Wednesday, August 27, 2003

SPORTS

Big mistake for Falcons

DUCKY WALL

One of my favorite tongue-in-cheek adages is: Why pray when you can take pills and worry?

The reason I bring this up is I was not worried one bit Michael Vick would get hurt in preseason.

Surely the higher-ups with the Atlanta Falcons knew Vick needed one or two series, and that was all.

But no, Vick was still in that exhibition game with 4:20 remaining in the first quarter and was running the ball out of the end zone.

Minutes later, he was carried off the field with a fractured right fibula. It may have been the beginning of the end for the Falcons of 2003.

With Vick, the franchise seemed to be headed in the right direction. Sometimes I get the nagging feeling my life is not headed in the right direction.

I planned to have the perfect physique. I planned to have the perfect golf swing. I planned to marry the perfect woman. Hey, one out of three is not bad.

Sometimes I feel I'm not headed in the right direction, and time is running out.

Sometimes I feel after watching the Falcons since 1966 they are not headed in the right direction.

Then along comes Vick The Franchise.

I will bet you the house Falcons owner Arthur Blank thinks those two home pre-season sellouts were not worth losing the most valuable player on his team.

I thought this was going to be the year of the bird. But seeing Vick carted off the field on the back of that golf cart a couple of Saturday nights ago, I get the feeling somebody who's in charge is not headed in the right direction.

Exhibition football is played for one reason money.

Sometimes I get the feeling the National Football League is not headed in the right direction.

The only reason the NFL makes the teams play four exhibition games before the season starts is, you guessed it, money.

College football teams play exhibition games during the year inviting one of the smaller schools from Louisiana, and the starting quarterback stays in the game for the first couple of series.

The Falcons should heed the same advice.

OK, let's pick some winners for this first week of college football:

GEORGIA TECH AT BRIGHAM YOUNG: Close early but the Cougars win going away, 38-14.

GEORGIA AT CLEMSON: Billy Bennett will save the day for the Bulldogs at Death Valley, 24-22.

FLORIDA STATE AT NORTH CAROLINA: The Seminoles get off to a fast start, 38-10.

SOUTHERN CAL AT AUBURN: Revenge is sweet for Auburn, 24-14.

ALBANY STATE AT VALDOSTA STATE: The Blazers are just too tough, 24-10.

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Holiday enjoying foot ball again

  • Since tranferring from Georgia Tech to Valdosta State, Hobie Holiday feels like he has found a home.

SETH EMERSON

STAFF WRITER

VALDOSTA On Saturday, Hobie Holiday will run out of the tunnel of a Division II football stadium, wearing the uniform of a squad representing a 21-year-old program that, if it reaches its ultimate goal this season, will play just one game on national television.

It's quite a fall for a player who this time last year was playing for an Atlantic Coast Conference team. And who was once a Parade All-American. And recruited by Alabama and Georgia Tech, where he signed hoping to be propelled to stardom and perhaps the National Football League.

Now he's just hoping to propel Valdosta State to the Division II national championship, having transferred there this past spring. He will start the season at defensive end, and if the NCAA turns down his application to make last year a redshirt season this could be the final year he plays organized football.

But to hear Holiday tell it, he's happy for the first time since high school.

"It's great, man," the 6-foot-4, 250-pound native of Warner Robins said. "Everybody here is family-like, working toward the same goal."

So why is Holiday at Valdosta State, getting ready to play Albany State on Saturday, rather than flying with Georgia Tech to play Brigham Young?

That seems a tricky question. Playing time is the easy answer, since he never started a game at Tech.

But Holiday downplays that factor and instead points to "personal reasons." He alludes to issues relating to his brother but doesn't get into what those issues were.

"I just wanted to get away from Tech," Holiday said. "Because Tech is a demanding school. I didn't want to let anybody down by not being able to give it my best. I had other things I had to concentrate on, and down here I'm going to give it my best.

"But I can concentrate more, too."

Holiday's high school coach at Houston County was Doug Johnson, who still talks often to his former player. Johnson acknowledges Holiday's younger brother, Thad, was a good football player, too but didn't play his senior year at Houston County because "he got into some trouble."

But Johnson thinks Holiday needed to get away from Tech for other reasons. Namely, the lack of time he was on the field.

There were two key events that led to Holiday not reaching his potential at Tech, according to Johnson. The first was his move to defensive end Holiday was a top-15 linebacker prospect in the nation according to recruiting analyst Tom Lemming.

"They moved him down there and had him put on 30 pounds," Johnson said. "It's a lot of work going down to that position. Everybody thinks it's easy, but there's really a lot that goes into it. I just think it took him awhile to get comfortable at the position."

Secondly, Johnson points out Holiday never had a redshirt season, which he sorely needed.

"I really think that really would have helped Hobie. He's a big guy, and coaches think, 'He's ready.' He really needed that extra year," Johnson said.

When head coach George O'Leary left after Holiday's sophomore season, Holiday hoped new coach Chan Gailey would let him redshirt. But Gailey and his staff were worried about depth on the line, Johnson remembered, so it didn't happen.

Then after three games, in which he had seven tackles, Holiday left Atlanta. He sat down with Johnson and told his coach he wanted to transfer somewhere in-state, namely Valdosta State, Georgia Southern or West Georgia, with the former winning after visits to all three.

"We knew he was a big talent," Blazers head coach Chris Hatcher said. "That's why we worked really hard to get him down here. We had to recruit him pretty hard to get him to come. We really worked hard on telling him to come down and play for a possible championship team."

So now he's a Division II player. What does he think?

"Physically-wise, it's a big difference," Holiday said. "Guys are smaller here. The speed of the game is different. But still, football is football, and if you can play, you can play at any level."

Most of his Valdosta State teammates have known no other level or goal than just to win the Division II national championship, while a few who have transferred from higher levels barely played long enough there to taste the glory of Division I football. Holiday did, however.

"We try to remind them to take it one game at a time," Holiday said. "You never know when this game could be taken away from you."

Seth Emerson can be reached at (229) 888-9395.

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No word yet on QBs

  • Albany State head coach Mike White and Valdosta State head coach Chris Hatcher have yet to name a starting quarterback for Saturday's game.

GENTRY ESTES

STAFF WRITER

ALBANY More than likely, Albany State's starting quarterback Saturday at Valdosta State won't know until just before kickoff.

The Rams declined to name a starter after Tuesday night's coaches meeting. Head coach Mike White said his staff expected to name a starter Monday, then changed that to before Tuesday's practice under the lights at Hugh Mills Stadium, then said they'd decide in the meeting.

It never happened.

"All the guys were impressive (Tuesday)," White said. "We still want to wait."

The competition is still between three players sophomore Hosea Harris and juniors Uyl Joyner and Dennis Sampson and there's no leader.

"It could be any of the three," White said. "No one is in front of the other right now. I'm ready for one of the guys to step forward."

Joyner led Dougherty High School to the 1998 state title before signing with Troy State. He never played in a varsity game for the Trojans and wound up transferring to Albany State in 2002. An academic snag kept Joyner from playing last year, when the Rams had seniors Warin Major and Marcus James taking most of the snaps.

"Uyl brings a lot of energy. He's very, very energetic," White said. "He really pushes the line, the guys around him, they kind of rally around him. He's one of those quarterbacks that really doesn't make a lot of mistakes."

Sampson spent the past two years at junior colleges in Mississippi, running a West Coast-style offense similar to the one the Rams run now. Harris, meanwhile, started a game as a true freshman for Albany State last season.

Like White, Valdosta State head coach Chris Hatcher isn't sure of his quarterback situation yet.

Hatcher, whose quarterback history includes time with Tim Couch and Dante Culpepper, said he's pleased with the returning talent at the position, but added that he is disappointed none have stepped up to seize control of the No. 1 spot.

Returning starter Buster Faulkner, a junior, will probably get the nod against Albany State, but backup sophomore Barrett Wilkes will play.

There's also junior Jeff Creveling, a first-year Florida Gators transfer, who could enter into the mix when he learns the system better.

"He's a big kid. He's got the strongest arm," Hatcher said of Creveling. "He doesn't really quite know the offense as well, but he had made some strides."

OF NOTE: The biggest question mark for Albany State last season may have been at place-kicker, since Lawrence Wolf dropped out of school before the 2002 opener.

Not so this year.

Sophomore jokester Adrian Arango returns after a season's worth of handling the kicking duties. Arango, a high school soccer player who converted to football, led the Rams in scoring last year, hitting 8-of-14 field goals and 26-of-33 extra points. On his 72 punts, Arango killed 22 inside his opponents' 20-yard line, a figure that won the attention of SIAC coaches, who voted Arango second-team preseason all-conference as a punter.

"He's got a head full of air now," White said with a chuckle. "He keeps us laughing all the time.

"At a team meeting, he made sure everybody knows how to pronounce his name. We call him 'Rango.' He doesn't want to be known as 'Rango' anymore. 'Put the A on there' " said White, laughing harder. "He's a great kid."

Gentry Estes can be reached at (229) 434-8746.

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Waves player falls to death

SETH EMERSON

STAFF WRITER

ALBANY Leigh Neuage, an outgoing, hard-throwing pitcher from South Australia whose unlikely dream of playing baseball landed him in Albany last year, has died.

Neuage was on injury leave from the Single-A South Georgia Waves on Aug. 16 when he apparently fell 15 stories from the Homebush Bay Novotel in Sydney, according to the Sunday Times of Sydney. The paper said he was there visiting a former girlfriend, Australian Idol contestant Veronica Stewart.

Neuage, a native of Adelaide, Australia, was 20 years old.

"My dad was an American, so rather than cricket or Australian football, he showed me baseball, football and basketball," Neuage said last year in an interview with The Herald.

Neuage spent a little more than a month last summer pitching for the Waves, who were based in Albany. The right-hander was 1-2 with a 3.07 earned run average in 41 innings.

This season, the team having moved to Columbus, Neuage was 1-5 with a 6.69 ERA in 35 innings. He hadn't pitched since June 2 because of an undisclosed injury.

Details of the fall that killed Neuage are unknown, though police told the Sunday Times they don't suspect foul play.

Neuage, in choosing to play baseball, was just following a pre-destined uniqueness. His father and his mother were new age followers and created his last name especially for him, changing the 'w' to a 'u.'

"I guess they wanted to be new age, unique," Neuage said last summer. "My mom didn't like my dad's last name; my dad didn't like my mom's last name."

Since his death, Neuage's father has created a Web site commemorating his son, including a picture dated the day before his death with him wearing a Waves hat. The pitcher's various accomplishments in Australia and the U.S. are listed, along with a poem under the heading "Pitcher Los Angeles Dodgers."

"I will always love you

whatever you are doing

on whatever plane you are

this world was only ever just a stop along the way

I am with you always

Your Father."

Seth Emerson can be reached at (229) 888-9395.

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