After his 29-carry night against Miami on Saturday, Georgia Tech B-back Zach Laskey went home to Peachtree City to recharge, splitting time between church and couch.
The career-high workload left no permanent disfigurement. “I had some bumps and bruises, but that’s after every game. Coming off a win, that Sunday is just perfect,” he said.
But in his reverie, Laskey neglected one important chore. He meant to go to the creek behind the practice field of his former high school, Starr’s Mill, and refresh his supply of football holy water. How do you forget something like that? Yet, he did.
In his senior season at Tech, Laskey decided to revisit a tradition that seniors at Starr’s Mill began in the late 1990s — collecting water from the stream and sprinkling it in the end zone on game day to mark it as their own.
(Some of his teammates used to slurp up the creek water and spit it on the field, but this is a Tech man, and he is too smart for that. To this day Laskey employs a simple water bottle).
His current position coach was unaware of the odd ritual until asked about it last week, but seemed quite OK with it. “If that helps get him ready, I’m all for it, as long as he finds the end zone,” Tech’s Bryan Cook said.
No one is going to trifle with Laskey and his victory water, not with the Yellow Jackets unbeaten through five games and appearing in the national rankings for the first time since 2011 (No. 22).
Tech’s B-back won’t say it’s all because of the magical properties of Fayette County’s free-range fluid. He’ll point to many of the traditional qualities such as teamwork and practice habits and skill. Still a guy who’s superstitious enough to knock on wood every time someone mentions how adept he is at not fumbling is not going to take any chances.
Scouting report for Saturday’s Duke game: Before he absolutely needs to replenish, Laskey claims to have just enough of the Starr’s Mill water left for one more good treatment.
In other non-mystical aspects, Tech enters that game with a collection of players doing all they can to make Paul Johnson’s triple option seem like the offense of the future. The Jackets rank 11th in the nation in rushing and second to Boston College in the ACC. As a result of controlling the ball on the ground, they also are controlling the clock, 14th in the country in time of possession. Last week against Miami the difference was a bit jarring, with Tech holding the ball for nearly 41 of the 60 minutes.
A runner more prone to plunder than to prance, Laskey is one of the principal instruments in this highly choreographed game of keep-away. He doesn’t have a reverse gear (only one rush a loss thus far this season), which is a particularly useful trait when trying to move the chains.
“If it’s third-and-2 for a lot of teams, they got to find a way to scheme people up to get two yards,” Cook said. “As quickly as we hit the hole, as quickly as Zach hits it, sometimes things don’t have to be perfect. It’s just a matter of the timing and the type of run that it is. It is often such a downhill, quick-hitting play.”
His is often not a glamorous job. The yards for Tech’s second-leading rusher (449 yards) come grudgingly, in mostly bite-sized increments rather than great galloping gulps. He knows as much and has accepted the subtle pleasures of the methodical advance. “I trust our guys up front to make the block, and if they create a little seam I know I can get through and at the very worst fall forward for a couple yards,” he said.
When he sent Laskey off into the big world, Starr’s Mill coach foresaw something different. Chad Phillips told his guy he would be the next John Lynch, one of those punishing safeties. Instead Laskey put on about 30 pounds these past four years — and not the usual beer weight of the college man — and chose do his hitting from the other side. “He’s just more comfortable on offense,” Phillips conceded.
Not that Laskey doesn’t yearn to feel the breeze through his face mask as he breaks the big one. Improving upon his season-long run of 26 yards is high on his to-do list, along with the mundane work of shoring up his blocking.
“I’m waiting for it. I had some opportunities. I just got to break an arm tackle here and there and get on my horse and go,” he said.
Does Laskey have the top-end speed to outrun his pursuers in the open field? “Yes sir, I think I do, but I got to show it,” he answered.
There are many more games to be played and yards to be had. The promise of a bountiful season is in his reach as long as Laskey’s willing and the creek doesn’t run dry.