Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia Tech kicker Chris Tanner (17), a Norcross celebrates with place holder Sean Poole (82) after a field goal against the University of Georgia during college football action at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Nov. 24. UGA defeated GT 42-10.
The life of a walk-on at a major college football program is mostly one of waiting patiently, never knowing when -- or if -- the chance to play will ever come.
Chris Tanner was fully aware of what he was getting himself into when he decided to walk-on to Georgia Tech's team as a kicker.
Though the opportunities have been few and far between for the Norcross grad over his five years in the Yellow Jackets' program, his biggest chance to shine has come down the stretch of this, his final season.
And as the 6-foot, 175-pound fifth-year senior prepares to ring out his football career when Tech rings in the New Year by taking on Southern California in the Sun Bowl on Monday in El Paso, Texas, he is enjoying his moment.
"I can't complain," Tanner said. "I've really enjoyed getting a chance to play. (The Sun Bowl) is going to be great. The last three games, we've played Georgia, Florida State and now USC. That's really exciting."
What may be as exciting to Tech's coaching staff is the stability Tanner has brought to the Jackets' kicking game.
With David Scully and Justin Moore having struggled throughout the season, Jackets head coach Paul Johnson and special teams coach Dave Walkosky turned to Tanner to handle the bulk of the kicking duties during Tech's game at North Carolina on Nov. 10.
He responded by booting field goals of 34 and 35 yards and successfully hitting all eight of his extra-point attempts during the Jackets shootout 68-50 win.
Not bad for someone who had only attempted 14 placekicks -- all extra points during his redshirt freshman season in 2009 -- and had fewer than 20 kickoffs in his career.
"They told me in the middle of the week (leading up to the North Carolina game)," Tanner recalled. "I was really excited. ... The first kick was an extra point, and I think that got all the nerves out. But that first field goal was the first one I'd tried since high school. But it's been real fun ever since."
While range is still an issue -- his longest field goal is from 38 yards and Johnson continues to call on Scully on the rare occasions he chooses to kick field goals of greater than 40 yards -- Tanner continued to be very dependable when called upon.
He's hit 5 of 6 field goal attempts while remains perfect on all 15 of his extra-point tries, making him successful on 34 of his 35 career kick attempts.
Tanner credits his accuracy and poise to lessons he learned from former scholarship kicker Scott Blair, who was the incumbent on the job when Tanner arrived as a true freshman in 2008, and reinforced with a phone call to his friend and former teammate the week of the North Carolina game.
"The North Carolina game was a big game because we needed it," Tanner said. "That's why I called Scott. If we lose that week, we're not bowl eligible. He just said, 'Just have confidence and know you're going to make the kick before you go out there.'
"We practice a lot during the week, and it's all muscle memory. But then, the physical preparation is done. Once the game gets here, it's all mental. You're either there, or you're not."
But as rewarding as Tanner's brief moments in the sun on the field have been, there are plenty more off the field experiences from his years at Tech that he cherishes perhaps even more.
Among them are the friendships he's made, from former teammates like Blair and punter Chandler Anderson to current teammates like Scully and Moore.
But perhaps most important is the degree in economics and international affairs, with a specialty in accounting, that he is set to receive when he graduates in the spring, and which has already gained him a job offer from the Atlanta accounting firm of Frazier and Deeter.
"Sticking around was never a question," Tanner said of the long wait before he got a chance to play.
"I'm really happy with all the friends I've made here. And (college is) all about preparing you for the next phase in life. I'm really happy with the end result."