Gwinnett grads living dream in rivalry game

Photo by Ben Beitzel

Photo by Ben Beitzel

ATLANTA -- Over the years, graduates from Gwinnett high schools have played major roles in the annual Georgia-Georgia Tech football rivalry.

In recent years, familiar names like South Gwinnett grad David Greene, Shiloh's Davey Pollack, Brookwood's Mansfield Wrotto and two sets of Parkview brothers on each side -- Jon and Jeremy Muyres at Tech and Jon and Matt Stinchcomb at Georgia -- have all had an impact on the game immortalized by Bill Cromartie's book, "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate."

That tradition will continue when the No. 7 Yellow Jackets play host to the Bulldogs in the 104th renewal of the rivalry Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

A handful of Gwinnett grads figure to have a big impact on the game, most of them from Georgia.

The Bulldogs boast as many as four local players -- Rennie Curran, Caleb King, Fred Munzenmaier and Christian Robinson -- who see significant playing time, while Zach Krish is the only Gwinnett grad on scholarship at Tech this season.

While they may not see the field, the game will mean just as much to the 14 Gwinnett walk-ons -- seven on each team.

In some cases, it may mean more, especially to those who were high school teammates, but now find themselves on opposite sides of the bitter rivalry, such as Tech's Chase Hudson and Georgia's Billy Johnson, who graduated a year apart from Buford.

But for former Parkview teammates Jordan Stowe and Jason Veal -- now at Georgia -- and Jared Polak -- who is walking on at Tech -- it is more like a family feud, something Veal is quite used to.

"My dad actually went to Tech," Veal said with a laugh. "My mom went to Georgia. Growing up, my brother was a Tech fan. My mom and my sister and I were Georgia fans. So, we were a house divided.

"Me and (Polak) were good friends in high school and had lockers right next to each other. ... I haven't talked to him in a while, so I'll probably be talking to him soon just to give him a hard time."

Sure enough, Polak confirmed he'd heard from Veal earlier this week, and the smack talk has already begun.

"He asked me if we'd had any days off from practice (during Tech's bye week last week)," Polak said. "I told him, 'We weren't taking any days off because we want to whip y'all's butt.'

"We catch up every so often. It's kind of like a lot of other (friendships) in high school in that we went our own ways. Of course, we'll talk more now because we're playing each other this week."

But for most walk-ons, there has been precious little chance to actually play.

Most, if not all, of them gave up chances to play on scholarship at Division I-AA or II schools to walk-on at either Tech or Georgia.

"It was tempting (to go to a smaller school) because I knew I'd have a better chance to play," said Veal, a redshirt freshman linebacker and 2007 Parkview graduate, who had scholarship offers from Davidson, Furman and Wofford before walking on at Georgia. "But I decided to walk on pretty early. I grew up a die-hard Georgia fan."

But being a walk-on -- even for a program you rooted for throughout your youth -- is not an easy life.

While a few walk-ons eventually earn either playing time, or even a scholarship -- like Krish did from Tech coach Paul Johnson this past spring -- the rewards are few, while the sacrifices are many.

Of the 14 walk-ons at Tech and Georgia this season, only Norcross graduate Chris Tanner has actually gotten into a game.

The redshirt freshman actually won Tech's placekicking job briefly, making all 14 of his extra-point attempts and taking one kickoff in three games before ceding the job back to Scott Blair.

In fact, it's tough for a walk-on to simply dress out in full uniform and even have a chance to get into the game.

Still, those who choose to go through the rigors of every practice and offseason workout -- while paying for their own school -- have come to accept the circumstances.

"I did get to (travel with the team) for a couple of (road) games," said Jackets defensive back and Duluth graduate Jason Davis, who has also dressed for most of Tech's home games. "When I came to Georgia Tech, I wanted the best of both worlds -- academically and athletically. ... And I'm the type of guy who likes to finish what I start. ... And you only live once."

For Davis and Georgia's back-up kicker -- and Brookwood grad -- Andrew Jensen, the finish line to what they've started is near, with Tech headed to next week's ACC Championship Game, and both teams likely headed to bowl games to end the season.

Davis, a fifth-year senior, will graduate in December with a degree in management and has already had a couple of job interviews, and hopes to find work in pharmaceutical sales.

Meanwhile, Jensen is also set to graduate soon with a degree in his double major of marketing and risk management and insurance, and has been the team's scholar-athlete the last two years with a 3.2 grade point average.

And while the only action he has seen in his two seasons with the team has been in the G-Day spring game -- including the game-winning, 48-yard field goal in this past spring's game -- he has no regrets.

"I'd love the opportunity, but with one spot at kicker, it's understandable," said Jensen, who has dressed in all but one of Georgia's home games this season as a back-up to starter Blair Walsh. "But this has been a dream job."