Long road worth it for Tech walk-on

EL PASO, TEXAS – If Georgia Tech A-back Jamal Paige plays in the Sun Bowl today, it probably won’t be for very long, and chances are it won’t be noticed by many. It wouldn’t be unfitting; he has played in 22 career games and only two this season.

And even though it’s Paige’s final game after five seasons, the first four of which he spent as a walk-on, he’s O.K. with it. Paige, who has all of four career carries to his credit, just wants to beat USC.

“(Playing in the Sun  Bowl) doesn’t even matter to me,” he said. “I hope to, and finish my career the way that I want to, but if not, I’m all for it.”

The greatest contributions that Paige, a graduate of Woodward Academy, has made have mostly been on the practice fields with the scout team.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He’s going to be successful in whatever he does.”

Paige is the rare walk-on who has stuck it out this long. Most who don’t receive playing time eventually turn in their pads to give more attention to studies and to be relieved of the grind. Including Paige and defensive lineman Ben Keith, whom Johnson awarded with scholarships last August as thanks for their efforts, there are 32 walk-ons on the roster. By eligibility, 20 are freshmen, seven are sophomores, three are juniors. Only kicker Chris Tanner and Paige have stuck it out as seniors.

Paige credits the bond formed with other 2008 freshmen and former players he grew up with in southwest Atlanta, notably Morgan Burnett and Mario Edwards, with helping him endure.

“Those bonds that I started early, being around those guys, that pushed me,” he said. “It was very motivating for me and every time that I had a thought of being down or whatever, those guys always picked me up.”

Paige even practiced his way through a season in which he knew there was no chance he would get on the field. Last year, because of a credit mix-up, Paige was ineligible to play. He stuck it out anyway.

“I knew I had to finish,” Paige said. “I came to college with that mindset that I would persevere regardless of the situation and be able to make it out on top.”

Johnson had actually recruited Paige to play at Navy, and he was also recruited by the Air Force Academy, UAB and Middle Tennessee State. He was expected to sign with Air Force, but had a late change of heart. Paige said that “I wanted to go to the place where I could get the best education and get the best experience on the field.”

Paige will graduate in the spring with an industrial engineering degree. He has his 2009 ACC champion ring as well as a past internship at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, not to mention the thanks of a grateful coach. Johnson called Paige to his office during fall camp last August, not typically a situation for glad tidings.

Johnson thanked Paige for his effort, encouraged him to keep it up and that, with a few scholarships to spare, told him he was going on scholarship.

Before he knew why he was called to Johnson’s office, “I was very uncertain about the whole deal,” Paige said. “I was kind of in shock a little bit.”

Paige actually ended up getting the most playing time as a freshman, on special teams for the 2009 team. He has played 11 games since, nine in 2010 and two this year. He has made the largest contribution with his effort at practice.

“Jamal’s been great,” Johnson said. “He’s come to work every day.”

Paige stands by the choice he made almost five years ago as a Woodward senior.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” he said. “It’s definitely made me the man I am today.”

In case you missed it…

Georgia Tech gameday

Lee ready for strong finish, start to 2013

Thomas, Godhigh, Uzzi share team honors

Five freshmen who have impressed in practice

Sun Bowl gifts include hair dryer (again)

Notes: Johnson, Barkley out for bowl

Some highlights, but special teams still lag

After forgettable season, Young can start fresh

Tech 2008 signing class delivers in classroom

Tech blows past Citadel

Notes: Successful career for Tech long snapper

Orwin Smith tries for strong finish

35 football players make dean’s list

Thanks for reading.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

24 comments Add your comment

ylojkt

December 31st, 2012
10:45 am

Unprecedented!

TVFan

December 31st, 2012
10:52 am

Tech Alum

December 31st, 2012
11:10 am

Congratulations Jamal. What a story. You’ll graduate with a degree from the #1 ranked industrial engineering program in the country. An inspiration to your teammates, fellow students, and kids around Atlanta.

Dawg1

December 31st, 2012
11:11 am

Wisenhunt may be ‘let go’ by the Cardinals today. ESPN is speculating that he will drawi interest from other NFL Clubs. There is a reason for that…

Georgia Tech would be ‘nuts’ not to go after this guy. He is the one guy that can come in, being a Tech man, having NFL credentials and growing up in the state that could make the Jackets an ‘instant’ competitor for top flight talent within the state.

Will be interesting to see what happens, should the Cardinals release him today…

GTfan2012

December 31st, 2012
11:14 am

Congrats to Jamal. That IE degree will open many doors for theyoung man, and the discipline, comraderie, and teamwork learned as a member of the football team will be invaluable skills in all his future endeavors.

GTfan2012

December 31st, 2012
11:17 am

Dawg1,
I totally agree with you. I like CPJ, but Ken Wisenhunt is one of the few coaches I’d take over him. But unfortunately we don’t have an AD in place to make the kind of decisions necessary to make a bold move like that happen.

Dawg1

December 31st, 2012
11:23 am

GTFan2012

I’ve never trashed CPJ. I’ve always pointed out that his defenses give up a lot of points, but that’s it. I think he is a quality guy and a ’safe’ head coach.

But your right. Forgot that there is A.D. in place.

Really too bad…

I’m convinced that ‘this is the guy’ for the Jackets..

Good luck today…

Dwayne the Dwag fan

December 31st, 2012
11:28 am

Hope the Jackets beat the crap out of uscwest…UGA to punish kneebrasker and bammer to destroy spitting, lisping lou holtz’s irish. I’d like to see Whisenhunt take over for tech and junk that offense. That would leave more option talent for the real GSU….Eagles.

GTfan2012

December 31st, 2012
11:31 am

Dawg1,
CPJ is not nor ever has been a defensive coach. Just like Saban is not an offensive coach. (Well he may be “offensive” to some, but he’s not an offensive coach ;) I think CPJ needs a strong DC. Hiring a guy like Al Groh was a bold idea, it just didn’t work like we all hoped.
Still, I’d love to have Wisenhunt here, but I just think the timing probably won’t work. I think Wisenhunt is a great coach, though, and I think he’s one of those guys that if he could put together a good college staff, he’d be a top 10 college coach. The only question I would have is, would GT give him the $$$ to hire some really good assistants.

ignition

December 31st, 2012
11:36 am

Great article.. Congrats on the IE degree.

..go vad

December 31st, 2012
11:40 am

if we hired anyone from the NFL, it should be hiring Giff Smith back from Buffalo to recruit…I am so not kidding

gt45

December 31st, 2012
11:44 am

There is alot to be said for this young man. Congrats!

West Coast Jacket

December 31st, 2012
12:52 pm

Great job Jamal ! Congrats on the IE degree.
I also agree with ..go vad. We need much help with recruting. Giff Smith did a great job while he was here.

Jacket Dad

December 31st, 2012
1:18 pm

Congrats Jamal! Great article and great to hear of your dedication and perseverance. Best wishes on a long and successful career!

Dawg1

December 31st, 2012
2:31 pm

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000120412/article/cardinals-fire-gm-rod-graves-coach-ken-whisenhunt

I realize that there are all kinds of challenges here – starting with continuing to pay CPJ – but guys – this is your Coach and the window will be short…

GTGirl

December 31st, 2012
6:30 pm

What a sweet story AND a happy ending with GT winning the bowl game and Jamal graduating with an IE degree from GT! Congratulations Jamal!

casual observer

December 31st, 2012
6:34 pm

Jamal, as a fellow Tech grad, I know what it takes to get through my alma mater, especially with an IE degree.You have so much to be proud of and I know your family must feel the same way. Keep up that perseverance and great work ethic and you will be very successful at whatever you decide to do. CONGRATULATIONS !!

5150 UOAD

December 31st, 2012
6:42 pm

That is what it is all about. the love of the game and of the Education. I guess he is a true STUDENT Athlete.

Karen

December 31st, 2012
9:32 pm

Congrats Jamal. You have so much to be proud of and we are proud of you.

Tech93

December 31st, 2012
9:35 pm

Congrats Jamal! It is nice to hear about the positive things in college football that go unnoticed.

GT-UT

December 31st, 2012
10:10 pm

He should look me up through the AJC. I need a good IE.

J'boroJacket

December 31st, 2012
10:56 pm

5150…. you took my words. He had his goals and priorities set. Realistically he understood his football limitations…he used one to go for the real goal. Graduate from GT- with an impressive degree. All the best JP.

1 4 GT

January 1st, 2013
11:26 pm

Simply outstanding young MAN! Take a short breather & get rejuvenated & get a great job, move up the ladder & retire in your timing. Again, outstanding young man!

Ranger Jacket

January 2nd, 2013
12:14 pm

Awesome story. Great job Jamal!