S E N I O R M O M E N T G eorgi a T e c h ’ s 2 0 seniors
TRAILBLAZERS Eddie McAshan led a group of African-American athletes who paved the way for others at Georgia Tech
BUCKET-LOADS OF SUCCESS Coach Bruce Heppler has come a long way – and so has the Yellow Jacket golf program
Front: Karl Barnes 1st Row: left to right-Hamilton Barksdale, Drew Hill, Joe Harris, Ron Pullin, Zebedee Linder, James Thomas 2nd Row: right to left-Eddie McAshan, Rudy Allen, Larry Few, Mackel Harris, Don Bessillieu,Lucius Sanford Back: left to right – Kent Hill and David Sims Not pictured: the late Judge Chuck Floyd
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winter 2010-11 • Volume 4, Number 2 EDITOR
David Johnson, Sam Morgan and Barry Williams
DESIGN & LAYOUT
Simit Shah Jack Wilkinson Adam Van Brimmer Matt Winkeljohn Coley Harvey Wayne Hogan
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In This Issue
HANK McCAMISH PAVILION
New home for Yellow Jacket basketball will open in 2012-13
Eddie McAshan led a group of African-American athletes who paved the way for others at Georgia Tech
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BUCKET-LOADS OF SUCCESS
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Coach Bruce Heppler has come a long way – and so has the Yellow Jacket golf program Legendary sports writer Furman Bisher’s relationship with Georgia Tech athletics has spanned six decades
Georgia Tech’s 20 seniors – some recruited, some transferred, others walked-on have combined to form one close, successful class Tippins and McCullers are opposites, but their close bond is helping Tech’s volleyball team win
Tech women’s basketball has the players and confidence to match wits with its most demanding schedule ever
Moe Miller’s perseverance personifies Tech’s underdog status
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HANK McCAMISH PAVILION New home for Yellow Jacket basketball will open in 2012-13
The Hank McCamish Pavilion – scheduled for completion prior to the start of the 2012-13 season – is more than just a simple renovation of Georgia Tech’s current basketball facility, Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Much more, in fact. Thanks to the generosity of the McCamish family, and combined with the Zelnak Practice Facility, Georgia Tech will boast basketball facilities competitive with the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference and beyond. “This will be a top-notch facility that we can be very proud of,” head men’s coach Paul Hewitt said. “It will be a tremendous benefit for us in recruiting, and will provide our fans with a beautiful arena to watch our teams play.” Women’s head coach MaChelle Joseph echoed her counterpart. “The McCamish Pavilion will not only enhance our in-game atmosphere, but it will be a great asset in the recruiting process.”
Scheduled to begin groundbreaking in April, 2011, the new facility will have a main entryway, located near the corner of 10th and Fowler Street. Once inside the building you’ll notice the open concourse, the center-hung scoreboard, the upper deck and chairback seating for almost all of the estimated 8,900 seats. There are numerous other features, including club seating. Next season Georgia Tech’s teams will play in a temporary home – Gwinnett Arena or Phillips Arena, or both. ■
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On Sept. 12, 1970, McAshan became the first African-American to start at quarterback for a major Southeastern college program
Eddie McAshan led a group of African-American athletes who paved the way for others at Georgia Tech
By Coley Harvey
As a teenager, there was one question that constantly bounced around inside Eddie McAshan’s head: “Why?” Why was it that he had to be the pioneer? Couldn’t someone else step forward first? Why did the responsibility of a community and a people always seem to rest at his feet and in his lap? Did anyone know? “That’s the thing that I kind of hated,” McAshan, now years beyond his former young adult self, said recently. “Every time I looked around, I was the first. People said, ‘You’re going to be the first this, first that.’ “Well I don’t really care about that. I just want to play and just do what I normally do.” That meant being a quarterback, and above all else, just being an ordinary football-starved kid. But for McAshan and a handful of other student-athletes who found their way to Georgia Tech at the turn of the 1970s, life was anything but ordinary or normal. It was disturbing, hate-filled, confusing, difficult, grand, humbling, peacemaking, rewarding and edifying all at once. It was the type of experience that turned young boys into the type of older men who would understand the virtues of brotherhood and sacrifice; virtues some of them wish a present-day generation of gridiron stars would cling closer to. Pioneers each, this is the story about a group of men who forever changed the way football was
played at Georgia Tech, and, most importantly, who played it. This is the story of the Yellow Jackets’ first African-American players.
Long The Pioneers
Born in the early, predawn shadows of the Cold War, Eddie McAshan was a child of the 1950s and ‘60s in America’s baby booming South. A battlefield of a different kind, his native Florida was a hotbed of change during one of the more turbulent eras of its country’s creation. Civil Rights and the fight for them took center stage as citizens boycotted unfair business practices and protested legislation that led to the shutting of opportunities for segments of their population. Specifically, as McAshan came of age, African-Americans like him were pushing for advancement in careers in downtown office towers and rural college campuses. They even tried stepping on once restricted playing fields, hoping to join forces with the white athletes who previously refused their presence. Some of the more active proponents for pushes toward such equality were the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his cohorts that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a soon-to-be Atlanta mayor in Andrew Young. In 1964, McAshan, then a matter of months removed from having helped integrate his previously allwhite Gainesville, Fla. junior high school, had one of his first — albeit
Joe Harris was the only African-American on the 1971 freshmen team.
Zebedee Linder was the only black athlete on the 1972 track team censored — interactions with Young. That summer, Young, the man who later became Atlanta’s first African-American mayor, tried to lead a group in a Civil Rights march in St. Augustine, Fla. Before it really got going, however, a violent mob of more than 300 broke it up. Many of those in the crowd were said to be members of the Ku Klux Klan. “I remember when my mom wouldn’t allow me to watch the television news when Andrew Young was beaten in St. Augustine (Fla.),” McAshan said. “She thought that might spook me to see that that’s what it was about. She thought you’d go running out (on the football field) there and then you had the team and the fans just beat all of ya’ll up. “That’s how she thought. Naturally, you’d think that about your child. But that never crossed me; I was just going out there, playing, thinking about nothing of it.” A similar episode happened to fellow former Yellow Jackets player Joe Harris. It was one that would define his future. “I was 12 years old and these students from North Carolina State asked me to go with them to Raleigh to hear Dr. King speak,” the Fayetteville, N.C. native said. “They said, ‘Hey Joe, come ride up with us.’” When he and the group of mostly white college students arrived, however, they encountered their own KKK opposition. Upon seeing their car, members of the Klan came over and began badgering the occupants. “They started pushing it, they
were rocking it and I’m sitting in the car going, ‘What’s this? What’s going on?” Harris said. The experience concluded only after he and others were chased by the mob into a nearby park and were protected by a police officer sitting nearby. As frightening as the situation was to a child who had never previously encountered such emotion first-hand, the moment taught Harris something about himself. “I had seen some things, but didn’t know the meaning of it at 12 years old,” Harris said. “But I just knew right there that I had to be a leader.”
Coming To Tech
Riding the wave of a storied, AllAmerica-worthy high school football and basketball career, McAshan began fielding inquires from colleges across the county. For his all-black community in segregated Gainesville, witnessing some of the nation’s largest traditionally white universities knock down the McAshans’ front door wasn’t too surprising. Everyone in the area had seen Eddie play and they knew, like the colleges, that he was the real deal. They all knew he was going to take someone’s school to athletic glory, just as he had at Gainesville High School. On the hardcourt, the left-handed shooter featured a pure, net-tickling jump shot that had all of north Florida abuzz. His game-winners had a tendency to send his school’s students flooding onto the floor and causing spur-of-the-moment revelry. www.ramblinwreck.com
“All the black quarterbacks of today are riding in the jetstream of Eddie McAshan. In many ways, he was the Jackie Robinson of Southern college football.” –Jesse Jackson But it was on the football field where the slender, strong-armed, right-handed-throwing quarterback with defensive back’s feet was to really make his biggest mark. “He had good speed, a great throwing arm, and he was a great leader,” Jack Thompson, Tech’s former director of recruiting recalled recently. Thompson came to the Institute in 1968 and has been there since. Most of that time has been spent as part of the athletic association, where he currently holds the title of associate director of athletics in charge of development, leading the Alexander-Tharpe Fund. But in the fall of 1968, he was in charge of bringing McAshan to the Flats. “We spent a lot of time in Gainesville. We had somebody in Gainesville almost constantly,” Thompson said, referring to a time long before the NCAA began ratcheting up rules regarding school and player recruiting visits. “I was there probably four or five times, and you had other coaches that were there as often or more.” The Yellow Jackets weren’t alone in McAshan’s hometown. The University of Florida, in his own backyard and where his then-girlfriend was a student, came around constantly, wondering if he would want to come on board as a backup signalcaller. Miami, a few hours down the road in Coral Gables, beckoned also, wanting to place him in their runfirst, tailback-infused scheme. Like Georgia Tech, they wanted him to be one of their first African-American players. But the teams’ on-field and playing-time philosophies didn’t sit well with McAshan. As a result, he refused both in-state schools and listened openly to Tech’s promises. Bud Carson, the Yellow Jackets’ relatively young head coach, told McAshan he wanted him to eventually become a major piece in his team’s success. He believed he had
the moxie and wits to start at a major college, and wanted to give McAshan time to prove that. Mix those statements with the proximity of Tech in Atlanta, a city long regarded a Mecca for African-American professionals, and the Yellow Jackets emerged the biggest suitor. “My thinking, as a young guy, was what better place if something (racially motivated) was to happen than (Atlanta) instead of being in some college town where they could really do anything?” McAshan said. “I figured the media here would be more pro-integration and proAfrican-American because of all the ‘firsts’ that were here. The largest (African American) contractor in America was here: Herman Russell. The largest (African Americanowned) insurance company was here with Jesse Hill and Atlanta Life.” According to Thompson, the Yellow Jackets were less concerned with McAshan’s skin color and any fallout from fans and players than they were about his ability to launch a perfect spiral. “We looked at Eddie as a quarterback,” Thompson said. “Rather than just a black quarterback, he was very talented and a bright young man. That was what went into play when recruiting him.” After enrolling in 1969, McAshan sat out his freshman year — as was customary for freshmen at all schools at the time. Then, on Sept. 12, 1970, 40 years ago this fall, in front of more than 51,000 at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the sophomore made history. Starting against South Carolina in an eventual 23-20 Yellow Jackets win, McAshan became the first African-American to start at quarterback for a major Southeastern college program. By the end of the year, he had engineered the team to a 9-3 finish and a Sun Bowl win over Texas Tech. Once again, he was a trendsetter, a pioneer. He was first.
On Oct. 22 of that year, Jet, one of the leading African-American magazines of its time, placed McAshan on its cover, heralding him as one of the few “black quarterbacks of ‘white’ college teams.” McAshan’s success began a trickle effect at the Institute, as slowly, African-American players funneled into the ranks. By 1971, Greg Horne had joined the team. A year later, Joe Harris and walk-on Karl Barnes were there. The next year, Cleo Johnhson, Rudy Allen, Thomas Crowley and David Sims enrolled. Then came along linebacker Lucius Sanford, who headlined a group of 13 that came to Tech. In the next couple years, defensive back/place-kicker Don Bessillieu and linebacker Mackel Harris came along with Drew and Kent Hill, sparking an influx of African-American players on the Yellow Jackets roster that has been maintained the last 40 years. “I remember when Pepper Rodgers was recruiting me, he said something like, ‘I don’t care if you’re a yellow, purple, black, green or blue linebacker, if the purple guy’s the best, he’ll play. Or if the green guy is better than him, he’ll play,’” said Sanford, who went on to enjoy a career with the Buffalo Bills before eventually returning to Tech and working for the athletic association.
Time To Play
Joe Harris needed very little motivation whenever the whistle blew and he stepped off the sidelines. Much of his motivation was internal, the by-product of a childhood reared in weightlifting and studying the tools necessary to be a good linebacker. “God gave me a dream to become
a professional linebacker at a very young age,” Harris said. “So I read books about it. There was one about Chris Hanburger, Sam Huff and Dick Butkus that I read all the time.” Apparently the book contained good tips and techniques. Following a college career that included setting career tackling marks and being named a team captain, Harris was drafted by the Chicago Bears and went on to have a career in the NFL, where he became a backup to Hanburger. But while Harris, one of the Yellow Jackets’ defense’s lone AfricanAmerican starters during his tenure, needed very little to inspire him, there was one incident in a game against Florida State that quietly got his blood boiling more than any other. “I walked on the field and the quarterback from Florida State said ‘Oh, ya’ll got a (expletive) boy on your team,’” Harris said. “It built a bond because our guys, they heard that and they said (to the quarterback), ‘What you say?’ And I said to them, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it.’ “The very next play, I blitzed in and hit this quarterback and knocked him on his back and knocked the wind out of him and he was gasping for air. And looking down at him, I said, ‘Hey, what about you now, down there on your back?’ So it made them inspired. They said, ‘Joe’s a real guy.’” Previous to that moment, however, there were times in the locker room, the former inside linebacker said, when his white teammates confronted him about why he and other African-American players were attempting to play at a school like Tech. What was it inside that gave them the conviction and desire to try to break barriers? “(They said) ‘You could be play-
Three years after McAshan became the starting QB, Lucius Sanford (above) was part of a wave of 13 African-Americans who joined the Tech football program.
ing on some of these great teams with some of your people,’” Joe Harris recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, I set the goal a long time ago that I wanted to come to Georgia Tech.’ Coach Bud Carson had recruited me as a junior and he said, ‘If you want to come to Georgia Tech, I want you. And I’ll help you graduate from that school.’” By the time Harris was ready to play, however, Carson had departed, heading to the NFL in 1972 to coach defensive backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A year later, he was named defensive coordinator of the unit that earned the nickname the “Steel Curtain” and later went on to serve as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. But as the days passed, Carson’s loss would have a minimal effect on Harris and the rest of the defenders. In time, the Yellow Jackets still built a reputation for having strong, physical and hard-tackling linebackers. That doesn’t mean there weren’t players who were affected, though. Without Carson’s hands-on approach, McAshan struggled when the more distant Bill Fulcher, a Tech alum, took over the program his senior year. Coach and quarterback never seemed to settle into a comfortable rhythm together on the field and off it. “He was always up in the tower,” McAshan said, referring to Fulcher’s practice location. Then, as the 1972 season was preparing to close, it happened. A ticket fiasco, a complete misunderstanding by all involved and subsequent drama that McAshan would later call “ridiculous.” As the Yellow Jackets prepared for their annual regular season-finale with Georgia, McAshan requested additional tickets for his family to the game in Athens. A secretary denied his order. The facts that played out from there become hazy, as a case of he-said, she-said, racially-charged finger-pointing ensued. What is known is that McAshan refused to participate in that Thursday’s practice and stayed away from the team until meeting with Fulcher at the team hotel that Friday night. He was told he was suspended for the rivalry game, but would be eligible to play in the upcoming Liberty Bowl. Apparently, something changed. McAshan learned before the bowl that he would not be allowed to play in it, and he was forced instead to listen from outside the stadium as his backup led the Yellow Jackets to a 31-30 win over Iowa State. Before the game was played, race became labeled the primary contributor in Tech’s refusal to play him, as Jesse Jackson and other African-American leaders stepped up
to McAshan’s defense. They pleaded with the school. But to no avail. Publicly, McAshan was tabbed a flashy, fame-hungry star who cared more about a few tickets than leading his team. Atlanta became divided along racial lines as AfricanAmericans sided with McAshan, while whites distanced themselves from him. His black teammates even tried to stand in his corner, but threatened with the loss of scholarships, they refused to get too deeply involved. Harris remembered trying to avoid some meetings where Jackson and others were present. But even if they wouldn’t participate in protests, teammates did agree to wear black armbands before and during the bowl as a sign of silent solidarity with their supposed black-balled teammate. “It wasn’t like I broke some major NCAA rule. That kind of thing happens all the time,” McAshan said. “As a matter of fact, one of the big recruiting points for all schools then was tickets. They could give you tickets and then alumni buy it from you. So you could get as many as you could get. It was no big deal back then. I mean, I used to tell them, if each school didn’t offer you different incentives or perks, you’d probably go to the nearest college.” The ordeal gave McAshan little incentive to return to Tech, and he stayed mostly away for the next two decades.
Knowing Their Past
“All the black quarterbacks of today are riding in the jetstream of Eddie McAshan. In many ways, he was the Jackie Robinson of Southern college football.” –Jesse Jackson Following years of severed ties and a heartache brought on by the place he and others once fondly called “Ma Tech,” McAshan eventually returned. In 1995, thanks to the work of his former teammates and fellow former Yellow Jackets players, McAshan was finally inducted into the Institute’s Hall of Fame. He even received a letter from United States President Bill Clinton, congratulating him on the honor. “You truly understand the value of hard work and commitment,” the letter, dated May 24, 1995, read. “A great deal of effort is always necessary for the successful fulfillment of any endeavor, and I commend you for your special accomplishment. You are an inspiration for others.” At the time his career abruptly ended, McAshan had set 17 school records that included throwing five touchdown passes in a single game. All of them have either since been
McAshan, Harris and others paved the way for players like Shawn Jones, who was the quarterback on Tech’s 1990 national championship team. passed or tied. While African-American players roamed the Yellow Jackets’ sidelines with greater frequency and regularity following McAshan’s departure, the school would not have another African-American starting quarterback for almost another 20 years. In 1990, as Georgia Tech embarked on its latest national championship run, Shawn Jones — a quick, strong-armed quarterback patterned in a shorter mold of McAshan — was in his second year leading the team. When his career ended, Donnie Davis took the reins. Davis then begat former Heisman hopeful Joe Hamilton, who — after a three-year gap — begat Reggie Ball. Ball’s tenure finished just two years before current starter Joshua Nesbitt took over. “That would be good for Josh if the team could do well,” McAshan said of the latest All-ACC signal-caller. “I like to see him get accolades. Because, if you play good and then your last year you…” He trailed off. Earlier this season, McAshan, Joe and Mackel Harris (not related), Sanford, Bessillieu and 10 of the other early African American players returned to Tech for a ceremony recognizing their accomplishments. That same afternoon, while the Yellow Jackets prepared to take on Virginia, Joe Harris was named an honorary captain, and assisted with the pregame coin toss. “I didn’t get a chance to speak with them before the game, but I really wanted to,” current Yellow Jackets slot back Roddy Jones said. Although time can make it easy to forget the history of these early pioneers, Jones added that their efforts must be remembered. “It really humbles us to see them and what they went through,” Jones
said. “We really kind of take it for granted now I’d say. If you look across the nation, you see black players all over the place. But to know that once, that wasn’t true, it’s something you don’t think about a lot. So any time it’s brought up, it really makes me appreciate what they did and what they went through to get us here.” Today, McAshan works with the Life Foundation, Inc., which is the founder of Life Chiropractic College, eventually Life University, in 1975. Its founder, Dr. Sid Williams, is a Tech graduate who played on Tech’s 1951 and 1952 football teams. Williams tries to make as many Yellow Jacket sporting events as he can. The Life Foundation assists disadvantaged students. Joe Harris, who comes around campus often, has a recently published book titled “The Stars that Never Shine.” It is stocked by the campus Barnes and Noble, and tells his struggles of growing up the grandson of a sharecropper in North Carolina and how that experience helped him graduate from Tech with an industrial management degree and later on to a career in the NFL. McAshan and his compatriots may have never really wanted to be pioneers. They may have never asked for history to come to their doors. But the fact remains that it did. “I’ve had guys say, ‘Man, you had to go through all that? And then others that used to say, I’m glad I wasn’t you,’” McAshan said. “I understand what they’re saying. “But you know, God’s got his blazers; His people that He wants to go through years and set an example like a running back like Jim Brown. We just all have a purpose. I always kept that in mind.”■
BUCKET-LOADS OF SUCCESS Coach Bruce Heppler has come a long way – and so has the Yellow Jacket golf program
By Adam Van Brimmer
Picking the driving range at Dixie Red Hills golf course was a labor-intensive job for young Bruce Heppler. The public tract in St. George, Utah, lacked one of those cage-covered, ball-collecting carts that hackers take aim at everywhere. Heppler’s legs wouldn’t have been long enough to operate the contraption anyway. He started working there well before he hit puberty, child labor laws be damned. Heppler picked the range on foot and 23 balls at a time. That’s how many x-outs Heppler’s metal sleeve could hold. He’d fill the tube, empty it into a bucket and fill the tube again. All for 30 cents a bucket, “$1.50 for the big yellow ones,” Heppler says. “And all the golf I could play.” The sound of balls entering sleeve became the rhythm of Heppler’s life. Now, 40 years later, that “phh-unk, phh-unk, phh-unk” is the backbeat of Georgia Tech’s golf program. Just as Heppler earned his way onto the links as a boy, every player to tee it up for the Yellow Jackets under Heppler – be he destined to play on the PGA Tour or to man the pro shop counter at a local muni – did his own version of picking the range. “We had a guy here, Bryce Molder, who finished his career with the lowest stroke average in the history of college golf. You know what they gave him when he left here? An entry form for q-school,” Heppler says. “There are no first or second-round draft picks. No contracts. That’s the philosophy of our program.” Judging by the last 15 years, the approach is as pure as a hole-in-one.
Creating a culture Georgia Tech’s golf team has qualified for the 30-team NCAA Championships every year since 1998, when current PGA Tour stars Molder and Matt Kuchar led the Yellow Jackets to a third-place finish.
The program has posted three national runner-up finishes and claimed seven Atlantic Coast Conference titles during the span. Five Georgia Tech golf alums played on the PGA Tour this season and four others worked the developmental circuits. Georgia Tech is an elite golf program, like Duke in basketball. Heppler, like the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski, didn’t establish the sport at his school. But he did take it to the top level, just like Coach K. “What set Tech apart for me is they are always good,” senior John-Tyler Griffin says. “No matter what kind of team they have on paper, they are always going to find a way to get it done. I was a big Duke basketball fan growing up and you always knew Coach K’s team would be good. You get the same feeling being around coach Heppler.” The comparison fits. Heppler didn’t set out so much to build a program as create a culture, an atmosphere where excellence is more expectation than goal. Heppler lays the foundation for success by raising the money for unparalleled facilities – like an on-campus practice range and playing privileges at East Lake and Golf Club of Georgia – and recruiting talented, driven and mature players. The program almost runs itself from there. “The biggest meeting he has is at the beginning of the year with the new guys,” Griffin says. “The veterans, we don’t talk to him much, especially when things are going well. He’s an organizer. He expects the best out of us and knows how to get it out of us without us really noticing.” Heppler knew his program had made the turn the day in the late-1990s he heard his younger players boasting that they’d “gotten into Monty’s pocket.” Molder resembled a shaggy-haired Colin Montgomerie at the time and was among the most competitive golfers Heppler had ever known. If the younger players had the drive to work hard enough to challenge Molder – who would in turn be motivated to step up his game – the potential for improvement would multiply.
“That development and learning happens, and it feeds on itself,” Heppler says. “It became like a vacuum. They pulled each other along, and that attitude got passed on down.” Heppler also witnessed the impact a culture can have in Georgia Tech’s academic success. Molder made Academic All-American while at Georgia Tech, only the second golfer in school history to do so. Twenty Yellow Jackets have earned the honor since. “One guy shows you can do both – play great golf and get great grades -- and everybody thinks they can do both,” Heppler says. “If that’s just what you do, then that’s the way it is.”
Learning from the best
Heppler learned his Jedi-like mind tricks from the Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi of college golf: Oklahoma State’s Mike Holder and UNLV’s Dwaine Knight. Heppler was an intern-turnedadministrator at UNLV when the PGA Tour brought an event to Las Vegas in 1988. The Runnin’ Rebel golf team was a glorified intramural program at the time, nothing like the Jerry Tarkanian-led basketball team. The interest sparked by the PGA Tour’s arrival led the school’s administration to make golf a priority.
Heppler, who’d coached a year at Division III Amherst while getting his master’s degree, took over custodial duties while the school conducted a coaching search. Heppler did a good enough job that the new coach, Knight, retained him as an assistant. “He had organizational skills, and he had played golf,” Knight says. “He helped up put together the groundwork for our foundation, back when having a fund-raising arm was a big deal. He got the foundation rolling and now it’s a great benefit.” Heppler’s business acumen is as important to his success as a sure putting stroke is to that of his players. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and is a Certified Public Accountant, having passed the exam on his first try back in 1985. He spent a year working for an accounting firm in Salt Lake City before pursuing a career in athletics. His suit-and-tie background later helped land him a job at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys’ Holder was in the process of raising money and building the school’s golf club, Karsten Creek, and hired Heppler to assist with the golf team and be the club’s marketing director. Karsten Creek opened in 1994. One year later, Holder took a telephone call from then Georgia Tech athletic director Homer Rice inquiring about Heppler’s head coaching
potential. “You never know how successfully someone will make the leap from assistant to head coach, but I promise you Bruce will work hard and never embarrass the university,” Holder says he told Rice. “You will be proud that he is your coach, and he will be a great role model for the players.” Rice offered Heppler the job five minutes after meeting him. He entrusted Heppler with a program Heppler’s predecessor, Puggy Black-
mon, had built into a competitive program with the likes of Stewart Cink and David Duval. Maybe Rice bought Holder’s recommendation. Or maybe he looked at Heppler and saw the boy who picked the range by hand and knew he could fill Georgia Tech’s bucket full of success. ■
Legendary sports writer Furman Bisher’s relationship with Georgia Tech athletics has spanned six decades – and continues even at age 92
By Wayne Hogan
The charter plane sat on the tarmac fully loaded with Georgia Tech football players, coaches and staff. In some ways, 50 years ago, things weren’t all that different from today for college football teams, including Tech. The scenario is the same. The team plays a game on the road, players shower, pack up their gear, media interviews are concluded and the travel party heads directly to the nearest airport for the return flight home. But this particular day, players sat quietly in their seats and coaches fidgeted. The equipment and personal luggage had been loaded, the engines warmed up and everyone was anxious to get back home to Atlanta. But there was one passenger absent. Left back at the stadium to finish a most important game day task, this passenger would catch a ride to the airport and meet the team for the flight home. Everyone waiting on the plane understood the importance of this final task and though the delay was perhaps annoying, no one would dare express that notion. Ten, maybe 15 minutes ticked off and suddenly appearing at the airplane’s front door was a breathless man, loaded down with a heavy briefcase stuffed with paperwork and the tool of his trade – a typewriter. Furman Bisher had just finished filing his story on another Georgia Tech victory – a story that would be the lead in the Sunday morning Atlanta Journal and Constitution. In those days, Bisher – as did many sports editors / columnists around the south – comfortably traveled with the football team. It was comfortable in those days because these journalistic icons were almost considered a part of the organization. Nothing illuminates this relationship more clearly than when Georgia Tech named Bisher an “Honorary Member of the 1951-52 Football Team.” I had a similar experience during my tenure as sports information director at Florida State University. A Bisher protégé named Bill Mc-
The press corps at the 1953 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, featuring Bisher (seated on the floor, front and center). Head coach Bobby Dodd is also in the photo. Grotha had been the sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat for more than 40 years. His relationship to the FSU football team and its coaches through the years was nothing short of complete emersion. McGrotha had free reign to roam the football offices, use personal phone numbers of all of the coaches and key players, he was the first to know when any type of breaking news occurred. On many occasions the head football coach would call the writer to alert him of impending news within the program. Surprisingly, in Tallahassee, this cozy relationship lasted all the way into the early 90’s. Oh, how the media has changed! Not only did McGrotha travel with the team, his seat on the airplane was directly next to the head coach. That’s right…head coaches including Bobby Bowden sat side by side with the local sports editor on every team trip for decades. There were several times that the team charter
was delayed while McGrotha filed his column for the Sunday paper. Ah, those were the days,” Bisher sighed during a sit-down at his Fayetteville, Ga., home recently. Retired now after nearly 60 years with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Bisher has fond memories of those glory days with the Georgia Tech program and legendary coach Bobby Dodd. “When I first came to Atlanta in 1950 there were two sports stories in the city that meant something: Georgia Tech football and the Atlanta Crackers baseball team,” Bisher said. “My goodness, having a ticket in the west stands at Grant Field was like being at the Metropolitan Opera. It was a signal of great stature. It was Atlanta’s upper crust.” It was a time when newspapers were enormously popular as well. People hung on every word printed in the local papers. It may be hard to believe, but there was a great respect
and trust for journalists in the day. Sportswriters and columnists were celebrities. Coaches and athletes knew well the importance of the media in the culture. In most cases the relationship was more than cordial. The adversarial stuff of today didn’t come along until much later…about the time of Woodward and Bernstein in the 1970’s. Reporters in the Dodd years enjoyed chronicling the success of the teams they covered – almost openly rooting for their teams to win because it made for a grander story, bigger headlines and bigger readership. Its hard to imagine there being two more recognizable sports figures in Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s than Bobby Dodd and Furman Bisher. Although in very different professions, they were cast together through so many great Georgia Tech moments. Bisher describes the relationship as friendly, professional, sometimes social, almost always fun.
“Sometimes when Coach Dodd would have other coaches in town he would get a group of us to go out to dinner,” Bisher recalled. “He loved to go down to the Capital City Club. We spent many nights telling stories…listening to stories. When the coach of an opposing team was a good friend of Dodd and would come in with his team on Friday before a game, coach Dodd would put together a dinner.” One of Bisher’s early memories of Dodd came in 1950, his first year covering the team. He traveled by train with the team over to Athens for the season ending game at Georgia. From the train station over to the stadium that day he found himself on an old school bus full of the team’s equipment. He was on the bus with Dodd, team captain Bob Bossons and an equipment manager. “I remember thinking; this is a grand entrance to the big game. Bobby Dodd and his team captain arriving on the equipment bus,” Bisher said. That particular game was a big one for Dodd and the Jackets. According to Bisher, the coach was on “the hot seat” during a lackluster season. Bisher remembered the Bulldogs, playing what he called “a bunch of roughnecks,” really putting a physical beating on the Jackets that day. “Three quarterbacks were
knocked out of the game,” he said. But somehow, late in the game, Joe Brown engineered a Georgia Tech touchdown and won the game 7-0. “That following week there was a big gathering down at the Capital City Club,” said Bisher. “A bunch of folks pitched in and they gave Coach Dodd a new car. To this day I think the plan was to give him that car as a going away gift. Tell him to hit the road. That all changed with the win at Georgia.” That was the second of what would be eight victories in a row over the hated Dogs. During the offseason Dodd would bring in Frank Broyles as an assistant, and then Tonto Coleman and they joined up with Ray Graves to give Tech a dynamic coaching staff that would produce back to back undefeated seasons in 1951 and ’52. Broyles, it seems, was the catalyst for a legendary encounter between Dodd and Bisher on -- of all places – the tennis court. “I had just returned from a trip out of town,” Bisher remembers. “Came straight from the airport and stopped in the football office. Frank Broyles is in there egging me on to play tennis against coach Dodd. “Well, Bobby Dodd was a pretty good tennis player – outstanding in doubles because he could play the net, but his singles game was a little
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Bisher and former Braves manager Bobby Cox. weak. Broyles had been trying to get me to play him for a while. “I had no shoes, no tennis clothes, no racquet because I just gotten back off the road. Frank had the equipment guy round up some stuff and sure enough we’re out there on the tennis court.” Bisher continued. “He had me down 3-1 right away. But then I started running him all over the court. He couldn’t cover side to side and I won the last five games. I beat him 6-3. I said to Broyles: There, are you happy now?” Who knew Furman Bisher had a competitive side? It was all in good fun. But when asked if there was ever a contentious exchange with coach or players, Bisher recalled a game vs. LSU in Baton Rouge during that 1950 season. “The Tigers were favored by two or three touchdowns,” he said. “And I wrote in the paper the day of the game that there was no way Georgia Tech could win the game. Well, they went down there and beat LSU 13-0 in a big upset. When I got on the bus after the game, our big tackle Hal Miller broke the silence. He calls out, ‘Well Bisher, what have you got to say about that score?’ I had no comeback.” Bisher says Coach Dodd had very few issues with him or the newspaper, but when he did he would simply register his complaint with the highest of all sources. The newspaper’s publisher George Biggers was a close personal friend of Dodd. “When something in the paper bothered Coach Dodd, I would hear about it from George,” he said. “One time Edwin Pope – the best newspaper man on my staff, who would later become sports editor for the Miami Herald – wrote something that rankled Coach Dodd. George came down and told me to fire him. Just like that.
“I said, George, you’re asking me to fire the best guy I’ve got in the sports department. I can’t do that. Thank God we were able to work something out.” Of all of Furman Bisher’s involvement with Georgia Tech, probably not many know that the renowned sports editor also did some play-byplay down on the Flats. “I was the play-by-play announcer for the first Georgia Tech football game ever televised,” he said. “I did the Tech-Duke game in 1953. Billy Teas ran a punt back to win the game for Tech that day. Then I did the Tech-Georgia game the following weekend (Tech won that game 28-12). “Obviously, since I’m still writing sports, play-by-play probably wasn’t my shtick.” While giving up his play-by-play duties, Bisher still featured Georgia Tech prominently when he hosted a weekly TV show for WSB for many years. It was kind of a precursor to ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” as Bisher was joined on the show by other AJC staffers Pope, Ed Miles and Jim Minter, among others. When Bisher, now 92, thinks back on those days covering the Jackets he has the fondest of memories. When recounting some of the stories he would refer to the Yellow Jackets as “we,” a telltale sign that this longtime newsman and consummate journalist still has a soft spot in his heart for Georgia Tech. One lasting image for Bisher occurred at the Orange Bowl after the 1951 season. He was walking around the team hotel in Miami the night before the Jackets showdown with Baylor. He bumped into Coach Dodd walking through the property, oddly enough, with fishing tackle in hand. “Come on, Furman,” Dodd said. “Let’s go do some fishin’!” The coach and the sportswriter
walked down to a dock that extended from the hotel property and for two hours chatted quietly as Dodd fished. They talked a little about football and a lot about life. The bond that would last a lifetime was beginning to form. That bond with a coach, with a school and with the Georgia Tech family would provide decades of memories. The printed words from the typewriter of Furman Bisher will live with Jacket fans forever. The night after the fishing trip, Dodd’s Yellow Jackets finished off an undefeated season by beating Baylor 17-14 in the Orange Bowl. Fans in Atlanta rushed out to buy copies of the Atlanta newspaper the following day. They couldn’t get enough of Bisher’s account of the game. Nor his coverage of Tech games over the next six (count ‘em, six!) decades. Furman Bisher is retired from the AJC but still does some freelance writing. He still enjoys covering Tech games from the familiar press box on the west side at Grant Field,
in a stadium now named for his great friend Bobby Dodd. He’s seen a lot of changes around these parts. Pro sports, the Olympics, the Atlanta skyline all have transformed the landscape here on North Avenue. The newspaper world is now all about blogs and Twitter and 24-hour news cycles. Relationships between the media and coaches today are often strained. The level of trust has waned and the ability of coaches and sports writers to socialize together is nearly nonexistent. It was absolutely a more innocent time back then. Without question it was more fun, more personally fulfilling with the stories and memories more vivid. It would certainly be difficult to capture that two hours between Dodd and Bisher on the dock in Miami in a text message, an e-mail or a Tweet. Sometimes it just makes a man want to go fishin’! ■
When Bisher came to Atlanta in 1950, the two biggest sports stories in the city were Georgia Tech football and the Atlanta Crackers baseball team.
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MOE KNOWS Moe Miller’s perseverance personifies Tech’s underdog status
By Matt Winkeljohn
Facing a journey into the land of (near) giants with a lightly stocked cupboard of their own big folks, perhaps Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball team needs a battle cry. How about “Moe Knows?” Moe Miller has been around Tech more than long enough to grow into a wizened man ahead of his time. He’s lived in a version of the “real world” nearly since the day he set foot on campus in 2007, or just a few days before becoming a longdistance father. The senior guard’s life and oftenpainful basketball experiences make him uniquely qualified to avoid falling into the trap some media have set for the Yellow Jackets. In Moe’s mind, it does not matter that Tech has just three players taller than 6-feet-6, all of them freshmen. He could not care less about suggestions that this will handicap the team, nor predictions that the Jackets will struggle in the ACC. Teammates would do well to take a cue and ignore that which is beyond their control, including opinions. “Everything will take care of itself, that’s something that I’ve learned,” Miller said with a smile. “Why cry or complain about something you can’t change? You do the best you can. That’s how I look at life. There’s a lot of things in life that I used to stress about, but I’m not now.” The new approach is serving the 6-foot-2 Memphis native so well that coach Paul Hewitt might want Miller to lecture teammates on shutting out the world. He’s run gauntlets and emerged optimistic. Miller’s been in and out of the starting lineup, seen his scoring average drop annually and his playing time decrease significantly as a junior. Deaf in one ear to begin with, he has spent so much time addled by bizarre injuries that he might be able to follow his long-time girlfriend into medical school with enough local knowledge to have a head start. Yet he’s smiling plenty these days with a new mindset boosted by the joy of having his girlfriend and their
3-year-old daughter all under the same roof. With the countenance of a changed and charged man, he fits perfectly on a team of underdogs, a team whose only players over 6-6 are freshmen Daniel Miller (6-11 and no relation), Nate Hicks (6-10) and Kammeon Holsey (6-8). The metamorphosis has been steady with several accelerators. Miller’s big change began in earnest last season when his playing time dropped, especially in the middle of the season. Through it all it seemed like everybody had advice, much of it annoying, ill-informed, trite, not applicable and/or all of the above. So . . . “Sometimes [last season], I didn’t even answer the phone,” he said. “I started over a couple weeks ago, got a new phone number. I had two phones; canceled ‘em. I just wanted to do something different . . . a fresh start to get away from distractions. I don’t have a Twitter account any more. I have Facebook, but I’m rarely on it . . . I just want to focus more on me, my family and Georgia Tech basketball.”
Jackets need littles to play big
The Jackets’ focus ought to be inward and will assuredly be outward at the same time. A team that lost post men Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors to the NBA, forward Zachery Peacock to expiration of eligibility and center Brad Sheehan to graduation will seek to thrive on the play of perimeter players. Guards Iman Shumpert (6-5), Miller, Mfon Udofia (6-2), Lance Storrs (6-5), freshman Jason Morris (6-5) and perhaps Nick Foreman (63), plus swingmen Brian Oliver (6-6) and Glen Rice Jr. (6-5), must elevate their games. Tech ended up short of big men, partly because while Sheehan had another year of eligibility remaining after graduating, he opted not to use
it. Lawal entered the NBA after his junior season, Favors after just one college campaign. With all three of those decisions being made late last spring once the bulk of the recruiting cycle had run its course, only Hicks was still there for the taking. He had signed a letter of intent with Tulane a year ago, but was granted a release by the NCAA due to a coaching change at the school last spring. Daniel Miller and Holsey redshirted last season. “You’ve got to get who you can get [in recruiting], and then you try to put together the best team you can,” Hewitt said. “I think every team has to have a personality defensively, and the personality of this team is going to be more pressing. If we’re good with our pressure, we should be able to create turnovers. I think in the open court this team is going to be strong. “[Personnel] really gives us a chance to put pressure on people, taking people off the dribble, creating matchups that are going to force defenses to rotate or do a really good job of defending without fouling.” Tech went to the finals of the ACC
Tournament last spring, pushing eventual NCAA champion Duke down to the final seconds before falling, and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Ohio State. This team will be vastly different. There may be times when the Jackets have as many as three “point” guards on the floor at a time, and while their guards have good size – for guards – the toughest test figures to come on defense. Miller said some teammates joke about having to eat more in order to defend in the paint. “Most of the time there will be two point guards on the floor so I may not have the ball all the time. When I don’t, I have to run,” he said. “It’s not defined, and I think that’s what makes this team unique, the ability to have four or five people who can create off the dribble. Nobody really cares what position they have to play. “For example, Lance Storrs may have to play [power forward] or even [center] sometimes and he’s been a shooter all his life. Nobody pays as much attention to it as the media does. The five on the floor play hard,
rebound, run, defend, play ball. A lot of us before we came to college never played with a player bigger than 6-5 anyway.” Rebounding will be a five-man siege, with Shumpert, Oliver, Morris and Rice expected to hit the boards especially hard for guards (Morris was an outstanding rebounder in high school the past two seasons). “With Gani and Derrick gone, coach Hewitt wants me to rebound the ball well and play hard and physical because we’re not as big as last year,” Holsey said. “I’m ready to accept the challenge. I don’t mind playing my role. I never listen to the media. As long as we work hard and play together and win, people can’t talk.”
Moe knows how to overcome Miller knows a thing or two about grinding. He and his girlfriend since the eighth grade became parents shortly after he left high school. Until last year, when his family joined him in
Atlanta, he was a long-distance dad. Fathering has become much easier with little Ma’Kayla close. “It was really bad, especially when I got here. She was born two or three days after I came. Not being able to be there for my child, even though I was in college and doing the right thing, it was hard,” he said. “She’s 3. There ain’t nothing like having a hard day . . . and when you get home, she runs to the door screaming, ‘Daddy.’ It’s the most beautiful feeling in the world.” Miller’s girlfriend, a bio pre-med student at Clark Atlanta, and “a straight A student,” plan to get married, although he’s not sure when. Beyond his travels through emotional flotsam and jetsam, Miller has endured an almost absurd amount of physical pain. Early in his freshman season, he wrenched his back in a collision with a goal. That cost him three games. As a sophomore, his nose met an elbow and broke in the Illinois-Chicago game. He suffered two separate concussions, the other when he ran blindly into a pick at Mercer. Surgery seemed to repair the broken nose, and he wore a mask www.ramblinwreck.com
like Rip Hamilton’s most of the season He still practices with it. But, a second surgery was needed, which meant re-breaking the nose. “I wasn’t breathing properly on one side. That was miserable.” Miller started 19 games and played in 29 as a freshman, averaging 8.1 points and 3.3 assists. As a sophomore, he played in 23 games, starting 16 as newcomer Shumpert handled some of the point guard duties. Miller averaged 5.8 points and 4.2 assists per game. Before last season, he caught a hard pass in practice that ripped open a finger, requiring stitches. Also last season, newcomer Udofia and Shumpert handled the point much of the first half of the season, and Miller scarcely played in the middle of the campaign before coming on strong off the bench over the final 12 games. He averaged 5.7 points and 2.5 assists in that span. In eight games before that, he averaged just 7-plus minutes, 1.6 points and 1.4 assists with four scoreless games. He started one game all season. “Before the season, my frame of mind was kind of up in the air, not knowing what to expect. I must say it didn’t go quite the way I wanted it to,” Miller said. “It was something I had to fight through and just work hard. School-wise it’s gone really fast, but in basketball I’ve had my
share of ups and downs.” Now, he’s up. “I kind of know what’s expected of me this year. It’s a better feeling knowing what you have to do to prepare,” Miller said. “I know that in order for Georgia Tech to be successful I have to play well and contribute.” Miller’s focusing on three things: schoolwork, as he plans to graduate next summer with a degree in management, and his two families – on the court and off. “We live in family housing,” he said of his girlfriend and their daughter. “I’ve always been told that I was ahead of my time in terms of my mentality. When my daughter was born, the bar had to raise and that made me grow up and mature so much more. A lot of this I can attribute to Coach Hewitt because he really made me tougher. “He’s there for me. If I need somebody to talk to, I can’t say enough about him, honestly, because no male figure has ever been in my life and pushed me the way he’s pushed me in a positive direction. I didn’t know how to handle it at first. I thought he was against me. I was young and naïve, not really knowing that he was trying to help me. Now, because of maturity, I understand.” ■
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Georgia Tech’s 20 seniors – some recruited, some transferred, others walked-on – have combined to form one close, successful class
By Adam Van Brimmer Football success typically traces back to signing day. Top-performing teams are usually born from talent-laden recruiting classes. The bluer the chips, the more golden the results. At first glance then, the success of Georgia Tech’s current senior class seemed preordained – the 2006 and 2007 classes were as loaded as a luxury automobile. Now take a longer look. Start by comparing the list of signing day recruits to today’s roster. Notice how several of those blue-chippers – all but two of them in fact – are missing. Some come as no surprise, like the four who jumped to the NFL after their junior seasons. Others you remember if you think hard enough,
like quarterback Steven Threet, defensive back Laurence Marius, tailback Jamaal Evans and wide receiver D.J. Donley. A few more you know had their careers derailed by injury. Now focus on the 20 seniors on the team. Five transferred in. Six walked on. Eight have changed positions during their careers – some more than once. Only eight trace back to the ballyhooed signing-day classes. “For a group held together by duct tape and super glue,” center Sean Bedford said, “we haven’t done half bad.”
The 2010 seniors will go down as arguably the most accomplished
Anthony Allen came to The Flats after playing two seasons at Louisville.
class in decades. They won one Atlantic Coast Conference title and played for another. They posted the program’s first 10-win season since the 1990 national championship team. The defenders among them played for three different defensive coordinators, each with a uniquely different style. The offensive players started in pro-style scheme and will finish as veterans of the tripleoption. “From some guys being fathers to others being transfers to at least one being a rocket scientist, it’s an interesting group,” running back Anthony Allen said. “Yet the chemistry is so strong.” The class’s bond would probably
stump the school’s top chemists. The captains are two members of the 2007 signing class: quarterback Joshua Nesbitt and linebacker Brad Jefferson. Allen describes the duo as “country boys who stand outside with no shoes and no shirts on eating sunflower seeds.” The leading rusher and two of the defenders opposing offenses fear the most are transfers: Allen, the B-back, came in from Louisville in 2008; safety Mario Edwards moved home from Virginia Tech due to a family situation that same year; and linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe transferred from Tulsa in 2007. Two of the top offensive linemen, Bedford and Austin Barrick, started out at other positions and the top-
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performing cornerback, Dominique Reese, was recruited to play offense. Bedford is Allen’s “rocket scientist.” He’s majoring in aerospace engineering. Head coach Paul Johnson has seen his share of unorthodox senior classes from his days coaching at Navy and Hawaii. Even he admits this group is unique. “As many transfers as guys who came in as freshmen? You don’t see that very often,” Johnson said. “And you really wouldn’t know it the way they perform.” Tried, tested and true The seniors claim adversity bonded them together and drives them to succeed. Reese, a member of the 2006 recruiting class, recalls classmate and heralded linebacker Osahan Tongo blowing out his knee in his second day with the Yellow Jackets. Looking back, Reese considers the incident an omen – and for good reason. Injuries would sideline other up-and-coming stars, like current seniors Robert Hall, Correy Earls, Ben Anderson. Then there are the players who left the program. Add in the coaching changes, with Johnson succeeding Chan Gailey
following the 2007 season, and the conga line of transfers and positionswitchers. No wonder the group has proven so unshakable. “It’s crazy to think about how much adversity we’ve fought through,” Reese said. “Every bad thing that’s happened we’ve responded with something good.” Looked at another way, the seniors have turned misfortune to their advantage. Johnson’s tripleoption scheme made several Yellow Jacket players essentially obsolete: Positions like tight end were eliminated and others, like wide receiver, had to become better blockers. A player like Barrick, who began his career as a tight end, faced a decision: Adapt or else. Barrick flirted with playing A-back but realized quickly his best chance at playing time was as an offensive tackle. He’s excelled at the spot the last three seasons. “If he was going to play, he didn’t have much choice,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a couple of guys in that kind of spot.” Bedford is another. He was a walkon defensive lineman content to gradually work his way up the depth chart. But Bedford caught Johnson’s
Dominique Reese was recruited as an offensive player, but has been a solid member of the secondary for the last four seasons.
Joshua Nesbitt and Sean Bedford took different paths to Tech – Nesbitt was recruited as a shotgun quarterback, Bedford was a walk-on defensive lineman
eye with his work ethic on the scout team and was encouraged to switch to offense. “When the head man says, ‘You’re moving,’ you’re moving,” Bedford said. “With all the changes the program went through, everybody’s attitude was just to dig in and make the best of it. And you know what? It’s worked out.” The seniors don’t want to be judged for their success just yet. They understand their legacy is secure thanks to last year’s ACC championship run. But they also know the four best remembered members of their class won’t stand with them on 2010 senior day. Wide receiver
Demaryius Thomas, tailback Jonathan Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett are playing in the NFL this fall, not on The Flats. The current seniors want to leave their own mark. “I hope they write us down as the hardest working group to come through this program,” Allen said. “We might not be the most talented, at least since those four left for the NFL, but we win on the field and that takes hard work. I know those within the program will always remember us for that.” ■
Tippins and McCullers are opposites, but their close bond is helping Tech’s volleyball team win
By Adam Van Brimmer
Mary Ashley Tippins communicates subliminally with Jordan McCullers, on the volleyball court and off. McCullers catches “the look” from Tippins during a match and knows the Yellow Jackets’ setter wants the next pass higher or deeper. McCullers gets another message afterwards when her best friend dresses up to go to dinner: McCullers leaves her jeans and polo shirt in the closet and puts on something more fashionable. So how then did McCullers miss the telekinetic memo about the Michael Kors watch? “That stupid watch,” McCullers said. “There are a bunch of styles … I didn’t know which one she wanted. It wasn’t like I got that exact one because it was the one she wanted. I wasn’t trying to rub it in her face that I had it and she didn’t or anything.” Needless to say, what’s known around the Georgia Tech volleyball program as “watch-gate” nearly ruined a friendship -- and jeopardized Georgia Tech’s success in the process. The chemistry between McCullers and Tippins is the foundation of every point: McCullers is a defensive specialist who typically makes the first of the Yellow Jackets’ three touches every time the ball comes over the net while Tippins receives the pass from McCullers and sets up the hitters. Without good execution from the duo, Georgia Tech cannot score. “I told myself I was stupid to react the way I did and that I needed to get over it,” Tippins said. “But it was tough.” Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, seven years of friendship can withstand a bout with fashion accessory jealousy. Tippins and McCullers’ relationship dates back to high school, when they showed up for the same club volleyball team tryout. Both made Atlanta’s A5 team, and while McCullers has switched positions from hitter to libero, the connection between the two is worthy of an X-file.
“I know what she’s going to do before she does it and vice versa,” Tippins said. “When you play as much volleyball together as we have and hang out as much as we do, it just becomes instinct.” The oddest part of their friendship, at least in Tippins’ and McCullers’ opinions, is they are “total opposites.” Tippins’ focus is volleyball – she plans to coach when her playing days end. Her escape is fashion. Even her head shot in Georgia Tech’s informational guide shows off her style: She’s wearing a flower headband. McCullers loves volleyball but likely won’t make a career of the game. She is one of Georgia Tech’s strongest student-athletes academically and is a management major with a focus on international studies. She spent a month this summer touring in Africa. As for her fashion sense, it doesn’t extend beyond the wristband of her Michael Kors watch. “I really don’t know why we became such good friends,” McCullers said. “I just remember the night we met, the night we made the club team, we just kind of bonded.” Six years later, Tippins and McCullers are on track to go down as one of the more accomplished duos in Georgia Tech volleyball history. Tippins ranks fifth all-time in career assists and could challenge the school record for setters who competed in the rally point scoring era should the Yellow Jackets advance deep into the postseason. McCullers, meanwhile, broke into the top-10 on the career digs list in late October. “We’ve worked so hard to put ourselves in this position to be able to get those numbers and make these lists,” McCullers said. “It will be fun to know it was worth it in the long run and have something we can look at and say, ‘Oh yeah, we did that.’” Now if only they had matching watches. ■
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WB Women’s Basketball
Tech women’s basketball has the players and confidence to match wits with its most demanding schedule ever
By Matt Winkeljohn Alexander Memorial Coliseum will be no more after the pending season, as Georgia Tech will replace every part of the building but the roof in time for the 2012-13 season. The women’s basketball team would like to blow the lid off before AMC goes bye-bye. Take a team that was 23-10 last season, subtract one starter, consider that ACC Sixth Player of the Year award winner Alex Montgomery returns far healthier as a senior, add six newcomers that include one of the most anticipated recruiting classes in school history, and there’s cause for abundant optimism. Just don’t expect head coach MaChelle Joseph to settle down. Her team sure won’t, likely playing more up-tempo than ever with roster depth and versatility like she said she’s never had. Joseph has engineered the Yellow Jackets to the best stretch in school history with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and seasons of 20 or more wins, but that hasn’t kept her from being jumpy. There’s been something of a glass ceiling over the Yellow Jackets’ heads. They haven’t quite cracked the very upper crust of the ACC in that time, nor advanced past the second round of the NCAAs. This team – with perennial powers UConn, Georgetown and Tennessee on the schedule for consecutive late-November games – may have the wherewithal to hang with those programs if they use their depth to play up to and among the nation’s elite. “That’s the situation we’ve been working to get in for eight years,” Joseph said. “When you’re building a program, sometimes you have to take baby steps. I have to tell myself Rome wasn’t built in a day.” This team won’t have all its bricks right away, either. Although Montgomery has fully recovered from a torn knee ligament that last year relegated her largely to being a jump-shooter to where now her coach says, “Alex is one of the most improved players in one year I’ve ever coached,” there will be other absences to start the season. Danielle Hamilton-Carter, a 6-foot-4 forward who sat out last season because the NCAA ruled that she played a couple years ago
for what equates with a professional team in her native Sweden, must sit out the first 10 games this season for the same reason. And point guard Deja Foster will not be back until late December or early January as she recovers from a torn knee ligament – an injury not as severe as the one Montgomery suffered in the 2009 ACC Tournament – last summer. Hamilton-Carter will become eligible in time for the Dec. 5 game in AMC against Georgia. She and Foster will miss Tech’s games against defending national champion UConn Nov. 21 in AMC, and backto-back contests against Georgetown and Tennessee in the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam a few days later. But even before they return, the Jackets will be on the go. “Every person on the team is capable of handling the ball,” said Montgomery, who averaged 11.9 points and six rebounds last season, slightly off the numbers of her sophomore season. “If you get a rebound, push it up the floor and look for a guard or run the play. [The tough schedule] is a great opportunity, a chance for us to get better. We don’t want to settle, and say, ‘Well, look at the team we’re playing.’ “ Tech wants to be a team that prompts fans to say, “Look at them.” Top-notch post player Brigitte Ardossi graduated, yet starters Foster, Montgomery, Metra Walthour and Sasha Goodlett are back. The newcomers bring a wide variety of skills and size to the mix. Freshman Dawnn Maye will challenge for playing time immediately at point guard, Joseph said, and a trio of Swedish players will be in the rotation from the jump. Hamilton-Carter, a sophomore 6-4 guard-forward, led her Swedish team in scoring in the European under-20 championships last summer, and fellow Swedes Frida Fogdemark (6-2) and Sandra Hasahya-Ngoie (62) may make life on the floor easier for Montgomery, Goodlett (6-5) and the rest of the team. Last season, Montgomery was by far the Jackets’ top 3-point shooting threat, taking more than half her team’s long shots (182 of 345) and making 59 of the 89 treys that Tech sank. Returning reserve guard
Alex Montgomery, healthier this year, should be one of the top players in the ACC. Mo Bennett (15) was the only other player to make more than eight. Joseph will have the freedom to mix and match lineups more this season, and if her new-found shooters perform when the lights are on, that could open up the paint for Goodlett and others. “The two freshmen from Sweden have shown ability to hit threes, which we haven’t had in the past,” Joseph said. “Frida can play shooting guard, small forward and power forward. She was seventh in the Europeans in rebounding, a big guard who can rebound, a left-hander who can really shoot. It’s very rare, and a tremendous asset because you can’t double down in the paint [against Tech].”
Montgomery’s been impressed in practice. “Teams are not going to know how to defend Sandra at all,” she said. “Sandra can shoot the three, pull up anywhere on the court, post up, she’s quick. Her floor game at [power forward] is very different.” Montgomery’s game has changed in the offseason. “Last year I was sort of protecting my knee, and I wasn’t attacking because I was scared of getting hurt again,” she said. “I settled for jumpers, and if I didn’t hit them my game was off. I’ve been working without the brace, and focusing on attacking, penetrating and kicking because every player in the ACC knows how I play now. I have to change my
ROBBINS: POOL OVER PADS Yellow Jacket swimmer has football, Georgia Tech in his blood By Matt Winkeljohn
MaChelle Joseph’s team will face UConn, Tennessee and Georgetown early in the 2010-11 season. game.” The Jackets will look largely the same on defense, which is to say, “We play a different defense on almost every possession practically,” according to Joseph. With the addition of shooters, however, Tech will play more fourout-one-in on offense, where instead of Goodlett (who averaged 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds last season) and Ardossi working the paint in tandem, more Jackets will be on the move. Goodlett should have more space. “We’re expecting Sasha to be a dominant presence,” her coach said. The offensive pace figures to jump with Metra Walthour, Sharena Taylor, Maye and eventually Foster taking turns running the show. “Our point guard situation has improved with Dawnn Maye. She can really play in open space, and push the ball like we’ve never had before. She was one of the nation’s top 25 players coming out of high school,” Joseph said. “We can start a different lineup every night based on opponents. Sharena can play multiple positions; she’s the most versatile. [Walthour] is strictly a point guard.” In addition to Taylor and Bennett,
the Jackets also return junior center LaQuananisha Adams (6-4) and sophomore forward Chelsea Regins (6-2) among other reserves. Freshman guard Tyaunna Marshall and junior guard Erica Thompson, a transfer from Alabama A &M who sat out last season, are newcomers in addition to Hamilton-Carter, Maye, Fogdemark and HasahyaNgoie. The schedule will be uncommonly stiff before ACC action. “We feel like we’re at a point in our program where we have to take on top teams in the country,” Joseph said. “UConn, Georgetown and Tennessee . . . that’s a tremendous challenge for any team. But we don’t need to beat teams by 30, we need to get better. “We do have depth, we do have multiple players. It’s exciting to watch them every day. We’re a work in progress. Where we start is not going to be close to where we’re going to finish. We’re going to add Dannie in early December and Deja in early January or late December.” ■
Given family history, it was hardly a surprise that Brian Robbins took up football as a child. Family history, however, did not make it fun even though half a dozen relatives played famously in the NFL. Now a swimmer at Georgia Tech, Robbins is a long way from the plaque in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that recognizes the contributions of his great grandfather Frank Nesser and five great, great uncles -- “The Nesser Brothers” -- for their contributions as players to the early NFL from 1907 to the mid ‘20s. They were big men for that era and a collective drawing card for the old Columbus (Ohio) Panhandles. Legendary football coach Knute Rockne said, “Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train.” Robbins grew up big, too, and gave the game a try. Yet he jumped off that train in the hurry. “I played baseball growing up, soccer and one year of football. Hated it,” said the junior management major. “I’m tall, and I was heavier for my weight class and I hated playing the line.” The fact that Robbins didn’t stick with football doesn’t mean he can’t be called a family man. There’s almost as much Tech blood in his family as there were Nessers in the NFL. His father Rick played baseball at Tech from 1977-’80, uncle Andy Hearn played football for the Jackets from ’81-’85, sister Stephanie played volleyball on The Flats from 2003’05, and Robbins’ mother (Cindy), an aunt and a grandfather also attended the Institute. With regards to athletics, a much younger relative than the Nessers seemed to have a better idea for Robbins when he was 6. Sister Jennifer, six years older, enjoyed swimming and so did a bunch of Robbins’ friends so he joined the neighborhood team. Within a year, that became a nearly year-round sport, and by eighth grade he stopped playing all others and stuck with the sport that Jennifer swam all the way to a scholarship at the University of Texas. “As fields got bigger, I got worse at sports because I just can’t run,”
Robbins played one year of football. “I hated playing the line.” said Robbins, who was second team all-state for North Springs High in Sandy Springs. “The first question you always get is, ‘Do you know Michael Phelps?’ I don’t think people understand how much of a freak he is.” Swimmers typically train freakishly, spending more time training athletes in many sports. In preparing for their seasons, the Tech men’s and women’s teams typically swim for 90 minutes before classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for two late-afternoon hours Monday through Friday, and finally for twoand-a-half hours on Saturdays. Plus, they lift weights three days a week. There may still be a bit of a footballer’s approach in Robbins. Specializing in middle distance events, chiefly the 100-, 200- and 500-freestyle, and the 100- and 200-butterfly, he gets a kick out of putting up top times, but he gets a bigger thrill out of kicking tail. “When I’m swimming in my fastest races, I’m not nervous,” he said. “I always go in with a race plan, but if somebody’s in front of me, I kind of throw that to the side. If somebody next to you is tearing you up, you’ve got to change. “I’m halfway zoned out before races, but there’s half of me that loves to race people. That’s what swimming is really about. Going a fast time is really cool, but getting to the wall before somebody is really what I’m about.” ■
at alexandertharpe fund
A DIFFERENT ROUTE TO THE FLATS
By Simit Shah Dr. Espy landed at Tech – and he’s happy that he did – after being turned down by the FBI. Jackson, Ala. is only 300 miles from Atlanta, but for Dr. Goodman Espy the trip between the two cities went through J. Edgar Hoover’s office. It’s just one of the remarkable stories from a remarkable Georgia Tech graduate who has changed lives both locally and globally. He was born in 1935 in Jackson, but the Espy family was rarely in one place very long. His father attended the University of Alabama and then joined the Army. During the Great Depression, he was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) program, requiring the family to move constantly. Espy’s mother calculated that they moved 28 times between his birth and the sixth grade, mostly to provide stability for Espy and his three brothers. “There were two great things my parents did for me,” he said. “One was to bring me up in the church. The other was when I finished high school, they said they absolutely did not have the funds to pay for college. If they had, I probably wouldn’t have gone too far from home.” Espy thought he had found the means to attend college when an FBI agent came to visit his high school to talk about careers. Excited about the prospect of becoming a G-man, Espy submitted his application, making plans to join the bureau and attend Georgetown University. When Espy didn’t hear back from the FBI, he assumed that there had simply been a clerical error and decided to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to start the next chapter of his life. He arrived at the FBI headquarters and made it all the way into the director’s office before being told that J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t be meeting with him. It turns out that the lack of a social security card prevented him from being considered, and now Espy didn’t have the means to enroll at Georgetown. “I wanted to save face by not going back to Jackson,” he remembered. “I had been president of the senior class and left with great expectations of going to Georgetown and becoming an FBI agent. I didn’t really want to face the people back in Jackson, so I bought a Greyhound ticket to Atlanta.” He arrived in Atlanta in 1952 with the intent of attending Georgia Tech
but didn’t have the required math and science courses for admission. He started to take some remedial night courses for credit and worked at an insurance company and at The Varsity to make ends meet. Espy also scored a job at Grant Field as an usher, but he had an ulterior motive. “It was just so I could get in to see the football games,” he admitted. “That was a great year, undefeated and national champions. I got to see some great players and great teams.” Little did he know that he’d have a more personal encounter with one of the members of that team after he was admitted to Georgia Tech as a mechanical engineering major in the winter of 1953. Living in Cloudman dorm on East Campus, Espy was across the hall from George Morris, an All-American linebacker and future college football Hall of Fame inductee. “George and some of the other guys decided one night that it was my turn to be hung out the third floor window,” he laughed. “It wasn’t uncommon that year. They caught me by the feet and hung me out the window. I was scared to death. It was kind of an initiation to Tech, but I don’t know if they’d get away with it right now.” Espy enrolled in the co-op program to help pay his tuition and landed a job with the Army Corp of Engineers based out of Mobile. “They sent me out in a Jeep to tell people whose land we were going to take,” he recalled. “You can imagine the choice words that were said to me as I drove out of their driveway.” The co-op job and schoolwork kept him busy, but he found time towards his final year at Tech to become more involved as a student, like as a member of ANAK, ODK and student council. He was also the president of his fra-
“They sent me out in a Jeep to tell people whose land we were going to take,” he recalled. “You can imagine the choice words that were said to me as I drove out of their driveway.”
ternity and manager of the Rambler magazine. Espy earned his engineering degree in 1957, but he stayed on campus with teaching and research jobs while he saved for medical school. Coach Bobby Dodd also asked him to start tutoring members of the football team, which
included future pro football Hall of Famer Billy Shaw. By the time he enrolled in medical school at Tulane the following year, he had enough money to pay for three years. Espy stayed in New Orleans for his internship and residency at Charity Hospital. After serving in the Army, he started his OB/GYN practice in Marietta in 1967 and has delivered more than 12,000 babies. After moving back to the area, he also reconnected with Georgia Tech, becoming the team doctor for the freshman football team. “I was honored that Coach Dodd asked me to help,” he said, “I would get kidded as being the team doctor while being an OB/GYN, but sports medicine at that time was my hobby and wasn’t the defined specialty it is now. I also told them that UGA’s president was a veterinarian.” Over the course of the years, Espy has served on Georgia Tech’s advisory board, as well as the mechanical engineering and bioengineering advisory boards. He is also a Life Member of the Alexander-Tharpe Fund. Espy has had football season tickets since 1958, starting while he was in medical school at Tulane. “At that time, tickets could be resold for about twice the price, so I used them to help pay my expenses,” he explained. “I knew the football players because I had tutored them. I’d send my tickets up them, and we’d split the profits. We did rather well. At that
time, the rules were different.” Espy’s generosity extends well beyond Georgia Tech and the local community. During the Kosovo war, he spent time in Albania at refugee camps and has continued efforts to improve the level of medical care in the country. Just recently, Dr. Espy shepherded support for a young Iraqi boy facing a leg amputation to come to Marietta for free medical treatment. Mohammad “Babou” Mustafa had not been able to walk since he was two, but after multiple surgeries over the course of a year and a half, the nine-year-old boy recently returned to Iraq. “Seeing him walk, if that doesn’t put tears in your eyes, I don’t know what will,” said Dr. Espy. Currently, he is in the process of setting up a mammogram center in Iraq. “They’ve never had a five-year survivor of breast cancer in Iraq, so we’re helping to get machines over there,” he said. “We’ve got radiologists over here that will help read the scans.” A few years ago, the Medical Association of Georgia named Dr. Espy the humanitarian doctor of the year. “I have known plenty of doctors that have done more than I, but not many try harder,” he said. “I think that comes from a Tech education. The discipline of Georgia Tech carries into the lives of all graduates regardless of profession they choose. That is enormous. I don’t know the words to describe the learning and discipline of being a Tech student. It has a tremendous impact on a young person’s life.” ■
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Assistant Director of Compliance
Just a telephone call away. Often times we receive phone calls from parents expressing their concern because their son or daughter is interested in a particular sport, yet the coach (college) has not returned their child’s phone call. The recruiting process is very much a sport in itself. In particular, it is important for the prospective student-athlete his or her parents relatives or legal guardians, family and high school coaches to understand the rules involving recruiting, more particularly when telephone calls and text messaging are allowed. High school freshman and sophomores: College coaches are not allowed to telephone high school freshman or sophomores or his or parents or legal guardians. Institutional coaching staff members (college coaches) may receive telephone calls placed by a prospective student-athlete at the prospective student-athlete’s own expense at any time, including before July 1 following the prospective student-athlete’s junior year in high school. Please do not be offended if you leave a message and they do not return your call, coaches can not return calls. The call must be at the expense of the prospective student-athlete. High school juniors and seniors: A coach may not call a prospective student-athlete or his or her parents relatives or legal guardians before July 1st following the completion of his or her junior year in high school (subject to exceptions by sports). Thereafter, telephone calls to prospective student-athletes are limited generally to one call per week. Once the limit on permissible calls has been reached, an institution is prohibited from initiating another call during that same time period, regardless of whether direct conversation occurs during the additional call. Therefore, once a coach has made the permissible number of calls to a prospective student-athlete during a particular time period, the coach is not permitted to leave a voice message or have direct communication with the prospective student-athlete regardless of the length of the message or conversation. Lastly, videoconferencing
and the use of videophones are considered telephone calls. Telephone calls during athletics contests and official visit: Telephone calls to a prospect (or the prospect’s parents or relatives) may not be made during the conduct of any of the institution’s intercollegiate contests in that sport until the competition has concluded and the team has been dismissed by the coach .This includes from the time the institution’s team reports on call at the site of the competition at the direction of the coach until the competition is concluded and the team has been dismissed by the coach. Institutional coaching staff members may make unlimited telephone calls to a prospective student-athlete during the five days immediately preceding the prospective student-athlete’s official visit to that institution Text messaging: Text messaging and Instant messaging are prohibited until after the calendar day on which a prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent, there shall be no limit on the forms of electronically transmitted correspondence sent to the prospective student-athlete or his or her parents or legal guardians by the institution with which the prospective student-athlete has signed. Log on to www.eligibilitycenter.org for more information.
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