The little town of Barnesville, all 5.7 square miles of it smack in the middle of Lamar County, has had a great impact on Georgia Tech’s season. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say Barnesville was instrumental in enabling the Yellow Jackets to earn an invitation to the TaxSlayer Bowl.
That’s because three of the team’s key players grew up in Barnesville, became football stars at Lamar County and decided to get their education and continue their careers at Georgia Tech. Lance Austin, Lawrence Austin and Qua Searcy all have had an impact this season, which saw the Yellow Jackets go 8-4 and beat Georgia for the second time in three seasons.
Lance Austin is a 5-foot-10, 183-pound junior who started 12 games at cornerback. Lawrence Austin is a 5-9, 185-pound junior who appeared in all 12 games and started the final nine at nickelback.
And Searcy is a 5-11, 174-pound sophomore who appeared in 12 games at A-back, with six starts. Searcy has redshirted, which puts him one academic year behind his fellow Lamar County stars.
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Each one has had some dramatic moments this season.
Lance Austin was a two-time ACC defensive back of the week selection — Nov. 19 against Virginia when he came up with a pick-six that iced the victory and Nov. 26 against Georgia when he intercepted a pass to set up the winning touchdown drive. Going back a year ago, Lance Austin picked up the blocked field goal against Florida State and returned it for the winning touchdown with time expired.
Lawrence Austin was named the ACC defensive back of the week after the Yellow Jackets’ win at Virginia Tech on Nov. 12. That day, he intercepted two passes — one of them in the end zone — and forced a fumble, which was recovered by his brother.
“They had a pretty good streak,” Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “I think the Austin family was the ACC defensive back of the week for three straight weeks. I texted their dad and said, ‘Can you guys have another kid?’ ”
The brothers are identical. Head coach Paul Johnson can tell them apart by their facial hair. Roof used to call them by their first name and see which one would respond. Now he makes them wear their numbered jerseys to the meeting rooms.
“They love to play, and they’ve been productive,” Johnson said. “I think they’ve got a really good attitude about football and life.”
Their statistics are similar. Lance Austin has 47 tackles, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups, tied for the best in the ACC. He lead the conference and ranks 13th nationally with 15 passes defended. Lawrence Austin has 43 tackles, three interceptions and two tackles for loss.
“They do feed off each other,” Roof said. “They’re very competitive with each other. Not just in games, but in practice. They like to compete but they’re also extremely close.”
Searcy appeared on the verge of having a breakthrough season a year ago when he suffered a season-ending injury in the third game against Notre Dame. This season, he emerged from a crowded pack at A-back to earn some go-to minutes at the end of the season.
This season, he has rushed 41 times for 271 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest one was a 6-yard carry for a touchdown that proved to be the winning score in a 28-27 win over Georgia. Johnson called the play to take advantage of Searcy’s athleticism. Designed as an option pass to quarterback Justin Thomas, Searcy read the play and decided to turn and keep it up the middle. He dove and stretched the ball out just enough for the touchdown.
Searcy has enjoyed the notoriety since that big moment. He’s often asked to pose for pictures and sign autographs. But now he’s ready to move on to the next game.
That comes at 11 a.m. on Saturday against Kentucky in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I’m just excited to be able to play again,” he said. “I think we’ve prepared well. We’re just ready to go get a win.”
And Barnesville will have one more reason to be proud.