he was sacrificing his time to provide for our family. It's been a blessing for us."

When asked if he too would like to be coming to an arena near you anytime in the future, Anoai didn't sound too interested in pursuing the family business.

"When I'm done with football, then I might start thinking about it," he said. "Right now, I don't have any aspirations of being in wrestling, though."

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