ATLANTA - Tashard Choice knows he'll be a marked man this season, especially with Calvin Johnson now playing in the NFL.
That's OK. Choice loves the attention.
The senior running back is the undisputed star of the Georgia Tech offense, coming off a year in which he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing with 1,473 yards. With no obvious candidates to steal away the spotlight, Choice is determined to put up even better numbers in his college finale.
'I'm really just enjoying my senior season,' Choice said, who's been getting advice from former Georgia Tech stars such as Johnson and Joe Hamilton. 'They all miss the college experience, miss being around the fellows. I really want to enjoy it. I'm not taking anything for granted.'
Choice is one of the team's most vocal players - in a good way, according to coach Chan Gailey.
'It's not trash talk,' the coach said. 'It's encouraging, fired-up talk. There's a big difference in those two.'
If Choice keeps improving, he'll likely put himself in the mix for All-America honors and maybe even get mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Those sort of goals make him run even harder.
'I think he enjoys it,' Gailey said. 'That's right up his alley. If he didn't have it, I don't think it would crush him. He is strong enough to handle whatever comes. But liking it? Oh yeah, he likes it.'
Choice knows he'll need a lot of help from his teammates - especially an experienced offensive line - in order to attract the national spotlight.
'You really understand that in college football, it's more of a team effort for you to reach those goals,' he said. 'If I had a chance to do those things, I would be ecstatic. That's something you work for, something you want to do: be an All-American, be a Heisman candidate. But you also understand what comes with it. It's a responsibility.'
He is likely to draw extra attention from opposing defenses, beginning with Saturday's opener at Notre Dame. The Yellow Jackets are breaking in a new starting quarterback (Taylor Bennett) and have only one returning wideout with double-figure catches (James Johnson).
That said, Choice isn't concerned. He points out that Georgia Tech had an erratic passing game last season, even with Calvin Johnson on the receiving end.
'We've always been able to run the football since I've been here,' Choice said. 'That's still going to be ground zero for us.'
Missing from polls
The rankings don't really matter much at this time of year. Still, the Georgia Tech players definitely noticed they were missing from both major polls heading into the season.
The Yellow Jackets expected to be ranked after reaching the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in 2006, especially with 17 returning starters on offense, defense and the kicking game.
But the poll voters apparently paid more attention to the way Georgia Tech finished (three straight defeats) and the loss of All-American receiver Calvin Johnson, who's now playing in the NFL.
'Yeah, we may have had a few downfalls, but we played good enough to think that we should have been up there the next year, especially with all the people we've got coming back,' receiver James Johnson said. 'We have a pretty experienced team, but we're still not up there. Our job right now is to win all our games and let that speak for itself.'
Linebacker Philip Wheeler said he wasn't disappointed at being left out of the polls, but 'was wondering how some of the teams were in it ahead of us.'
While Choice got a little ticked off when the rankings came out, he quickly moved on.
'The other teams deserve to be there,' he said. 'That's something you really have no control over. The only thing you can do is prove how good you are on the field. That's the only thing we have to do.'
Georgia Tech is starting the season against Notre Dame for the fifth time. The Fighting Irish won all four of the previous openers, most recently a 14-10 victory in Atlanta last year.
Overall, Notre Dame holds a commanding 27-5-1 edge in the series, including an 11-2-1 mark in South Bend.
The Yellow Jackets' last road victory over the Irish was a 14-10 triumph in 1959.
They said it
'Obviously, it holds a great deal of history. It's obviously a great place to play. But it's a place that you have to go try to win. I don't get chills when I walk into the stadium. It's just another football field, another game, another team. You can't let the situation get to you.' - Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey, on playing at Notre Dame Stadium.
SideBar: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: South Bend, Ind.