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Ramblin' Wreck celebrates 50th anniversary

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It is much more than an old car.

The Ramblin’ Wreck, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary at Georgia Tech’s game Saturday, is an embodiment of the school, its students and alumni.

“It’s an engineering school and, for years, that’s how people at Georgia Tech were perceived — smart, handy, mechanical, but maybe rough around the edges,” said Justin Barnes, an Atlanta attorney who served as the driver of the 1930 Ford Model A Sport coupe for the 2003 season. “And when people see it, they can relate to it.”

About 15 former drivers, some of whom have established an endowment to maintain the car, are expected to be at Bobby Dodd Stadium for a halftime presentation honoring the Wreck, still in good health after countless repairs and overhauls.

Unveiled Sept. 30, 1961, the car has led the team onto the field for every home game since, enduring defacement, an attempted carjacking on a drive home from Athens, thefts and, most notably, a lower-case wreck in 2007 that caused more than $40,000 in damage. It has even withstood an impatient football coach.

“Quite honestly, about my only dealings with the Ramblin’ Wreck is to tell ’em to get out of the way sometimes,” Paul Johnson said this week.

Barnes and other drivers shared their experiences driving the Wreck.

Lisa Volmar, 1984

Volmar was the first female driver of the Wreck, or, as members of the Ramblin’ Reck Club prefer, the “Reck.” After drawing some derision both from students and alumni, her moment of truth arrived during homecoming week when, parked on a street near several fraternities, the Wreck wouldn’t start.

With curious fraternity brothers looking on, Volmar pulled open the hood, used her trusty butter knife to adjust the timing, started the car and drove off.

“After that, nobody gave me any grief,” she said.

For the Wreck, Volmar endured sleepless nights when she took it to away games, fretting that someone would abscond with it, even though it was stored and tied down inside a truck. At a game at Auburn, she hopped out of the Wreck and chastised fans who dared throw ice at it.

Said Volmar, who lives in Fayetteville and works for credit-score supplier TransUnion, “I still love every inch of it.”

Justin Barnes, 2003

Barnes remembers his first “ride-out,” as the Wreck’s drive onto the field is called, like it was yesterday, he said.

It was a night game against Auburn in front of a packed house. His palms were slick with sweat. He tried to stay focused as the marching band blasted the fight song, Tech fans went bananas and cheerleaders hung from the running boards.

Said Barnes, “It’s one of those life experiences that gives you goose bumps.”

He maintained contact with the car after graduating. Before the 2006 home opener, the car was having trouble getting started. He and a few others worked 18 consecutive hours to replace the entire electrical system and the starter. They got it running three hours before kickoff.

He may have been just re-paying a debt to the dutiful coupe.

Was it helpful with girls?

“Yes, it was,” Barnes said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Austin Berry, 2010

On track to graduate in December, Berry had a relatively incident-free drivership, although the transmission was overhauled on his watch.

Of the ride-out, Berry said “the real skill behind it is that you have to get in second gear before you hit the run-through banner. The rest of it’s just common sense: Don’t hit any cheerleaders or band kids or football players.”

Berry shared a story from a previous driver when the wait to ride on to the field took too long for a certain coach.

“The athletic association was telling the driver to wait, and Paul Johnson said, ‘Whether you go or not, we’re going,’” Berry said. “So the driver had to put it in gear and went.”

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Last Saturday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson exploited a matchup in calling a play that produced a 73-yard touchdown pass on the Yellow Jackets first play from scrimmage against Middle Tennessee State.

    Against Kansas, Johnson and the Jackets did it again. From last year’s game, Johnson anticipated the Kansas defense would heavily pursue motioning A-backs. On the first play, A-back Roddy Jones went left and brought the defense with him. Orwin Smith went right, taking the ball with him for a 95-yard touchdown run. Tech has scored on its opening play in each of its first three games.

“I thought all week that the counter play would be a good play,” Johnson said.

Johnson gave credit to Smith and wide receivers Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton. Hill flattened cornerback Isiah Barfield, and Melton ran interference the length of the field against cornerback Greg Brown to clear Smith’s route to the goal line.

Special teams better

Special-teams play, a weak spot for Tech through the first two games, improved. The highlight was provided by Jemea Thomas, who made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch to haul in Sean Poole’s first-quarter punt on the fly and down it at the Kansas 3-yard line.

Kicker Justin Moore also made his first field goal of the season, from 24 yards, and registered Tech’s first touchback of the season, which drew loud applause.

“It was good to see Justin kick the ball on kickoffs like he’s capable of,” Johnson said.

Uniforms arrive

A mid-morning delivery enabled Tech to wear its new home jerseys. After the home opener, when fans complained about the difficulty of reading the gold numbers on the white jerseys, the school ordered a replacement set with navy numbers. However, while half of the jerseys had arrived by Friday, the other half somehow ended up at a FedEx facility in Memphis. The two boxes of jerseys arrived just before 10 a.m., minutes before the call would have been made to wear the road uniforms instead.

First start for P. Smith

In his first game back from a two-game suspension for violating team rules, Phil Smith started at right tackle. Ray Beno, who had started in Smith’s place at left tackle, stayed in that spot. Tyler Kidney, who started the first two games at right tackle, served as No. 3 tackle. The three rotated in and out at both spots.

“They’re doing a tremendous job,” Orwin Smith said of the linemen. “Guys are making blocks, guys are getting cuts. Just love the effort they’re giving.”

Numbers

Tech has scored 178 points through three games, the third-highest point total through three games in school history, following the 1916 and 1918 teams. The 1916 team beat Cumberland 222-0 in its second game. The 1918 team beat Furman 118-0 and the 11th Cavalry 123-0.

Tech has outscored opponents 63-7 in the first quarter of its three games.

The school records that the Jackets broke with 768 yards of offense and 604 rushing yards were previously held by the 1948 team (706 yards vs. The Citadel) and the 1975 team (558 yards vs. VMI), respectively.

Etc.

Following Saturday reports that Pittsburgh and Syracuse have applied for membership to the ACC, the press-box announcer included updates from the Pitt-Iowa game when providing ACC scores. ... Saturday’s game captains for Tech were punter Chandler Anderson, A-back Embry Peeples and safety Rashaad Reid. ... The kickoff time of Tech’s game vs. North Carolina is scheduled to be announced by noon Sunday.

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Georgia Tech rewind

    Thirsting for revenge, Georgia Tech demolished Kansas 66-24 with an offensive explosion that set NCAA, ACC and school records. Tech produced 768 yards (school record), 604 rushing yards (ACC and school record) and averaged 12.1 yards per carry (NCAA, ACC and school record) against Kansas, which beat the Yellow Jackets 28-25 last September in Lawrence, Kan.

What we learned?

One

The A-back stable is potent

A-backs Orwin Smith, Roddy Jones and Embry Peeples combined for 499 rushing and receiving yards on 17 touches, a ridiculous 29.4 yard average. Clever play calling and excellent blocking helped spring all three for big yardage. Repeatedly.  Tech scarcely even needed A-back Tony Zenon, who opened the win over Middle Tennessee State with a 73-yard touchdown reception.

Two

The defense is coming around.

After an ineffective first half in which the Jackets allowed three scoring drives in excess of 60 yards and permitted Kansas to convert 7 of 10 third downs, Tech closed the door in the second half. Kansas, which put up 45 points the week prior, averaged 4.1 yards per play after averaging 6.0 in the first half and scored only a late touchdown.

Three

The Jackets are going national.

Tech made the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls for the first time since the loss to Kansas last year. Tech is ranked No. 24 in the coaches poll and No. 25 in the AP poll. The Jackets jumped from 34th in the coaches' rankings and from 38th with the writers. They'll be on ESPN this Saturday with a noon kickoff against North Carolina at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Loose ends

Tech coach Paul Johnson gave credit to wide receivers Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton for their blocking despite their lack of participation in the passing game. Hill, who had come into the game averaging 181.0 yards per game, had one catch for four yards. … Johnson acknowledged a time management error at the end of the first half which enabled Kansas to drive for a field goal as time expired. … Inside linebacker Julian Burnett led the team in tackles for the third game in a row with nine stops. He has 29 for the season.

Numbers game

Of Tech's three highest all-time totals for total offense yards, two were set this year, Kansas Saturday (school-record 768) and Western Carolina (662). Tech wracked up 706 against The Citadel in 1948.

Sound bite

"I think they knew what we were about to do. It got to a point where they were kind of reading our defense and knowing what we were gonna run." – Kansas cornerback Tyler Patmon, to the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, about the Tech offense.

What's next?

Tech will open ACC play Saturday against North Carolina at home at noon. The Tar Heels beat Virginia 28-17 in both teams' conference opener. North Carolina is 3-0.

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Paul Johnson quotes

On the defense’s play in the second half:

“Played a little harder, played with intensity and broke up some plays in the secondary. We were playing with a little too much cushion and giving them too much. We had them on first downs a couple of times and just missed tackles. We had a hard time getting them off the field in the first half but once the third quarter came and we got some quick stops and scores we put the game out of reach.”

On Tevin Washington’s play:

“The thing that Tevin does is that he gives them a chance to make the play. He underthrew a couple of them that could have been touchdowns, but they catch them and they end up being big plays. If you have the average per attempt that he does, you are doing something right. It is pretty good. Those are the plays that we haven’t completed in the last couple of years. He is throwing them where they can catch them, that is the idea.”

On Orwin Smith:

“Orwin played well, today was his turn. In the third quarter I guess they thought they had to stop the run so they were firing some guys out of the secondary and we took advantage of it, Tevin made the throws and it just happened to be to Orwin. Orwin is a good player, and he’s played well for us all year.”

On decision making on the final drive of the first half:

“What was going through my mind. We were up seven and I knew that we were going to get the kickoff to start the second half. I knew that if we were going to make the first down we needed the time to score. So I took the first timeout, run the quarterback draw, and I can’t figure out how much we need. It looks like it’s less than a yard, and I thought I was going to go for it so I took the timeout. Then when I saw how much we had to go, I am thinking, we kick the field goal, we’ll go up 10, we’ll get the ball back to start the second half, we will score, go up 17 and have three scores. In hindsight if I had known that we were going to do that, I would have just let the clock run down, but at the time, if you think you are going to make the first down on third down you want the extra time. I could have handled it better, and there is still no reason for them to go 80 yards in 30 seconds with one timeout. I was a little hot under the collar about that.”

On the play call for Smith’s 95-yard touchdown run:

“This time, last year, they really cheated to the motion on the toss and they ran everybody. I thought all week that the counter play would be a good play. On that play though, the guys that you have to give credit to besides Orwin for running it were Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton. They did a heck of a job blocking downfield to make that thing go for as long as it did. The one thing I noticed today, I cant say enough good things about the wide receivers. They weren’t really involved in the passing game but they blocked their tails off.

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Preston Lyons races toward a first down for the Jackets.

Days jumps over Kansas' Terry.

New Georgia Tech Jersey's with a blue number and gold outline.

Kansas' Greg Brown hangs in the air as he tries to bring down Synjyn Days.

Buzz ~ The Georgia Tech Mascot.

Hill jumps out of the reach of Kansas' Brown.

Coach Paul Johnson prepares to greet players headed to the sideline after a first-quarter touchdown.

Orwin Smith opened the game with a bang, scoring on a 95-yard run to give the Jackets an early lead. This run established an all-time Georgia Tech longest touchdown record.

Tyler Patmon of Kansas tries to catch Smith from behind after he pulled in a second-quarter pass from Tevin Washington.

Tech's Roddy Jones against Middle Tennessee State.

Tech's Rod Sweeting upends Tim Biere of Kansas.

Georgia Tech's defense swarms around Kansas' Rell Lewis.

Smith jumps on David Sims after a second-quarter touchdown while Stephen Hill (5) joins the celebration.