When Brian Kuo arrived at Georgia Tech as a freshman in August 2011, he said he had “zero interest” in football. Now, seven years later, Kuo will leave Tech with undergraduate and master’s degrees from the school’s college of electrical and computer engineering. And, thanks to seven years of playing trumpet in the Tech marching band, he will make his departure as a fan of the Yellow Jackets football team.
That being the case, he wanted to meet and thank the man who helped kindle that interest, coach Paul Johnson. He got the opportunity April 9, when Johnson shared lunch with Kuo and four of his friends (three in the band, one in Reck Club) at the cafeteria in the Edge Center.
“It was great,” Kuo said. “We asked him questions about all sorts of topics.”
Kuo reached out to Johnson through his assistant in February.
“One of the things I like to do is soak up knowledge and hear fun stories from people that you might never hear otherwise,” Kuo said.
Kuo knew Johnson at least had some affinity for the band. Two years ago, Johnson paid the band a visit when it was practicing before the start of school to thank band members for their commitment and support of the team.
“I was decently hopeful if he didn’t have anything else to do,” Kuo said.
Within a week or two, the response came back that Johnson would be willing to have lunch. Kuo shared the invite with a few others – band members Jonathan DeLozier, Michael Marzano and Aaron Spak and Reck Club member Emma Siegfried, who helped Kuo draft his email.
The students shared a table with Johnson for about 45 minutes, Kuo said, peppering him with questions about his job, life and family. They learned about, among other things, his friendship with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and the challenges of leading and motivating a team of 85 scholarship players.
In turn, Kuo said that Johnson thanked them for their support of the team and recognized how the band plays a critical role in revving up the fans, who in turn charge the team.
“We were a little starstruck at the moment, to be honest,” Kuo said.
Kuo said he also shared with Johnson how a few band members were on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the pregame for the national championship game.
“We got to tell Paul Johnson that one of the highlights of our careers was watching UGA lose on a national stage,” Kuo said. “He got a chuckle out of that.”
Kuo said he found Johnson to be down to earth and personable, not the stoic person that he has seen in news conferences.
“Those kids were huge fans and they love football and they could ask about certain plays during the season and what was going on, so it was fun,” Johnson said. “I enjoyed it.”
For Kuo, the band has been a respite from his grueling academic journey.
“My perspective on it is, I have all these really hard engineering classes,” he said. “Doing some sort of non-engineering extracurricular – that’s what keeps me sane.”
He’ll graduate in May. He hopes to land a job in the aerospace industry, working with satellites or space systems.
“I am ready to get out and make some money,” Kuo said. “I have been at this school for too long.”