H o w
G e o r g i a
T e c h
S p e l l s
R e l i e f
The Yellow Jacke t golf and womenâ€™s tennis t eams captured ACC ti tles in lat e April.
n e g n d i r p l S o G summer 2010
Diamond in the Rough Florida transfer Kristine Priebe makes most of opportunity with Georgia Tech softball
Changing Lives If ever there was an at-risk kid who changed his life, it was Sam Bracken
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summer 2010 • Volume 3, Number 4 EDITOR
David Johnson, Sam Morgan and Barry Williams
DESIGN & LAYOUT
Simit Shah Jack Wilkinson Adam Van Brimmer
Summit Athletic Media
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In This Issue 4
Diamond in the Rough
Florida transfer Kristine Priebe makes most of opportunity with Tech softball Bryan Shelton and Kenny Thorne have been pushing each other to succeed since they were teenagers
If ever there was an at-risk kid who changed his life, it was Sam Bracken
Playing With Heart
Tech a Family Affair
Defensive pair look to play key roles following cardiac scares
Mark Miller’s son and daughter followed his footsteps to attend Georgia Tech
A Different Mentality Yellow Jacket begins to grasp the advantages of college team golf
How Georgia Tech Spells Relief Pitcher snubbed in 2009 Major League Draft thrives in closer’s role 3/25/09 2:27 PM Page 1
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Diamond in the Rough
Florida transfer Kristine Priebe makes most of opportunity with Georgia Tech softball
by Adam Van Brimmer
Kristine Priebe telephoned former University of Florida teammate Kristen Adkins for advice. She wasn’t calling Adkins to inquire about Georgia Tech, where Adkins had transferred to a year earlier. Or about other schools Adkins had considered once she decided to leave the Gators’ program. Priebe wanted to know, “one friend to another,” if the opportunity for more playing time on the softball diamond was worth leaving a school and a team she had invested in. Adkins would know: Like Priebe, she couldn’t get on the field at Florida because of an overabundance of talent at her positions. Priebe got her answer. She did not expect, however, to hear back from Adkins later that same day. If Priebe was serious about transferring, Adkins told her, she might consider Georgia Tech. If opportunity was what Priebe was after, “there would be an opportunity” to play every day with the Yellow Jackets, Adkins told Priebe. That unsolicited return phone call would make Georgia Tech a national contender. Given the opportunity she never received at Florida, Priebe produced. She hit .331 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI during the 2010 regular season as the Yellow Jackets won their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title and set a school record with 19 league wins. Were she not on the same team as college softball’s best hitter – Jen Yee, whose .580 average, 26 homeruns and 58 RBI made her a national player of the year favorite – Priebe would be an up-and-coming name in softball circles. “I don’t know the story behind what went down at Florida or who she was playing behind,” Yee said of Priebe, “but we got a diamond in the rough.”
Kristine Priebe Hometown: Moorpark, Calif. Class: Junior Sport: Softball Position: 1B/C Major: Public Policy
American. Gardiner’s heir apparent, converted shortstop Megan Bush, is the same age as Priebe and already challenging the school’s hitting records. And at catcher, Priebe played behind one of the top defensive backstops in school history, Kristina Hilberth. Hilberth exhausted her eligibility last year, but Priebe’s chances of becoming the successor slipped when the Gators recruited one of the nation’s top high school catchers, Brittany Schutte. “They’re stacked, and it limits your opportunities,” Priebe said. “For me, it all came down to the fact I’d have more opportunities elsewhere.” Simplifying Priebe’s decision to transfer was her chosen career track. Priebe plans to follow her mother into firefighting, an occupation that does not require a college degree. So transferring would not set her back academically and Georgia Tech’s public policy degree program might serve her better than the fire and emergency services degree she was chasing at Florida. “You don’t need a fire degree to be a firefighter or an engineering degree either,” Priebe said. “Public policy gives me a lot of options.”
Path to Tech
Priebe wishes no ill-will towards Florida for her riding the pine for two years. She was a victim of circumstances: The Gators were and still remain loaded at the two positions Priebe plays, first base and catcher. Ali Gardiner, the Gators’ first baseman during Priebe’s time in Gainesville, was a two-time All-
Priebe ranks among the top-10 in the ACC in batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, runs, RBI, home runs, total bases and walks.
Options were what Georgia Tech coach Sharon Perkins was seeking when she accepted Priebe as a
Priebe remains focused on a career in firefighting after completing college, following in the footsteps of her mother. transfer. The Yellow Jackets’ catchers, Jessica Weaver and Kate Kuzma, had struggled with injuries. And first baseman Whitney Haller, the top slugger in ACC history, graduated in 2009.
to come to Georgia Tech in 2006. Perkins arrived on campus that September to replace Ehren Earleywine, who left Tech to coach at Missouri, to find a surefire star in the making. It didn’t take Perkins long to recognize the same budding skills in
“I don’t know the story behind what went down … but we got a diamond in the rough.” – Jen Yee “I didn’t know what we were getting, but it gave us an insurance situation at catcher and the potential for another power hitter to offset Whitney’s departure,” Perkins said. “I figured she could help us somewhere.” Perkins had figured the same about another transfer four years ago. Yee left Niagara University
Priebe last fall. “Right away, I saw she could make adjustments at the plate in the middle of an at-bat,” Perkins said. “I’d tell her to work on something and she’d nod her head because she already knew it.” Priebe knew she could produce, too. Her spot duty at Florida frustrated her, to be sure, but she never
lost confidence at the plate. She fed off the positive reinforcement she received upon arriving at Georgia Tech. The only surprise she acknowledges is the power. She’d always been a gap hitter, a batter more likely to hit 15 doubles than that many home runs. “I’m still hitting line drives, they’re just carrying out,” she said. “That’s always nice.”
Priebe has game outside the baselines, too. Her Southern California wit makes her the Yellow Jackets’ queen wise-cracker. She’s quick with a good-natured dig, although many of her jokes escape her Southern-bred teammates. Priebe’s humor “kind of loosens everybody up,” Perkins said. “I’m all about somebody who is going to make me laugh every day at
practice,” Perkins said. “I’m just as sarcastic as she is, but there’s a lot I can’t say because I’m the coach. She’s a fun person to have around.” Yee is one teammate who gets all of Priebe’s jokes. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the only other West Coast girl on the team. “We’re a little different out there,” Yee said. Yee is the biggest beneficiary of Priebe’s presence in Georgia Tech’s lineup. Priebe teams with Kelsi Weseman and Hope Rush to protect Yee, who bats leadoff in the order. Priebe, Weseman and Rush all hit 11 or more homers during the regular season, which discouraged teams from pitching around or intentionally walking Yee. “It’s a blast,” Priebe said. “It’s awesome knowing anybody can hit a bomb. I just really enjoy playing on this team.” Playing makes all the difference.
Bryan Shelton and Kenny Thorne have been pushing each other to succeed since they were teenagers
by Adam Van Brimmer
The draw sheet could confuse anybody, but then in the tight circles of junior tennis in Alabama and the Southeast, the appearance of “Shelton v. Thorne” in multiple finals matches of the same event confused no one. Bryan Shelton and Kenny Thorne were the best teenage players in the area during the early-1980s. They would compete in their own age group as well as the division above. Seeing them face off in the morning in the 16s championship and again that afternoon in the 18s became commonplace. “Usually whoever lost in the morning would win in the afternoon because he couldn’t stand the thought of waiting until the next day
coach Bill Tym at the Huntsville Athletic Club. The two rivals/partners paralleled each other through the junior ranks, in college at Georgia Tech, on the pro circuit and now as the Yellow Jacket tennis coaches – Shelton leads the women’s team; Thorne the men’s. “They worked in a cooperative manner almost from day one,” says Tym, now the director of tennis at Richland Country Club in Nashville, Tenn. “They understood that competition was a form of cooperation because you help each other reach your potential. They did that as players, and now they’re doing the same as coaches.” Georgia Tech tennis has reached
“Doing something you love is not just about the work, but who you do it with and who you are surrounded by,” – Bryan Shelton for a rematch,” Shelton says now. “Then we’d play doubles together and win those matches, too.” Shelton and Thorne have been competing and cooperating since the day in 1980 when Thorne’s parents sent their son to train with
new peaks since Shelton and Thorne took over their respective programs. The women had never made the NCAA tournament before Shelton’s arrival in 2000; the Jackets have yet to miss one since and even captured the 2007 national championship.
Bryan Shelton followed Thorne back to the Flats in 2000. Shelton has also coached them to four Atlantic Coast Conference titles. Thorne has guided the men to nine NCAA appearances in his 12 years and has returned the program to the level he and Shelton helped the Jackets achieve as players. “Both our programs have excelled,” Thorne says. “I know he’s got the same passion I do because he always has.”
Thorne’s tutelage under Tym was no more than a few hours old the first time he partnered with Shelton in practice.
Kenny Thorne (left) and Bryan Shelton (right) were doubles partners long before their arrival on the Flats in the 1980’s.
Thorne remembers the 14-yearold kid across the net as “strong, fast and unwilling to let me get a ball past him.” “I didn’t know how, but I was going to figure out a way to beat him,” Thorne says now. So began a most surreal rivalry. Shelton and Thorne dominated the area’s junior circuit. Their talents were so advanced they had to practice against each other to sharpen their skills. They literally played matches against each other every day as juniors. “Growing up in Alabama, tennis is not that big a deal,” Shelton says. “To have another really good player meant I had a great sparring partner.” The two also made for great friends. Thorne’s family lived 75 miles west of Huntsville in Florence, Ala., and rather than commute back and forth for practice every day, Thorne’s parents allowed Kenny to move into an apartment adjoining that of Tym and his wife. Thorne shared the apartment with two other talented junior players, but he was closer with Shelton. “They had a real bond,” Tym said. “They used to joke about how nice it was to have a soul mate.” Shelton and Thorne’s connection seemed almost mystical. They were ready to split for college, but then the coach at Texas’ Trinity College was fired and his top recruit, Shelton, decided to follow his best friend to Georgia Tech. The two winningest players in Georgia Tech tennis history are Shel-
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Train like a pro. Get treated like one, too. Kenny Thorne is in his 12th season coaching the Yellow Jacket men’s team. ton and Thorne. Shelton won his first national amateur title by defeating Thorne in the finals. They began their pro careers together, traveling to the United Kingdom in 1989 to play the grass-court circuit. And while the ebb and flow of rankings points often meant they played different events sometimes oceans apart, they remained tight. Among both their personal professional highlights was a doubles run they made together in the Canadian Open. “We lost to John McEnroe and Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals,” Thorne says. “The only disappointing thing about it was losing. We needed the money a lot more than they did.”
Shelton and Thorne form an unbeatable team as Georgia Tech coaches. They act as unofficial assistants to the other. Thorne is quick to call upon Shelton for his expertise with the kick serve and to break down tape when a player is struggling. Shelton often asks Thorne for a second opinion while giving lessons. Since the two were taught by the same coach and boast similar styles and philosophies, Thorne usually validates Shelton’s advice. “Maybe he doesn’t say it the same way, but he gives a similar message, and that lends credibility,” Shelton says. “It’s a luxury to have him on the court.” Thorne felt the same way about Shelton when he recommended his
long-time friend for the women’s job back in 1999. “There’s one person out there who if you get him will do a great job,” Thorne remembers telling then-athletic director Dave Braine. Braine met Shelton for dinner shortly thereafter. A job offer – and an acceptance - soon followed. “Doing something you love is not just about the work, but who you do it with and who you are surrounded by,” Shelton says. “Every day we’re in each other’s offices talking about something relating to our programs. That’s unique. Not too many men’s and women’s programs work hand and hand together. We can’t imagine doing it any other way.” Yet the old rivalry still rages, both admit. And just like when they were kids, the objective is to challenge each other to be better. The women’s team’s rise to power, which began in earnest with a Sweet 16 appearance in 2005, coincided with a falloff by Thorne’s men’s program, which thrived earlier in the decade. Shelton’s success drove Thorne to get his team back among the ACC’s elite again. “I wouldn’t call what we have now a rivalry as much as a really inspiring working environment,” Thorne says. “We challenge each other to get the most out of our guys and girls.” Thorne can classify the relationship any way he wants. After three decades of competing and cooperating, one thing is clear: It works.
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If ever there was an at-risk kid who changed his life, it was Sam Bracken
by Jack Wilkinson
You finish reading Sam Bracken’s remarkable book – a nightmarish childhood memoir, yet so much more – and as you call his cell phone, you’ve already framed your first question: “Sam, how did you merely survive, much less thrive?” “When I was young,” said Bracken, a Georgia Tech football player from 1981-85, “I thought a lot of what had to do with my survival and working things through was my tenacity. But when I got older, I realized it was also my mentors, coaches, and teachers.” People like Bill Curry. “Sam is a really, really special man,” said Curry, once Bracken’s coach and mentor at Tech, now the head coach of Georgia State’s firstyear football program. “His story is so incredible. “It’s stunning that he made it to us at all. He had to be made of really special stuff to even make it to college. We didn’t have a clue that we were bringing in a guy who had such a remarkable history.” A harrowing history, recounted in graphic detail in “My Orange Duffel Bag – A Journey to Radical Change,” which Bracken wrote with co-author Echo Garrett. It’s a tale of an abusive childhood, one seemingly doomed from the start. Yet it’s also a guide for other abandoned and homeless children, a road map to a better life.
Excerpts: BORN. The product of a rape. UNWANTED. AGE 3. Always hungry. Strange men come in and out of our apartment, but never stay. A bad man steals everything. Even the food out of our fridge. Mommy cries. So do Gerry and Sissy, my little brother and baby sister. DON’T CRY. AGE 4. Left with nuns at an orphanage. Mommy comes back for us. DON’T LEAVE. AGE 5. My left arm is doused in lighter fluid by an older boy. He flicks the lighter. I’m on fire. I dip my arm in a creek. He laughs. We move to Las Vegas. DON’T TELL.
AGE 7. Mom marries Leroy Bracken. Leroy has kids, too. I practice writing my new last name at school. The older boy is now my stepbrother. FEAR. AGE 8. Mom has three jobs. She’s gone all the time…Leroy watches TV in his underwear. He always has a beer in his hand. When Leroy gets angry, he hits. He is angry a lot. I never know why I get beaten…UNSPEAKABLE ABUSE. AGE 10. Leroy takes me to my first track meet. I win three gold medals and break the state record in the 880 yard race. Running makes me feel GOOD…I get a bed to sleep on. My stepbrother Lenny uses me as a human dart board. TRAPPED. AGE 11. Lenny steals my mom’s station wagon and all the money from her catering business. We lose the business and our house…I get bused to school across town. DON’T ASK WHY. AGE 12. Mom takes us with her to work at the casino…Sometimes Mom sneaks us screwdrivers – orange juice and vodka…Mom finds my stash of weed. She asks if she can have some. “Sure,” I say. “Help yourself.” MADNESS.
AGE 13. I grow so big that I can gamble and get free drinks at the casinos. I look like a man, but inside I still feel like a little boy…I collapse at track practice after a party binge with Lenny. Crawling in the dirt, I make a decision: I refuse to be like my family. No more drugs, drinking and craziness. NOT LIKE THEM. Page 24: One of my teachers figures out I need glasses. No more special ed classes. My grades go from C’s, D’s and F’s to A’s. That summer I go to my first football camp in California. Mom gives me an orange duffel bag with my name on it. I play on the freshman, junior varsity and varsity football teams as a freshman. I get into the state championship game. We win. Lenny kills my stepdad Leroy’s best friend, an ex-con who’s been living with us…Leroy is accused of molesting my little sister. Mom and my stepdad split up. DENIAL. Page 26: Mom kicks me out of our apartment and moves in with the Hessians motorcycle gang. When the Mob doesn’t want to do a hit, the Hessians are the hired guns. She embroiders elaborate designs for their jackets. Mom’s kind of like their den mother. ABANDONED.
AGE 16. I take my orange duffel bag and go live with my best friend’s family. Is this what normal feels like? Football becomes my life. Bracken’s mother told her son when she kicked him out that it was for his own good. That one day he’d understand. And he does. But when Bracken arrived at Georgia Tech – this after Brigham Young had rescinded its scholarship offer before Curry and assistant coach Ken Blair saw game films of Bracken and gave him a full ride – he carried that canvas orange duffel bag. Along with all that psychological baggage. Page 37: When I leave Las Vegas, I take my orange duffel bag, and I put the only pair of jeans I own, a couple of T-shirts and my underwear in that bag. I pack it with all my hopes and dreams and fly away. “That changed my life forever,” said Bracken, to whom personal hygiene was a mystery. “I had 17 cavities. I didn’t even know how to floss my teeth.” But Bracken was highly intelligent; his high school GPA had risen to 3.90 and he was inducted into the National Honor Society. Georgia Tech, however, was another academic beast entirely. “Tech was not an easy school to get
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through,” Bracken said. “But even when my [playing] career was in jeopardy and at risk, my education never was.” After playing some as a reserve freshman linebacker in 1981, Bracken missed the next two seasons with a series of injuries and surgeries. He returned in 1984 as an offensive guard. By then, he’d long landed in the spiritual safety net of Don Conkey, a Tech alum and very successful businessman. Conkey and his wife, Joan, had offered Bracken a weekend haven at their Druid Hills home. “Everything would melt away,” Bracken said, “and for hours, I could just relax. They were so good to me. They became my surrogate parents.” Curry was an on-campus father figure of sorts. Bracken began to confide in him. “The fact that Sam survived and came through that nightmare was amazing,” Curry said. “To have the wherewithal to walk in my office and share some of those things as time went on, well, he would start to get emotional. I don’t mean cry, but his lip started to quiver. He’d go home for Christmas and nobody wanted to see him.
A sample excerpt from Sam Bracken’s book shows how his life began to turn around at Georgia Tech
Sam Bracken has gone on to be a successful businessman, speaker and author since his playing days at Georgia Tech
But he was able to come out of that quicksand.” If the 1984 and ’85 seasons marked football turnarounds for Tech under Curry, they also symbolized Bracken’s own transformation. When Tech upset Georgia 35-18 in ’84, “Guess who gave the hedges to [quarterback John] Dewberry? I did! At the end of the game, I started yanking out the hedges and gave it to Dewberry, to everybody. John Ivemeyer [Tech’s starting left offensive tackle and Bracken’s roommate] and I, we had the hedges from ‘Between the Hedges’ nailed to our dorm room door for the rest of the school year.” In 1985, Bracken was the starting right guard on Tech’s ACC runner-up squad who went 9-2-1, beat Georgia, 20-16, and won the All-American Bowl, 17-14, over Michigan State. Upon graduation, Bracken embarked on a two-year Mormon mission in Toronto. In Canada, he met another missionary, a woman named Kim who was on a French-speaking mission to Quebec. Now Kim Bracken, she and Sam and their four children live in Salt Lake City. They moved to Utah about five years ago from Cartersville, where Sam had been the vice-president for marketing at Mohawk Industries. Yet even when he was trying to market carpet, Sam knew his true calling was to help at-risk children, teenagers, young adults. “The whole book is about helping people,” said Bracken, who began writing a memoir about five years
ago. “The audience it’s aimed at is from 17-30.” Now a motivational speaker and life teacher, Bracken founded The Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, Inc., to give hope and life skills education to foster care youth who are now aging out of foster care, and homeless teenagers. When Bracken speaks, kids listen. “It’s not uncommon for me to start crying during presentations,” he said. “It’s so painful. But everybody has secret lives, and pain and suffering. And in that, we can share.” Bracken has big plans for “My Orange Duffel Bag,” to be launched in early May. There is a video to go with the book. His wife Kim, a recording artist, has done an album to accompany the book. And then there are Sam’s “7 Rules for the Road,” the transformational tenets for radically changing one’s life for the better. Bracken goes into much how-to detail about each one:
Desire. Awareness. Meaning. Choice. Love. Change. Gratitude.
“At-risk kids,” Bracken said, “can change their lives.” Say it again, Sam.
MG Men’s Golf
A Different Mentality Yellow Jacket begins to grasp the advantages in college team golf
By Simit Shah
James White isn’t afraid of a little pressure. When he and several teammates played with British Open champion and Georgia Tech alum Stewart Cink before the Masters at a local course, White ignored the butterflies on the first tee and scored an eagle on the par 5. Cink birdied the hole and complimented White’s game. “Of course, he ended up beating me,” White laughed. “I was as nervous as you could get, so it was a pretty amazing experience. That’s one of the reasons Georgia Tech is so special. The people that graduate still appreciate what we do, and they still like to maintain the connection.” The moment was indicative of the way White has been playing of late,
helping the program earn its 12th Atlantic Coast Conference title in late April. In the first four tournaments this spring, White was first or second on the team in scoring. White was fourth on the team and 19th overall at the ACC Championship in New London, North Carolina, but it was a putting tip that he gave to teammate Chesson Hadley that helped the senior finish first overall. While the concept of team golf is unique to college, White believes the Jackets are starting to grasp the advantages. “My eyes are really open to it now after this ACC Championship,” White said. “When a couple of guys get going in the right direction, it’s infectious. It’s been different this
year. Guys are more motivated and open to help each other. Last year, everyone just wanted to make the team (since typically only five members compete in tournaments). This year, we just want to play well.” “They are around their teammates more than they are around the coaches, so they have to rely on each other,” added Yellow Jacket head coach Bruce Heppler. “We only get 20 hours a week with them, so if you’re going to have a good team, you have to have guys helping each other. We’ve seen a lot of that over the years at Georgia Tech.” Since he arrived on campus, White has made remarkable progress. As a freshman last year, he notched two top 10 finishes but otherwise struggled to find consistency.
Hometown: Acworth, Ga. Class: Sophomore Sport: Golf Major: Management
Catch the Yellow Jackets in the postseason: May 14-15 NCAA Women’s Tennis Regional, Bill Moore Tennis Center May 15-16 NCAA Men’s Tennis Regional, hosted by University of Kentucky May 20-22 NCAA Men’s Golf Regional, Capital City Club Crabapple, Alpharetta, Ga. May 21-23 NCAA Softball Regional, Site TBA May 28-30 NCAA Softball Super Regional, Site TBA June 3-9 NCAA Softball College World Series, Oklahoma City, Okla. June 4-7 NCAA Baseball Regional, Site TBA June 11-14 NCAA Baseball Super Regional, Site TBA June 19-30, NCAA Baseball College World Series, Omaha, Neb. (For TBA sites, check Ramblinwreck.com for updates)
White has improved his play by an average of two strokes from his freshman year to this season.
Team golf was a new concept to James White when he arrived on the Flats, but its one that he now grasps as he finds greater success on the course.
“When I first got here, I wasn’t a great ball-striker,” he admitted. “My chipping and putting was pretty good. I was making a lot of pars, but not a lot of birdies. My scoring average was in the 74-75 range, so I knew I need to work on my game with coach. We focused on my wedges from the fairways and a few other things. I worked and worked, so it’s starting to come around now.” “He has improved tremendously this year,” Heppler observed. “Last year, we put a lot on him and challenged him. That probably wasn’t fair. He learned a lot through the struggles. He returned with a better idea of what to do on the course, and he’s improved by almost two shots a round, which is astronomical in this sport.” The chances of luring White to Georgia Tech seemed astronomical at one point. Though he’s a local product from the suburb of Acworth and Harrison High School, all signs pointed him away from staying in the state to play collegiate golf. Over the years, the Tech golf program has signed only a handful of local players, often vying for the top prep players in the nation. More importantly, his father Jim played golf at Clemson, which is where the younger White seemed destined. “The first thing I wanted to do
was follow in his footsteps,” he said. “For as long as I can remember, that’s where I figured I would end up going to college.” “I didn’t know that when I first saw him play,” Heppler said. “I’m thinking that we’ve found ourselves a pretty good prospect in our own backyard, and then after some research I learned that his father had played at Clemson. I wasn’t so sure what our chances would be with him.” It wasn’t until White met Heppler that he became convinced that Georgia Tech was the right place for him. He accepted a scholarship just a few days after Heppler offered. “I came here, and it sparked something inside of me,” he said. “I love challenges. I wanted to tackle it. I figured this is where I needed to be. “Coach Heppler likes to work hard, and I’ve always thought of myself of someone who is serious and likes to give 100 percent at everything that I do,” White continued. “That’s how you become a champion. I felt like I fit the program really well, while golf at some others schools was more laid back.” And has his dad changed his stripes? “Now that I’m here, he might be changing,” White said with a smile. “He’s really into Georgia Tech
sports now. He says that any Georgia Tech-Clemson game is a win-win for him, but I’m trying to make sure he’s on our side.” With an ACC title under their belt, the team now has their sights set on an NCAA title. The squad
times you wonder after you finish fourth or fifth, but it’s the teams in the top five or ten that are beating you. You might get beat down by that, but you get a sense of the bar that you need to jump over to be successful.”
“When a couple of guys get going in the right direction, it’s infectious.” – James White, on an advantage playing for a team hadn’t finished higher than fourth this spring until the ACC Championship, but now they have found their stride at the right time of year. “It’s a lot of momentum,” White said. “When you starting seeing yourself play well and winning, it becomes an expectation. This is what we do. You walk up to the first tee focused on playing well. It’s just a different mentality.” “You can go create a schedule where you can win a lot,” Heppler noted. “You might see that with the first three football games or the first eight basketball games. Those are designed to get wins. You can do that in golf, but we never have. Some-
Tech fans will have the chance to see if White and his teammates can continue their success in a rare local appearance for the Yellow Jackets. While Tech golfers typically spend the spring at tournaments in Puerto Rico, Hawai’i and even Las Vegas, the team will practically be playing in their own backyard when they open the 2010 NCAA Championships in the Southeast Regional May 20-22 at the Capital City Club Crabapple Course in Alpharetta, Ga. Additional details for the regional, which is hosted by Georgia Tech, are available at Ramblinwreck.com. Admission is free.
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How Georgia Tech Spells Relief Pitcher snubbed in 2009 Major League Draft thrives in closer’s role
by Adam Van Brimmer
The MRI came back clean. Andrew Robinson’s right elbow looked strong, healthy. “It couldn’t be better,” multiple doctors told the Georgia Tech pitcher. Robinson needed a rest from throwing the baseball, though. His arm might have been fine, but his head was fatigued. Pitching yearround for almost four years had worn him out. And when all 30 Major League Baseball teams inexplicably passed on him in the 2009 draft – even after seeing the MRI results – Robinson decided a summer without baseball would be a summer well spent. “It just kind of happened really; obviously I thought I would be pitching in the minors somewhere,” Robinson said. “I love baseball with all my heart, but it was nice to have that little break.” Maybe absence made his heart grow fonder for baseball or perhaps the draft snub sharpened his focus, but Robinson came back for his senior year and became one of the best relievers in the country. Throw out one ugly outing – out of more than a team-high 20 in the regular season – and his earned run average would have been under 1.00. And his dominance came in an unfamiliar role: closer. Robinson started the season as the set-up man, the penultimate link in the pitching chain between Georgia Tech’s starstudded starting rotation and predicted future first-round draft choice Kevin Jacob. But Jacob developed shoulder tendonitis in the opening weeks of the season. His last outing came on March 13, and Robinson moved into the closer’s spot two nights later. Actually, he served as both set-up man and closer in the Yellow Jackets’ first game sans Jacob, pitching the
Andrew Robinson Hometown: Senoia, Ga. Class: Senior Sport: Baseball Position: RHP Major: Management
From set-up man to closer, the Yellow Jacket senior has thrived in 2010 last two innings in a victory over rival Georgia. “He’s the veteran; he’s the guy who needed to go into the closing role,” head coach Danny Hall said. “And he’s been great.”
Robinson’s success traces back further than June 2009, but the first 10 days of that month changed him as a pitcher. Georgia Tech’s 2009 season end-
“As a reliever, you’d better be sharp from the first pitch on.” –Andrew Robinson 14
ed June 1st with a loss to Southern Mississippi in the NCAA Regional. Robinson underwent the MRI on his elbow in the following days, ahead of the Major League Baseball Draft on June 9th and 10th. The MRI results came as relief. Robinson had strained his throwing elbow his senior year of high school. His arm was still bothering him when he enrolled at Tech in the fall of 2006. Georgia Tech’s medical staff put him on a rehabilitation program. By the end of fall practice, his arm felt as if he’d never injured it. The elbow hadn’t bothered him since. But that didn’t stop pro scouts from asking questions. They remembered evaluating him as a high school senior, when he went 9-0 with a 1.55 ERA, and his sore arm. Their
doubts led Robinson to doubt. The MRI results reassured Robinson. He approached draft day with renewed confidence. “The MRI reinforced what I thought was true along – that everything was good,” Robinson said. “I’d felt good all year. I’d felt good for several years really.” The draft snub hurt worse than any elbow strain, though. He couldn’t understand – and rightfully so – how 30 pro teams could pass on a three-pitch hurler with a 90-plus mile per hour heater and a clean bill of health. Disappointment gave way to frustration. And frustration led Robinson to get away from baseball for a while. He had a standing invitation from a friend, a former teammate from the Northwoods summer college baseball league, to visit Los Angeles. Robinson spent two weeks in Southern California with his buddy. The escape included a road trip to Las Vegas and tickets to X Games 15, held in downtown LA at the Staples Center. Robinson offers no details on the Sin City excursion -- What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, after all –
Robinson has anchored the Tech bullpen in 2010, closing out more than 10 games for the Yellow Jackets.
but gushes about the X Games. Robinson’s passion for watching extreme sports rivals his love for playing baseball, and he took in the big-air skateboarding events. “I’d break every bone in my body if I tried it. It’s pretty amazing what those guys do,” Robinson said. “The whole trip, the whole summer, was amazing. I just hung out and did what I wanted to do.” The summer also set the stage for an amazing season.
Baseball aficionados like to spout wisdom like “the last three outs are the hardest to get.” Robinson favors the advice of “Bull Durham” character Crash Davis: “Don’t think, just throw.” “I’m just going out there in the ninth instead of the eighth,” Robinson said about adjusting from the set-up role to closing. “I go out there and calm myself down like I always have and do the same thing I’ve done all my life.” Robinson also draws on experience. His first collegiate outing came as a ninth inning reliever. Duquesne shelled the then-freshman, scoring three runs on two hits and one walk. Robinson threw just 16 pitches before Hall removed him. “I couldn’t get an out,” said Robinson, who actually got two outs.
“It was humbling, but it was a good lesson. As a reliever, you’d better be sharp from the first pitch on.” Robinson’s focus is what makes him so effective. He’s not your classic shutdown reliever, like John Smoltz in his closer’s days. Robinson allows base runners – almost two per inning in 2009 and more than one per frame in 2010 – but he prevents those runners from crossing home plate. “He’s one of those guys who can make pitches when he has to,” Hall said. “And that’s what you have to do. Guys are going to get on base. You’re not going to get everybody out.” Robinson’s explanation is even simpler. When he takes the mound, whether it’s to start an inning or out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and no outs, his mantra is “No runs.” And in his first 12 appearances as the closer, he posted 10 scoreless outings. Those are numbers Major League Baseball scouts can’t ignore this June, especially after another season without arm problems. “I wanted to go out there this year and prove myself,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, they’ll see this year and everything works out.”
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Playing With Heart Defensive pair look to play key roles following cardiac scares
By Simit Shah
For a football player, it’s normal for his heart to start racing when he steps out onto the field. It’s anything but normal when it won’t stop pounding. Cooper Taylor and Logan Walls know that feeling. The two Yellow Jackets defenders have overcome heart procedures to return to action. Obviously, football is a game full of injuries, but the mention of heart problems takes on a more ominous tone. “That’s not something you mess around with,” said center Sean Bedford. “You can’t help but be a little scared for that person. Obviously, you want them to get better. I think as a football player your first instinct is to push through injuries, but that’s not something that’s just temporary.” “You definitely take a step back when you hear that,” added defensive back Mario Butler. “You know the drill when you see something like an ankle or knee injury, but having a problem with your heart is on another level.” For Taylor, it came out of the blue. With no previous signs of problems, the safety was having a tough time catching his breath during the Miami game last year. After exiting the game, his heart rate didn’t slow, causing concern among the team doctors. “I think if it had happened in
Cooper Taylor Hometown: Atlanta, Ga. Class: Junior Sport: Football Position: Safety Major: Management
Walls returned from his cardiac procedure with a breakout season in 2009, with 25 tackles, including three for loss, and two sacks.
Dr. John Cantwell has served as the Yellow Jackets’ cardiac specialist for several years and performed the procedures on both Taylor and Walls
practice, it would have been easier to deal with,” Taylor said. “In the middle of a game, you’re dealing with emotions of a game. It was Miami on a Thursday night. It was a big game with a lot of people there. You’re so excited about the game, and everything around you is fast already. When it happened, it was on the worst stage possible.” The team returned to Atlanta at 3 a.m., and Taylor was in Dr. John Cantwell’s office at 6 a.m. The cardiologist at the Piedmont Heart Institute has been treating Georgia Tech athletes for nearly 30 years, and he reassured Taylor that his condition was treatable. “That eased the tension for me
right way,” Taylor remembered. “It wasn’t as dire as I thought it could be. It was good to hear that almost immediately.” Taylor’s was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW), named after the three doctors that discovered it. In simplest terms, it’s a potentially life-threatening abnormality in the regulation of electrical activity in the heart. A week later, Taylor was in the hospital to have the procedure that would correct the condition. As he prepared to go under at 9 a.m., he was told by one of nurses that he’d be awake by noon and on his way home by 2 p.m. “When I woke up, they told me
Hometown: Dawsonville, Ga. Class: Redshirt Junior Sport: Football Position: Defensive Tackle Major: Management
it was 5 p.m. I was like, ’What?’ It ended up being four or five more hours,” he recalled. The complications ultimately resulted in a lengthy recovery that sidelined Taylor for the remainder of the season. “It was a really tough time for me,” he admitted. “It was the first time I’ve ever stood on a sideline and just watched. I’ve been playing football since I was six, and I’m generally See Playing page 22
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Prior to being sidelined three games into the 2009 campaign, Taylor recorded 16 tackles and had an interception.
Playing from page 18 a pretty active person. I was itching to get out there, but it was pretty much hurry up and wait. I was happy to see the guys win the ACC title and go to the Orange Bowl, but I really, really wanted to be out on the field.” Walls’ situation was different than Taylor’s since there were hereditary signs. His grandmother and father both had WPW. His older brother Levi, a long snapper for the Jackets at the time, was also diagnosed with WPW while on the team. While Logan Walls didn’t show the signs of WPW, the defensive tackle started to experience shortness of breath during spring practice in 2008. “It happened twice in spring ball,” said Walls, who will be a redshirt junior next fall. “I’d be out there playing, and one play to the next play, my heart would just go crazy. It would feel like you just ran ten miles.” Dr. Cantwell diagnosed him with AV nodal reentry tachycardia, and Walls recovered from the procedure to play in the fall. “I was ready for it,” he said. “They told me I wouldn’t get the arrhythmias anymore after surgery. I’d be out there in a game, and my heart would be going 200 beats a minute. The surgery got rid of that, so I was
excited to be free from it. Some people would be nervous going into surgery, but I wasn’t. It’s their job, so I trusted them.” Heart issues have led to sudden death in young athletes, so Georgia Tech takes every precaution to flag issues that may be cause for concern. Dr. Cantwell noted that all Georgia Tech student-athletes are given an EKG and questionnaire to detect any heart issues before they compete. Some will further require an ultrasound or treadmill test if there are signs of problems. “Georgia Tech has always been on the cutting edge with this type of screening,” said Dr. Cantwell, who is also a team physician for the Atlanta Braves. “They’ve been ahead of the game for a long time. Other schools are doing more in recent years, but I don’t think anyone does more than Georgia Tech.” For Taylor and Walls, they each have a clean bill of health and few reminders beyond scars. Both have had strong springs and look to play major roles in defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 defense. “We’ve put in a lot of new things this spring, and we still have work to do,” said Taylor. “It’s kind of like taking class. You have to take notes and test yourself every day. It’s a learning process.”
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Tech a Family Affair
Mark Miller’s son and daughter followed his footsteps to attend Georgia Tech
By Simit Shah It’s a good thing Mark Miller listened to his mother, or the distinguished Georgia Tech graduate never would have made it to campus. In the spring of 1976, Miller was like most high school seniors making their college choices. The Pittsburgh native had decided he wanted to study engineering in the south, so when Vanderbilt accepted him, he was ready to spend the next four years in Nashville. A few short months before he was to start at Vanderbilt, Miller was convinced by his mother that they should visit Georgia Tech just in case he had a change of heart. “We went down in the summer well after most kids, including me, had already made their decision,” he remembered. “We caught Atlanta on a beautiful evening. We met the folks at Georgia Tech, and being a young high school senior, I said, ‘Mom, I like it better here. I’m changing my mind.’ Obviously, I’m glad I did.” He quickly realized that Georgia Tech was even more special and challenging, especially when he heard the famous “look to your right, look to your left” at orientation. “I heard the right-left drill, and I was up for the challenge,” he said. “I was in Chemical Engineering, and there were extremely bright folks in my classes. This was at a time when petroleum prices were high, so many of the exceptional students wanted to go into the field.” Miller navigated the tumultuous academic waters of Georgia Tech and graduated in 1980 with a Chemical Engineering degree. He stayed to earn a master’s degree in Metallurgy (now Materials Science) two years later. After graduating, Miller went on to work at IBM and Accenture. Growing up, his father owned a foundry and machine shop, so Miller had inherited that entrepreneurial streak. In 1992, he branched out on his own and started a company, Solutions Consulting, Inc. The firm was extremely successful, growing to hundreds of consultants and landing on Inc. Magazine’s list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies three consecutive years. Miller received the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and garnered accolades from the likes of Cisco, Inc. Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal for his innovative leadership. “I’ve received a number of awards, but the one that stands out most in my mind is the Georgia Tech College of Engineering Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni,” he said as he eyed the 1999 award in his Pittsburgh office. “It was just an honor to have
William and Kristy Miller followed in their father’s footsteps to attend Georgia Tech graduated from Georgia Tech. “The aspect that I loved about Georgia Tech is that it was a sink or swim school,” he continued. “It taught you how to achieve in a challenging environment. It was tough. The students were tremendous, the teachers were tremendous. There was a lot of healthy competition, which prepared students for the business world. I was really happy to get my degree and then go on to graduate school. When I received the Distinguished Engineering Alumni award, I felt humbled and honored.” In 2000, Miller sold the company to Perot Systems (owned by former presidential candidate Ross Perot). Miller stayed on as chairman, president and CEO of the subsidiary. After five years, he left for the world of venture capital. It wasn’t long before the entrepreneur in him struck again, and he started a new consulting company, Venetia Systems LLC, last year. Miller’s latest company is a consulting and solutions firm with end-to-end capabilities in business transformation and enterprise resource planning for manufacturing and distributions companies. Busy with his career for a number of years, Miller’s ties to Georgia Tech grew thin. That all changed when his eldest son William decided to go to follow in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in 2007. An accomplished junior golfer, the younger Miller drew offers from the top schools in the nation, including Princeton, Virginia, Wake Forest and Northwestern. However, he opted for Georgia Tech’s elite engineering and golf programs. “He ended up at Georgia Tech without any nudging from me,” Miller
explained. “William wanted to be an engineer and on one of the best golf teams, so that was pretty much it. Why go anywhere else?” Two years later, his sister Kristy followed. She began twirling when she was 9 years old and became captain of the 2009 World Champion Modernettes. She didn’t have Georgia Tech on her radar, but she visited campus and met Georgia Tech’s dance team coach Brandy Kirschner, a world class twirler. The two connected, and Kristy has since become Georgia Tech’s featured twirler, the first in over 20 years. Kristy is also on Tech’s dance team, Goldrush. “They each made their own decision, and we couldn’t be any happier,” Miller said. “We have both kids at the same school. We love Atlanta, and we can come and visit them often.” Miller, his wife Kimberley (an MIT grad) and their youngest son Luke made it down from Pittsburgh for all the home games last season, and they intend to do the same this fall. He has also taken an active role on the advisory board of Georgia Tech’s Tennenbaum Institute of Enterprise Transformation, headed by Dr. Bill
Rouse. In addition, he’s a Golden Life Member of the Alexander-Tharpe Fund, recently endowing a “Golden Girl” scholarship for twirling at Georgia Tech. Seeing his own son compete in collegiate athletics, Miller appreciates the sacrifices that are made to balance sports and school. William is often up at 5 a.m. in order to fit in practice before going to class each day. “College athletics are terrific,” Miller said. “For a young woman or man to be able to achieve academically at great school like Georgia Tech and compete on the athletic field is a really special thing. That’s why I want to support student-athletes. I think that term is important – student-athletes. Those young men and women have a great opportunity. I applaud all of the athletes at Georgia Tech and everything they do to represent the Institute.”
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By Paul Parker
Georgia Tech Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance Services
What you are allowed to do per NCAA Rules? NCAA legislation requires Georgia Tech to be responsible for the acts of individuals and independent agencies or organizations when they are promoting the Institute’s intercollegiate athletics program. By promoting Georgia Tech athletics and/or by making financial contributions in support of a team, booster organizations and their members are classified as Representatives of the Institute’s Athletics Interest. Georgia Tech and the GTAA will make you aware of, and ask that you abide by, the NCAA legislation concerning your actions in support of our programs. YOU MAY provide an occasional meal in your home or on campus to a student-athlete or an entire team. Approval from the Georgia Tech compliance office must be received prior to the occasional meal. The meal may not be at a restaurant.
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Per NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206 Occasional Meals, a student-athlete or the entire team in a sport may receive an occasional meal in the locale of the institution on infrequent and special occasions from an institutional staff member. An institutional staff member may provide reasonable local transportation to student-athletes to attend such meals. A student-athlete may receive an occasional family home meal from a representative of athletics interests on infrequent and special occasions under the following conditions:
(a) The meal must be provided in an individual’s home, on Georgia Tech’s campus or in a facility that is regularly used for home competition (as opposed to a restaurant) and may be catered; and
(b) A representative of the institution’s athletics interest may provide reasonable local transportation to studentathletes to attend the meal function only, if the meal function is at the home of that representative.
YOU MAY provide transportation to your home for a student-athlete who will be receiving an occasional meal there. Approval from the Georgia Tech compliance office must be received prior to the occasional meal. The meal may not be at a restaurant. YOU MAY provide employment to a student-athlete as long as it is at a normal rate of pay for that position and the student-athlete is paid for work actually performed. But remember to check with the Georgia Tech compliance office before doing so. YOU MAY make a financial donation to a high school athletics program in your locale provided:
(a) You make the donation of your own accord,
(b) Your donation is distributed through the normal channels established by the high school, and
(c) Your donation is not earmarked for a specific prospect.
(d) Your donation is not an item that Georgia Tech would not have been able to provide to the high school or its athletic program. (You cannot serve as a second-party donor.)
Please note that once you are deemed as an athletics representative, you retain the identity indefinitely.
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Georgia Tech -The Buzz Magazine - Summer 2010