ATLANTA - Jahi Word-Daniels is accustomed to playing home games with thousands of seats unfilled at Georgia Tech.
The senior cornerback knows that, barring a miracle of sorts, Bobby Dodd Stadium will have plenty of vacancies when the Yellow Jackets host Gardner-Webb on Saturday.
"We can't pay any attention to the size of the crowd," Word-Daniels said Tuesday night. "That's something we can't control. What matters to our team is playing football to the best of our ability. The last thing we need is to give ourselves an excuse to be complacent."
When Georgia Tech (4-1) and Gardner-Webb (2-3) kick off at 3:30 p.m., Word-Daniels believes the Jackets will look past having to play their second FCS opponent in four home games.
"It's my job as a leader to tell the younger guys that they're probably not going to have the same kind of Friday night jitters they had before we played at Virginia Tech," Word-Daniels said. "But that's not the point. What we have to do is guard against any kind of a letdown because we're playing well as a team right now, and there's still a lot left for us to accomplish this season."
Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich had little choice but to schedule Gardner-Webb earlier this year after he spent a few months trying to fill the open date created last year when Army canceled its game against the Jackets in West Point, N.Y.
In a letter Radakovich received a few days before Tech's 24-point win over Army last October, Kevin Anderson, the athletic director of the U.S. Military Academy, said his school feared cadets would be too taxed physically to play the Jackets between dates against Texas A&M and Air Force.
Thus did Gardner-Webb, the pride of Boiling Springs, N.C., and a member of the FCS Big South Conference, land on a home schedule that's included dates against Jacksonville State of the FCS Ohio Valley Conference, Mississippi State of the Southeastern Conference and Duke, Tech's rival in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We know that any respect we get in the polls is something we'll have to earn on the field," Tech left tackle Andrew Gardner said. "If we concentrate and execute like we're supposed to, things like recognition will take care of themselves."
Tech received 59 votes in The Associated Press' poll Sunday. Following No. 25 Ball State, six teams had more votes than the Jackets, whose 27-0 victory over Duke hardly impressed voters. The last time Tech was ranked? Sept. 7, 2007.
"It's like I tell guys all the time, ‘Get ready to play this week, and if you win this week, that makes next week the big game,' " coach Paul Johnson said. "So if we continue to do that, we'll get to where we want to be. It doesn't mean anything to be ranked right now anyway. I guess it means something to the fans. I'm sure the players would enjoy it, but I don't care about it."
Notes: Quarterback Josh Nesbitt practiced for the first time since straining his hamstring in a 38-7 win over Mississippi State three weeks ago. If Nesbitt proves that he's healthy, Johnson will return him as the starter over No. 2 Jaybo Shaw. ... Linebacker Brad Jefferson, who played in 12 games as a true freshman last year, practiced for the first time since dislocating his wrist in the 41-14 victory over Jacksonville State on Aug. 28.