ATLANTA — The moment continues to haunt Nick McRae to this day.
He’ll never forget the last time he stepped foot on the artificial turf at the Georgia Dome. He’ll never forget that day when he ashamedly glanced at the giant scoreboard and read the sobering final score: 48-0.
It was last December, in the semifinal round of the GHSA Class AA playoffs. The defending co-state champions, McRae’s Dublin Fighting Irish breezed into the matchup looking for a win over a dominant Buford team. Unfortunately for McRae, the Wolves completely controlled the Irish throughout the early Saturday morning contest.
Perhaps, the next time he stalks the Georgia Dome’s sidelines, things will go much differently.
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“Hopefully we’ll win this time. I still have a bad taste in my mouth. It’s hard to swallow a 48-0 loss,” McRae said.
The Georgia Tech freshman offensive lineman will make a return trip Wednesday to the place where he played his final high school football game when his No. 14 Yellow Jackets take on LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Taking a redshirt in his first year, McRae won’t have an opportunity to play in the game, but he is gladly soaking up every moment of his first bowl experience.
“I still would like to be playing right now, but it is good to sit back and take in the first year, see how everything fits and get adjusted to the college life,” McRae said. “And since I’m new, all these tours around Atlanta and everything that we’re doing is good. I still don’t know that much about Atlanta since I’ve been up here, so it’s good for me to go around and look and see all the historic places and group spots they’re taking us to. I enjoy doing stuff like that.”
One of eight Middle Georgians on the Yellow Jackets’ roster, McRae has traveled with his current teammates to tourist spots like Atlanta’s ESPN Zone and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Center. Today, he will go to the Georgia Dome for the first time as a spectator and watch the Atlanta Falcons take on the St. Louis Rams.
While McRae is enjoying his first bowl, one other Middle Georgian will be reflecting on the end of his own journey.
When senior linebacker and former Westfield standout James Liipfert lines up as part of the Yellow Jackets’ special teams Wednesday night, he’ll be appearing in his final game for Georgia Tech. Having graduated two weeks ago, Liipfert said the prospect of the end of his college days looms large in his day-to-day thinking.
“Now I’m getting into the mind-set that this is the last time I’ll be practicing in pads,” Liipfert said. “I took my last class the other day and graduated the other day. But I feel like I’m ending on a high note. I feel like I’ve had my best season here, and if we win, record-wise, it will be our best year.”
Liipfert, who hopes to work in NFL front offices after this season, has visited the Georgia Dome in the past to cheer on his beloved Falcons. But this week will mark the first time he has played there.
Playing in the GISA, the linebacker never had the opportunity to appear in playoff games at the Georgia Dome.
“The first thing that went through my mind (when I heard about our bowl selection) was that I get to play my last game in the Dome,” Liipfert said. “And if you grow up in the state of Georgia, obviously the Mecca of football is the Dome. Of course, the Falcons play there, and I love the Falcons. It’s just a big thrill to be able to play in there, because I never got a chance to play in there in high school. All my coaches are going to be there. It’s a huge game, huge opponent. I’m super excited.”
Robert Hall — one of three former Hawkinsville players on Georgia Tech’s roster — is just glad the Yellow Jackets aren’t going back to Boise, Idaho, and that they’ll be playing in one of the highest-touted bowl games outside of next month’s four BCS games.
“Playing in this bowl game is a tremendous opportunity,” said Hall, a Georgia Tech defensive lineman. “Coming from the Humanitarian Bowl last year to the Chick-fil-A Bowl this year is a great opportunity. Besides, being close to home is a plus.”
Macon native Correy Earls, a former wide receiver and kick returner at Central, also said the fact that Georgia Tech is playing less than 100 miles from his hometown makes it easier for his family to make the short trek for the game.
The only Yellow Jackets player from Macon, Earls understands the role he has in trying to inspire younger area players to strive for playing at schools like Georgia Tech. One of four Bibb County schools products to appear in college bowl games this postseason, Earls hopes to see those numbers increase in future seasons.
“It shows the younger guys that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” Earls said. “If you work hard, you can do anything in your life that you want to. I mean, we don’t have many guys go play big-time football from (Central), but it just shows them that it’s still possible.
“Fortunately, we have another guy coming down here from that area now — (Westside senior) Julian Burnett — and that’s another good example.”
A linebacker, Burnett committed to Georgia Tech two weeks ago.
“Playing in this bowl game is a tremendous opportunity. Coming from the Humanitarian Bowl last year to the Chick-fil-A Bowl this year is a great opportunity, and being close to home is a plus.”
– Robert Hall, junior defensive end, Hawkinsville
“It’s good to be in this game. With it so close, everybody in the family gets to come up and watch me play. Plus, this will be my first time in the Dome.”
– Demaryius Thomas, sophomore wide receiver, West Laurens
“I’m trying to get as many tickets as I can, because everybody wants to come. Everybody wants to support. We’re playing inside, so we don’t have to worry about the weather situation, and we should be able to get a lot of family up (to Atlanta).”
– Correy Earls, sophomore wide receiver, Central
Brad Jefferson: I think of it as being like a role model to the people back home and the surrounding counties. I go back home and a lot of them look up to me. ... My family will be coming up for the game, they’re all going to just spend New Year’s up here.”
– Brad Jefferson, sophomore linebacker, Johnson County
“I’m new, so all these tours and everything that we’re doing is good. I still don’t know that much about Atlanta since I’ve been up here, so it’s good for me to go around and look and see all the historic places, and group spots they’re taking us to. I enjoy doing stuff like that.”
– Nick McRae, freshman OL, Dublin
“First thing that went through my mind is, I get to play my last game in the (Georgia) Dome. And if you grow up in the state of Georgia, obviously the Mecca of football is the Dome. Of course the Falcons play there, and I love the Falcons. It’s just a big thrill to be able to play in there, because I never got a chance to play in there in high school. All my coaches are going to be there. It’s a huge game, huge opponent; I’m super excited.”
– James Liipfert, senior LB, Westfield
Middle Georgia’s Jackets
Correy Earls, WR, Central
Nick McRae, OL, Dublin
Kamaron Riley, DB, Hawkinsville
Jim Henry, QB, Hawkinsville
Robert Hall, DE, Hawkinsville
Brad Jefferson, LB, Johnson County
James Liipfert, LB, Westfield
Demaryius Thomas, WR, West Laurens