Football miracles provide stress outlet

It was dusk on Nov. 1, 2008. I remember the feeling well—the crushing feeling of hopeful optimism giving way to utter resignation.

With a minute left, Florida State was closing in on the go-ahead touchdown, all but assuring a second straight crushing defeat for Tech after a 6-1 start… until fortune intervened in the form of two true freshmen. Cooper Taylor forced a fumble at the goal line and Rashaad Reid (eventually) fell on it, saving the 31-28 victory and prompting the student body to rush the field in a shocked but euphoric daze.

I was part of that mob at midfield, an impressionable freshman who craved nothing more than victory. It was only natural, then, that I had just fallen completely in love with both Tech football and the college game as a whole after only really discovering college football that August.

In a four-and-a-half year run as an undergrad, that victory—that spontaneous, totally unexpected elation—was one of the happiest moments that I can remember.

This will likely be the final piece I ever write for the Technique and the only even halfway personal piece I have ever written for this paper. Part of me, of course, wants this to turn into a bitter tirade about my time as a student; make no mistake, Tech has done its part to make life a pain.

But I’ve spent most of my time here surrounded by some of the most accomplished people on campus—people who have often been very good friends, but who have through their own hard work convinced me that if I really wanted to earn the right to complain, I should have worked harder, should have been more focused and should have done more with my time on campus.

It was never that simple, obviously. The long, neverending nights spent finishing the latest system dynamics assignment that turned out to be five times longer than the assignment suggested, the unanticipated hell week in October when four professors independently set project due dates in the same week, the sudden fear that this would finally be the time that I got the lowest grade in the class on Tuesday’s test… these were all-too-familiar events, all truly iconic of the Institute and my major (AE) in every sense.

The overarching issue was that no matter how much stress built up at a given time, Tech perpetually kept me busy to the point that I would just have to (try to) bottle up any stress and get back to work. Conveniently, I had vowed to attend every football home game while I was an undergrad, and it didn’t take me long to realize that letting my emotions run freely during a game was a nice way to shed a bit of pent-up frustration about school-related matters.

Really, in the end I was just looking for an excuse to reminisce about five seasons’ worth of football at Tech after always covering the team as a neutral observer for the sports staff.

My first couple seasons—the first two of the Johnson era—were all about the star power loaded on the roster. Between Nesbitt and Dwyer, the Jackets had a battery of runners who were capable of blasting through defenders or simply flying past them. In the most important of games, they shined: Nesbitt’s run down the sideline to seal the win over Virginia Tech in 2009 and his two-yard touchdown run on a midline keeper in overtime to beat Wake—fueled by a huge Dwyer block—were two of the most iconic plays of his career. I’ve watched the team evolve over that span, slowly expanding the playbook and morphing from a squad dominated by that handful of stars to one that simply does not rely on star power. Even under Tevin Washington, the team has had the tools to succeed—but that will only happen if schematic improvements are made on defense. Paul Johnson’s new defensive coordinator will make the move back to a 4-3 set, and next year’s defensive line personnel fit the 4-3 scheme very nicely, easing the transition greatly.

The gigantic interlude has been symbolic of my relationship with college football since that November 2008 evening: it has been a fun distraction that, as is the case for many in the South, has inspired an almost religious fervor.

It’s something that may never have happened if I had never joined the Technique’s sports crew, and perhaps more importantly, I would not have met some of my best friends over the past four-plus years.  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to work here in all the capacities that I have handled since my freshman year, and my only hope is that at least a few readers benefited from all that I’ve written over that span.