ATLANTA - Georgia Tech doesn't win very often at Virginia. Georgia Tech doesn't win very often in November.
Chris Reis has heard it all before. But this year can be different, says the Tech senior because, well, this year's team is different. One big difference, according to Reis, is the leadership he says has propelled the Yellow Jackets to three straight wins and a return to The Associated Press Top 25 at No. 24.
Reis acknowledges Tech has not won at Virginia since 1990, but he asks why this year's team should be judged by that history as the Yellow Jackets prepare for Saturday's game against the Cavaliers.
"This is a different team," Reis said. "You can look at the past. There are different players and different leaders, senior leaders especially. I think that's what makes this team really special and the reason we are coming on so strong at the end is senior leadership, because of our willingness to never quit and never give up."
Added Reis: "That's what gives me confidence, it's our leadership. The guys we rally around. We just pick up each other and encourage each other."
Reis counts himself as one of the vocal leaders with receiver Damarius Bilbo, defensive end Eric Henderson, safety Dawan Landry and tailback P.J. Daniels.
As a junior, Reis moved from safety to outside linebacker and ranked fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference with eight sacks. He also led Tech with six pass breakups.
Asked to move back to safety for his senior season, Reis has 54 tackles, second on the team, and has two interceptions, including one in last week's win over Wake Forest. Reis set a season high with 13 tackles in the key win over the Demon Deacons.
By moving back to safety, Reis opened a spot at linebacker for Philip Wheeler, who has four interceptions and a forced fumble.
Tech's big-play defense ranks third in the nation with 16 interceptions and is fifth in the nation in turnover margin. Tech has forced 23 turnovers.
"We've just been able to make plays this year, that's the bottom line," Reis said. "Last year we had some opportunities and we missed some. Maybe we didn't make the catch or didn't get the fumble recovery and this year we've been doing that. We've been knocking down passes and just making plays in general."
When Chan Gailey was named Tech's head coach before the 2002 season, Reis was the first high school recruit to recommit to the Yellow Jackets.
"The first weekend I got here he confirmed the commitment," Gailey said. "He's a great young man and will always be special, but not for that reason."
Reis, from Roswell, is a two-time ACC all-academic pick.
"He is a great student-athlete and representative of Georgia Tech," Gailey said, adding that Reis sets an example away from the field.
"A lot of people can lead game day," Gailey said. "It's the people that can lead on non-game day, in practice, during wind sprints, during offseason workouts. That's where I think we have a lot of guys who have led this year who have been very, very strong, and Chris Reis is one of those."
With last week's win, Tech (6-2) is bowl-eligible with games left against Virginia, No. 3 Miami and No. 9 Georgia. By winning one of the three games, Tech would match the seven-win totals from each of the last three seasons. By beating Virginia or Miami, Tech would be assured of a winning ACC record for the first time under Gailey.
With two conference losses, however, the Yellow Jackets still trail Virginia Tech and Miami by one game in the ACC's Coastal Division, making the team's top goal a longshot.
"We had our goal at the beginning of the year, an ACC championship," Reis said. "I guess that's not ruled out just yet. There's a lot of things that could happen, a lot of things that would need to happen. That's still our main goal.
"Now that we're bowl-eligible, the pressure is off. Now we just want to go play and see where we end up at the end of the year. So we have really nothing to lose now."
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