- By Ken Sugiura
To introduce its new football uniform, the Georgia Tech athletic department wanted to make a splash. Staffers figured that using a celebrity to model the new Adidas-designed look could give the reveal some pop.
At the top of their wish list was the muscled gentleman who ended up taking the stage Friday night on the 14th floor of Ventanas – three-time WWE champion Roman Reigns, perhaps better known to Tech football fans as former All-ACC defensive lineman Joe Anoa’i.
The idea was hatched when Anoa’i attended the Virginia Tech game last fall with his family. Anoa’i watched the game from the suite of athletic director Todd Stansbury, where they got a chance to meet and discuss Anoai’s support of the program.
A captain of the 2006 team along with Reggie Ball and Calvin Johnson, Anoa’i has been an occasional visitor to Tech, making use of the team’s weight room when in town. Through that, Anoa’i has gotten to know Tech strength-and-conditioning coach John Sisk, who helped ask for him to be a part of the uniform reveal. Anoa’i was interested, and Tech worked through WWE to book him for the event.
On Friday night, Tech staff brought him into the downtown venue through a service entrance to keep the secret. Guests at the event cheered their approval when Anoa’i approached the stage to the same entrance music that he uses for his matches. He was decked out in full uniform and full pads, wearing the No. 96 jersey that he once did as an All-ACC selection. (As it had been 10 years since he last put on pads, he later acknowledged that squeezing the pads and skintight jersey over his head was a bit of an ordeal.)
On the stage, Anoa’i joked with former Tech captain Roddy Jones and TV personality (and Tech grad) Chris Cotter. Jones asked Anoa’i how many more sacks he could have rung up had he been able to play in the snug-fitting Adidas jersey rather than one that offensive linemen were able to grab onto.
“I’d probably be in the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame, retired,” he said. “Me and Calvin would be just hanging out retired all the time, just the youngest guy ever retired.”
Later, Anoa’i showed his understanding of where Tech’s football team has been, and where it hopes to be heading, and how the new uniform fits in the aspired trajectory.
“I like it a lot,” he said. “One thing I was concerned about is nowadays, not to pick on Oregon and all the other teams, but you can have all those other selections and all these different options, and it sometimes it can look a little cartoonish. They get a lot of good publicity on their stuff, and a lot of it does look good.
“But sometimes you can costume your identity, I think, and I like what we’ve done. We’ve taken the new school, and we’ve met it in the middle of the old school. And just being Georgia Tech, (with) the traditions that we have, I’m really happy that they kind of stuck to the wheelhouse of what we do and the traditions of keeping that (uniform) white. We didn’t go too far, but if you get right up on the uniform, there’s little details that you do have that stuff.”
Anoa’i was a team member in 2003 when the Jackets received a new locker room. It’s the same one that was demolished as part of the $4.5 million renovation project that resulted in the eye-catching facility that just opened.
“In my head, I’m like, what’s the big deal?” Anoa’i said. “(The old locker room) is still good. It’s still a great facility. And then to hear all these different explanations of what they were doing, it just shows the detail. The attention to detail and the due diligence is incredible – of the whole staff – of making this facility top-notch. This is coming from someone who has trained in world-class facilities.”
Anoa’i recalled how Tech’s practice fields once were all outdoors, jeopardizing the Yellow Jackets’ practice time in the event of lightning. The indoor practice facility would not come until 2011. He appreciated the difficulty of that project.
“It’s not like we’re in a college town where we can just buy up all the space that we want,” he said. “We’re in Atlanta, we’re in the city of Atlanta. So to be able to nudge away and get that elbow room, it takes a lot of power and a lot of know-how and a lot of effort. A lot of bricks were stacked to get to this point. I think it just goes on our history and our tradition. It just shows that we’ve not only been here for 100 years, we’re here to stay. It’s pretty cool.”