PROVO — After spending eight happy years at Georgia Tech, it's no wonder BYU strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer is looking forward to returning to Atlanta for the Cougars' game against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
Omer is eager to go back to historic Bobby Dodd Stadium and to renew acquaintances with athletes who are still playing at Georgia Tech. "I know a lot of their players," he said Wednesday. "They're all good kids. Hard workers. Just like the ones here."
For Omer, going back to the Atlanta area means more than just football, however. He will be able to visit his two daughters, and his grandchildren, who still live there.
Still, he's quick to point out the real purpose of this trip. "It's not a vacation. You're there to play, you're there to win," he said. "I'd love to go back there and win that football game."
Omer loved being at Georgia Tech, where he was the director of player development under two head coaches — Bill Lewis and George O'Leary. In 1997, Omer was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's strength and conditioning professional of the year.
In 1994, Omer was on staff with a co-offensive coordinator named Gary Crowton. Omer and Crowton are Orem natives and they became good friends. It was a long season, though, as the Yellow Jackets posted a 1-10 mark. That was Crowton's only campaign at Georgia Tech.
When Crowton became the head coach at BYU in 2000, he asked Omer to join him in Provo as the program's strength and conditioning coach. Omer said it was difficult to leave Georgia Tech.
"I thought I'd retire there," he said. "It was the longest I'd ever been at any one place. It was home. BYU is the only job I'd leave there for."
One of Omer's fondest memories of Georgia Tech involves a class of players who, as freshmen, endured that 1-10 season in '94. That same group, as seniors in 1998, helped the Yellow Jackets earn a 10-2 mark and beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. "They were able to turn it around," Omer said. "That was great to see."
Omer said it's fitting that his current team and his former one are finally meeting on the football field for the first time. "Georgia Tech has a great history," Omer said. "BYU's got a great history, too, though it's a more recent history. It's a good matchup."
TECH TRADITION: When you talk about college football programs steeped in tradition, Georgia Tech should be included in the conversation.
The Yellowjackets have won four national titles (1917, 1928, 1952 and 1990) and they
were the first school to win each of the four traditional bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton).
Georgia Tech's head coach from 1904-19 was John Heisman, the man for whom the Heisman Trophy is named. Coaching legend Bobby Dodd guided the Yellow Jackets from 1945-66. Bobby Dodd Stadium is the oldest on-campus stadium in Division I-A football.
In 1916, the Yellow Jackets walloped Cumberland, 222-0 — the most lopsided game in college football history.
RUNNING BACK DUEL: Saturday's game between Georgia Tech and BYU will feature two of the top running backs in the country. The Yellow Jackets' Tony Hollings leads the nation in scoring (48 points) and ranks fifth in rushing (148 yards per game). The Cougars' Marcus Whalen is sixth in rushing (138.7 yards per game).
INJURY UPDATE: BYU offensive tackle Dustin Rykert hyperextended his elbow in practice Tuesday. An MRI performed Wednesday was negative. Rykert is expected to play Saturday . . . David Christensen, who has been hobbled by a sprained ankle, did not travel to the Nevada game. Crowton said Christensen is healthy now and will return punts as well as play wide receiver this week.