The choice was a tough one, but James Liipfert knew a firm decision had to be made.
On one side sat several FCS programs banging down his front door with lofty promises of scholarships and consistent playing opportunities. On the other side was Georgia Tech and its mild offering of an uncertain playing future and walk-on status.
Dealing four years ago with his version of the on-going drama known as the college football recruiting season, Liipfert understands the difficult decisions some high school athletes are beginning to make. But now, staring at the end of his own college football career, Liipfert contends his decision was “the best of (his) life.”
In the end, Liipfert, a former standout football, basketball, baseball and track and field star at Westfield, enrolled at Georgia Tech and walked on to the football team with hopes of increasing his playing time.
He has done that, and now, the senior, entering his final season as a Yellow Jackets linebacker, is being granted with something he had hoped for all along: a scholarship.
Less than two weeks ago, as Georgia Tech concluded its summer conditioning program, Liipfert was offered a full financial scholarship for the upcoming season by first-year head coach Paul Johnson. According to Liipfert, Johnson — whose only experience with the team thus far has been this year’s spring practices — was proud of the work ethic exhibited in April by the 234-pound former walk-on.
“(Johnson) called me in his office and told me he was going to put me on (scholarship), and he thanked me for all my hard work,” Liipfert said. “It meant a lot to me, mainly because it was a validation for me walking on at Tech. It’s nice to know that people know you work hard and see it.”
A former GISA Region 3-AAA player of the year at Westfield, Liipfert has seen action while at Georgia Tech, playing linebacker and on special teams. He played in all 12 games last year and picked up two tackles.
“The most important thing to me personally is getting better. My goal last year is that I always want to play more than I did the previous year,” Liipfert said. “There’s always room for more improvement.”
Liipfert said one of the team’s main goals this season is to make sure fans stay optimistic about Georgia Tech’s head coach and his highly publicized offensive system.
“We just want to come in here and show Georgia Tech that they made the right decision in hiring Coach Johnson,” Liipfert said. “We’re all 100 percent behind Coach Johnson, we all like him. As far as the new offense goes, I’m on defense, and I know from playing against it this spring, that it’s a real headache to defend.”
On Wednesday, Liipfert and his defensive teammates will get a chance to see Johnson’s offense for the first time since April’s “T-Day” game. In that game, Liipfert had two tackles and forced a fumble.
The Yellow Jackets report to summer training camp today, where they’ll be required to pass conditioning tests before Wednesday’s first practice.
Johnson appears to be just as anxious for this week’s practices as his players.
“We’re excited to get practice started,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.”