Georgia Tech’s Brent Key wants to avenge 2014 loss he experienced in Ireland

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key speaks to members of the media following their first day of spring football practice at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key speaks to members of the media following their first day of spring football practice at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / jason.getz@ajc.com)

Brent Key, speaking during a recent appearance on “The Nat Coombs Show” podcast, said he loves Ireland and is looking forward to bringing his Georgia Tech football team there in two months. But he also said he has some unfinished business in the island country.

As the offensive coordinator at Central Florida in 2014, Key was part of an Aug. 30 game that year that pitted UCF against Penn State. Dubbed the Croke Park Classic and played at Croke Park in Dublin, Penn State kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired to defeat UCF 26-24 — the Knights had taken a 24-23 lead with 1:13 to play before failing to hold on to the win.

So when Key found out that his Yellow Jackets would be playing in the 2024 Aer Lingus Football Classic at Aviva Stadium, he recalled that game.

“My first thought was avenging that (2014) loss,” he said.

Discussion of that 2014 game was one of many topics during a 30-minute chat Key had during the podcast. The interview was part of the continual buildup to the Aug. 24 matchup between Key’s Jackets and Florida State.

The X’s and O’s preparation for that game began in May, but Key said much of this month has been centered around building team bonds and chemistry. He explained that his team gathers each Wednesday for what the program calls, “Championship Mindset.”

During these sessions the Jackets split into groups where they’re able to have discussions on certain topics or are tasked with completing a project.

“They kind of break each other down and really get to know each other on a personal level,” Key added. “What it does is, over a 10-week period, it really tears ‘em down week by week. It really gets them in a vulnerable position where they’re very exposed to all their weaknesses and their fears and those things. The second half we build it back up. It really allows the team to get to know each other.

“When you’re playing the game of football and you’re in the fourth quarter and you gotta rely on that person next to you and you’re dog-tired, you want to have been through some things. It’s not always the hard physical work, it’s the mental part that we really pour into our guys.”

Key and his staff, meanwhile, continue to work furiously on the recruiting trail – and those efforts already have paid off. Tech received six commitments over the weekend, bringing its 2025 recruiting class to 12, and now has the No. 25-ranked class nationally and sixth-best in the ACC.

Tech isn’t done yet, either, by any stretch with six months to go until the December signing day (more official recruiting visits are scheduled for this weekend). Key explained to the Irish hosts how his staff goes about recruiting the talent-rich area of metro Atlanta, Georgia and the surrounding states.

“When we recruit, we look at the state of Georgia in two different ways: We have the state of Atlanta, then we have the state of Georgia,” Key said. “Atlanta is such a massive city, but it’s also so dense and rich in talent, so we’re always gonna start in our backyard. We can throw a football and hit 25-30 high school players that could end up being all-conference, All-American type guys.

“Then we’re gonna work out into Georgia, kind of a five-hour radius around campus, which extends us into the northern part of Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee. Really hitting those areas hard.”

Tech, coming off a 7-6 season and victory over UCF in the Gasparilla Bowl in December, is scheduled to begin preseason practice July 24. That will give the Jackets a little less than a month to work toward the opener before landing in Dublin on Aug. 22.

Once there, Key’s team will have the opportunity few college football teams are afforded in playing an official game in a foreign land. But the bigger opportunity will be for the Jackets to make a statement toward what sort of team it could be in Key’s second full season as coach.

“Our want our guys to be able to understand that the world is a lot bigger than the bubble that they live in. I want them to see those things,” Key said. “But we’re coming over there on a business trip to play a football game. We have a really, really good football team. I believe we’re gonna be able to come out and compete with anybody on our schedule. That’s our job, to go out and be the absolute best team we can be with the resources we’re given and go compete every game.

“That’s what makes it fun. To me the fun is being able to play the game we all love and to go and compete against a really good opponent in Florida State. To experience that on such hallowed grounds in a different country in a stadium that has so much history, it’s a pretty cool thing. It’s a cool thing for these kids.”