Seniors leave lasting legacy on program

Photo courtesy of Gort Productions

Talking to any member of Tech’s football program about this season, a certain undertone is always evident: family.

This year’s success has frequently been attributed to the team’s strong bond and dedication to each other. Such a selfless mentality is not easily taught by coaches, and requires the leadership of older team members.

The Coastal Division champions’ graduating seniors have done an outstanding job of instilling habits that put Georgia Tech football first instead of focusing on individual statistics and accomplishments.

Look no further than team chaplain Derrick Moore for proof.

“There’s nothing like family. At the end of the day…that’s all you have. Ultimately, that’s all you need. A bunch of brothers, bleeding and sweating together…for moments like these. Do it for the guy to your left and the guy to your right. Because that’s all that matters. Guy to your left, guy to your right. Thank you guys for your heart and soul,”Moore said to the team before their dominating win over Miami.

His speech was featured in Tech’s “Time to Turn the Yellow Jackets Loose” video that went viral and received over 325,000 views.

In an offense where play calls are sent in by substituted players on virtually every play, there is truly no room for selfishness or “diva” personalities. Instead, the locker room is filled with commitment and perseverance.

“I think this concluded my 36th year of coaching, and these guys were probably as much fun or more fun team to coach than any team I’ve been associated with,” commented head coach Paul Johnson. “They play so hard and they care so much.”

The Yellow Jackets’ stat sheet displays a unique lack of selfishness; senior B-backs Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days have shared playing time and had similar carries, similar yards, and exactly 9 touchdowns a piece.

Carries, yards, and touchdowns are also well-distributed among the A-backs, including seniors B.J. Bostic, Tony Zenon, Deon Hill, and Charles Perkins.

Senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, despite being the vocal leader of the defense, selflessly shared playing time with some of the younger backup linebackers as well.

Players spoke all year about how tight-knit and close this team was, but Paul Johnson reflected upon it one last time after the Jackets’ Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

“There’s no selfishness on this team. Nobody tries to put themselves above the team.” Johnson said proudly, “They don’t care who’s getting the ball or what’s happening, they just want to win the games. It’s refreshing to coach guys like that in today’s game.”

There is no better place to observe the tight bond that characterizes this team than the dynamic between Days and Laskey.

Dubbed “Ebony and Ivory” by their teammates, the two B-backs are known to be extremely close and supportive of each other, despite Days being one year older than Laskey.

When Laskey went down with a shoulder injury against North Carolina, it was Days who was there for him, switching from A-back to B-back to take his place.

Not only did he switch positions, but he absolutely thrived in replacing his teammate, rushing for three consecutive 100-yard games until Laskey was able to come back against Clemson.

To top it all off, Days wore Laskey’s #37 shirt under his pads in his first start at B-back against Pittsburgh, when Days rushed for a then career high 110 yards on a then career high 22 carries. 

Laskey was ecstatic when asked about Day’s spectacular 69-yard touchdown run to start the second half of the Orange Bowl.

“It was beast mode, beast mode 2.0. I couldn’t ask for a better kid to get that, he’s such a great guy,”  replied Laskey.

Coming off the field of the last regular season game in their Tech careers, Laskey and Days shared a special moment with a long embrace as they walked off the field with their arms around each other.

With one of the most successful seasons in recent Yellow Jacket history coming to a historic and emphatic end in Miami, the graduating seniors reveled in the locker room celebrations, but the fact that they had played their last game in White and Gold was very much in the back of the minds.

“It feels good to end my career on this note,” said All-American offensive guard Shaquille Mason, “I can’t even express how proud I am of these guys.”

Senior wide receiver Darren Waller said that the seniors talked to the entire team before the game about their experiences playing for Tech, but it was especially tough “knowing it was [his] last time taking the field with [the team].”

Ending the season on such a positive note eased the pain of having to graduate though, admitted Waller.

Days was of a similar outlook.

“It’s kind of bittersweet, playing in a game like this and winning your final game, it’s fantastic.” Days said, “You really can’t write it much better. But I’m going to miss Coach Johnson, the staff, all the players that I’ve seen grow up from their official visits to now.”

One thing is certain: the selfless attitude and dedication to the team will not graduate with the seniors, according to Laskey, who believes that the younger players will definitely be able to carry on the tradition.

With expectations through the roof for the upcoming season, it will be interesting to see which  younger players step up to fill the large shoes left behind by the graduating seniors.

Road games at Miami, Notre Dame and Clemson will provide a tough challenge, but the right combination of selflessness and hard work could once again result in a very successful campaign for the Jackets.