With bowl off table, Georgia Tech players find different motivations

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Mikey Minihan’s college career has been, in his words, a journey. The Georgia Tech center redshirted in his first season on campus (2017), barely played in 2018 and then went through a coaching change that required him to learn a new style of playing on the offensive line.

He earned a starting spot at left guard in 2019, then missed time with an injury before returning to the lineup at right guard. Last year, he learned to play a new position, center, sometimes struggling to master its intricacies. Because of COVID-19, he wasn’t able to go home to Hawaii to see his family for 18 months. And, over the past three seasons, his team has won nine games total. He often has had to call upon his reserves of perseverance and toughness. For better or worse, he’s equipped to summon the drive to finish a season that hasn’t gone as planned.

“A lot of it is just proving to myself that it’s possible,” Minihan said Wednesday. “My college football journey hasn’t been easy, and I didn’t expect it to get any easier. So it’s just continuing to challenge yourself and keep going.”

Tech players will need to rise to the challenge in their final two games of the season. The Yellow Jackets play No. 8 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on Saturday and then finish the season with No. 1 Georgia at home Nov. 27.

That’s a hefty combination. Tech has played games against top-10 teams back-to-back several times in regular-season play, most recently in 2011 (No. 5 Clemson and No. 10 Virginia Tech), but never when the No. 1 team in the country was part of the equation. Further, the Jackets are banged up, including within Minihan’s position group and also at quarterback, where Jeff Sims’ status is uncertain after he was sidelined for Saturday’s loss to Boston College. With a 3-7 record and bowl hopes out of the picture, it would be a tempting time to mentally give in.

“You just can’t think like that,” Minihan said. “You’ve just got to be ready to put your best foot forward every week. And if you’re in a place where you’re feeling sorry for yourself, or you just don’t want to do this anymore, you shouldn’t be here. That’s all I’ve got to say for that.”

Minihan will take motivation in the challenge that awaits him from the Notre Dame defensive line, an experienced group that last year helped limit Tech to a season-low 88 rushing yards in the Jackets’ 31-13 loss at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Minihan played Fighting Irish defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa in high school in Hawaii. Minihan said it is “absolutely” a challenge that he is anticipating.

“Just being competitive and just trying to be the best competitor possible,” he said.

The Jackets may have to play without their full complement on the offensive line, a situation they’ve been in frequently this season.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, I think we’re in a good position to handle that together,” Minihan said. “We all work well together, and when one person goes down, the next person’s ready to step up.”

Defensive end Kyle Kennard spoke of persistence and simply wanting to improve.

“These last two games can help us get better for next season or just help us work on what we need to work on overall,” he said.

Cornerback Zamari Walton finds motivation in a desire to honor the team’s seniors.

“For me, personally, I want to win,” he said. “So I’m trying to do everything I can for the team right now, especially for the seniors that’s probably going to leave. I want to make sure I go out with a bang for them. Anything I can do, I’m going to play for them.”

Walton acknowledged the wide toll that injuries and bruises have taken on his team. Walton himself came to the Wednesday media session with his left thumb wrapped.

“Everybody’s just kind of picking each other up, trying to be there for one another,” he said. “It’s about to be the end of the season, so everybody’s kind of banged up and trying to push through and finish these last couple of games.”