This year’s Super Bowl features a former college lacrosse player, a Lady Gaga halftime show and two Tech alums. Both the Falcons and the Patriots both have a graduate of the Jackets football program: Linebacker Phillip Wheeler for Atlanta and offensive lineman Shaq Mason for New England.
In his second year in the NFL, Mason continues to impress. This season, he appeared in all 16 regular season games, started in 15 of those games and has started and played in both of the playoff games for the Patriots. The premier Tech lineman has been an integral part of the offensive line since joining the team, especially when it comes to run blocking.
Wheeler is in his ninth NFL season and his second with the Falcons. This is Wheeler’s second time on a team in the Super Bowl. In his second season in the league, he and the Indianapolis Colts played in Super Bowl XLIV, losing to the New Orleans Saints 31-17. While Wheeler doesn’t start many games, he is seen as a rotating linebacker and consistently gets snaps. This year he has 28 tackles, 18 solo and 10 assisted.
Beyond the Super Bowl, the NFC championship game saw an additional Jacket, Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett. In the game, he had seven tackles, two of which were assisted. Burnett was unfortunately struggling with a groin injury throughout the conclusion of the Packers’ playoff run. This was Burnett’s seventh season in the league, all of which he has spent with the Packers. This season Burnett recorded 93 tackles, three sacks (a career high) and two interceptions for 19 yards, a reliable piece on defense.
Moving to the rookies, defensive back D.J. White and defensive end Adam Gotsis both saw play through the season. White was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the sixth round of last year’s draft. During the season, he saw playing time in five games, recording 11 tackles and his first career interception in a game against the New York Jets.
Gotsis was drafted by the Denver Broncos at 63rd overall in the second round of the NFL draft. Gotsis appeared in 10 games across the season recording at least one tackle in every game he played and 14 overall. His best game came against the Patriots and former teammate Shaq Mason, where he recorded three tackles. Gotsis remains a rotational player early in his career.
The final rookie, cornerback Christopher Milton was picked up by the Indianapolis Colts in May. His season was rocky, involving getting demoted to the practice squad then promptly pulled back up to the main team. Milton played in six games throughout the season, recording nine combined tackles, seven of which were solo. The good news for Milton was he put up two identical stat games at the end of the season against Minnesota and Jacksonville, recording four combined tackles in both games.
While Calvin Johnson just retired, there are still plenty of Tech veterans who are in the NFL. Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson continued his consistent play in his ninth season. This year he started all 16 regular season games, recording 45 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three pass defenses. The name of Johnson’s game has been consistency: over his nine-year career he has 316 tackles and 39 sacks.
Additionally, Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan played in his seventh season in the NFL this year, starting all 15 of the games he played in and recording a career high nine sacks on the season.
When the season ends, a Tech alumnus will stand as a Super Bowl champion. Regardless of the victor, that’s worth celebrating.