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Simple plan: Finally beat Bulldogs

POSTED: November 25, 2007 5:04 a.m.
ATLANTA — Georgia Tech never needs extra motivation when playing Georgia, and yet this week there is more driving the players, especially the seniors, than the desire to claim state supremacy.

Georgia Tech seniors have been receiving calls and text messages from former teammates with a simple request: Please beat Georgia.

Some who have sent those messages left Georgia Tech without a win over Georgia, which has six straight wins in the series.

The streak makes some Georgia Tech players feel like they will be representing past senior classes, as well as this year’s 7-4 team, when they face No. 6 Georgia on Saturday.

The seniors also may be playing to protect the job security of their coach, Chan Gailey.

Throw in the emotions that go with playing their last home game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and there should be no shortage of motivation for the seniors.

Senior linebacker Philip Wheeler said he has heard from two former linebackers about the game. Wheeler said Gerris Wilkinson, a senior captain on the 2005 team who now plays for the New York Giants, checked in this week.

"He was asking me could we please beat Georgia this year," Wheeler said. "I would like to do this not only for this team but for the last teams that didn’t."

Wheeler said he also talked with Daryl Smith, a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He was saying the same thing, please beat Georgia," Wheeler said.

"I can make the promise that I’m going to play my best. I’m going to play my hardest."

Tech is expected to start 13 seniors, including kicker Travis Bell and punter Durant Brooks. Two seniors, offensive guard Nate McManus and running back Rashaun Grant, are out with injuries.

Seven seniors start on defense.

Wheeler said the highlight of his career was playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last season. Would beating Georgia, and winning the state bragging rights, be a greater thrill than playing for the ACC title in last year’s loss to Wake Forest?

"I think it would," Wheeler said. "Beating Georgia, and it’s my senior year.

"It means a lot. I wish we could have done that for the seniors last year. ... I don’t want to be like those guys. I want to win every game, obviously, but this means a lot to beat Georgia for my last time."

Not all the seniors began their careers in Atlanta. Tailback Tashard Choice, the ACC’s leading rusher for the second straight year, transferred from Oklahoma.

Brooks, a Ray Guy Award finalist for the second straight year, spent two years at Georgia Military College.

"It’s been a very unique group," said Gailey of the senior class. "The hard part is to see those guys coming to the end. That’s the hard part for a coach. Not only because they are great players, and it’s hard to see great players leave, but because you’ve been around them four and five years.

"Even Durant and Tashard, they have become one of us. That’s enjoyable for a coach, to see that group come together and the special bond that they have acquired through the years. It leaves a void in a lot of different ways when you have a group like that leaving."

And what of Gailey? Might he be fired if Tech loses Saturday?

Gailey has dealt with rumors about his job status since Tech’s loss to Virginia Tech on Nov. 1. He has four years, at $1 million per year, remaining on his contact.

Athletic director Dan Radakovich said during the Virginia Tech game that he may have to make a decision about Gailey after the season.

On Sunday, Radakovich released a statement which didn’t address Gailey’s status.

"My only focus concerning our football program this week is giving our football team its best opportunity to beat a very talented University of Georgia football team," Radakovich said. "We are asking for maximum effort and support from everyone associated with our program — our administration, coach Gailey and his staff, our coaches and certainly our Georgia Tech fans."

Radakovich also mentioned highlights of the season, including "flashes of brilliance displayed by Jon Tenuta’s defense" and the play of Choice, Brooks and Bell. Tenuta, the defensive coordinator, earned mention among Radakovich’s "memorable moments," but Gailey did not.

"Hey, my job is to be the best I can to win football games and to do what’s right for the kids and do what’s right for the program," Gailey said. "Anything else I can’t control."

The players can’t avoid the speculation about their coach’s future.

"You definitely hear it around if your head coach is under scrutiny like that," Brooks said. "You definitely want to do the best you can for him."



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