#TGW: At The Finish Line ... But Not Done Yet
Georgia Tech baseball's King, Peurifoy and Poje will all graduate today and then play Pitt tonight
by Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
#TGW: Pinch Me - We Got Out (Softball)
Chopping it up with Ryan Peurifoy, Jonathan King and Coleman Poje is like diving back into college while opening a window to view Georgia Tech's melting pot and reviewing the script of life and how others help shape a person.
To a man, Tech's three current graduating baseball players are stunned -- to varying degrees -- to be at the finish line, and they share vantage points on some experiences. Yet they hold different views of other parts of their time on The Flats, and what they will and will not miss.
One thing's for sure: they're not happy to be breaking away from their band of brothers, present and past teammates -- and each other -- included.
For all the pride, joy and relief building into today's commencement, that departure hurts.
"That's definitely one of the things I'm going to miss, working together with a group of guys toward a common goal, pushing each other, building each other up -- not just in baseball, but outside," said Peurifoy. "These guys, I can go to when I'm in trouble or having problems, getting off track.
"They hold me accountable. Having these relationships with me every day . . . it's going to be hard to replace that going out in the real world because I'm not going to be with my guys, my friends, my boys."
Poje, a fifth-year senior from Atlanta who spent two years at the Air Force Academy before transferring to Tech for three (one a redshirt year), isn't afraid to say that he loathed half of the student-athlete thing even after earning multiple academic honors on the way to an industrial and systems engineering degree.
That doesn't mean he's eager to leave.
"I'm definitely going to miss competing at a high level. That's something that's been very fun, a pivotal part of my life for many years. It's going to be weird having that gone. I don't know how I'll respond to it because I've never been like that. I know it's going to weird not having something specific to be gearing up for.
"I'm also going to miss the facilities; great weight room and cafeteria and all the other stuff that is provided for us here. Having to do that on my own is not going to be much fun, having to have actual real-life responsibilities."
King isn't leaving baseball with his industrial and systems engineering degree. Plagued by injuries at Tech, he loves the game too much to park it.
No wonder. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native has baseball in his blood. His brother, Dylan, pitches for Belmont, and a cousin, Brennan King, played for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1999-2006.
"I'm going into college coaching," he said. "I have a position lined up this summer to work as an assistant coach for a team in the Cape [Cod], a team I played for a couple summers ago. Then, I'll start looking for either a graduate assistant or volunteer assistant position somewhere around the country.
"With me, what I'll miss is suiting up every day with the guys. That's the part I'm going to miss the most, the part I've been trying to cherish this last season. I know that my playing career is coming to an end shortly so I'm trying to enjoy every second that I have on the field."
If we're transparent, and these guys were while sitting the other day for a fireside chat of sorts, college isn't meant to be merely about books, tests, charts, slides and projects -- even if those are key parameters marking the business mission of the Institute. It's about problem solving, and being better at it.
It's hard on The Flats, really, really hard. That's why there's so much payoff.
When Director of Athletics Todd Stansbury recently delivered the annual state-of-athletics address, he flashed multiple slides showing Tech in the top 10 in a variety of categories among all universities nationally, most oriented toward the success rate of graduates.
Poje, though, isn't looking for immediate payoff.
He enters this weekend's three-game series against Pitt with a .272 batting average, nine home runs, 20 RBI and 26 runs scored -- all career highs. Yet he's shelving baseball soon. The Jackets will play eight more regular-season games after Pitt, and then hope to play in the ACC Tournament.
"I'm going into ministry so I'm to work at a place called Camp Highland in Ellijay, Ga., doing what they call full-time staff," he explained. "I'll help during the summer camp, kind of over-see all the part-time faculty that we bring in, camp counselors and all of that.
"During the non-summer camp time, I'll be running retreats and corporate events and things like that."
Poje, who attended Camp Highland for years while growing up, in part because it was founded by family friends, didn't like school.
But he was good at it.
Not only was the long-haired outfielder from the Westminster School last week named to the CoSIDA District 4 Academic Team, he earned all-conference academic honors in both his years at Air Force, and ACC Academic Honor Roll in his first two years at Tech. This year is pending.
Doesn't mean he liked hitting the books, if he hit them.
"I don't think I'm going to miss [school]," Poje said.
King, who earned ACC Academic Honor Roll mention in 2013, '14, '15 and '16, marvels over his friend, and chuckles with Poje grumbles about class.
"That's how he proved he's twice as smart as I am," King said of Poje, and his academic honors. "He'd show up on test day, and just kill it every time. Used to drive me crazy."
Like Poje, Peurifoy did not relish class. Who does?
"I don't remember . . . there's no test I ever walked out of saying, `Oh, I killed that sucker!'" he said. "But, hey, I'm graduating in four years and I can tell you I never failed a class. I never dominated a class, either."
Peurifoy still enjoys baseball, and hopes to keep playing. He'll head into the Pitt series with a .263 average, six home runs, 22 RBI and 22 runs scored this season.
"I'm continuing to work hard at baseball, and hopefully I'll have an opportunity to get drafted and go play at the next level," he said of his plans. "If that doesn't come through, I have an option to be an assistant project manager with a construction company in Woodstock.
"I plan on going into that field, and maybe one day be a project manager. If not, there are other opportunities to go into something else. I've made a few contacts here, if baseball and this other thing doesn't work out."
Tech has molded these young men. Their teammates have shaped them.
They're not identical in any way, but bonded to be sure.
Humor is not so much a part of their makeups as is candor.
There are definitely parts of the Tech experience they will not miss.
"Probably the everyday grind of school, tests, stuff like that. I probably will miss it at some point, but not any time in the near future," said King. "I'm ready to kind of relax mentally and enjoy what's next and what's going on around me. There's not too many chances to walk out of a test here and feel good about it."
Poje will walk in the morning ceremonies today, but not entirely happily. "I'm only doing it because I have to," he reported. "My Mom wants me to walk."
Peurifoy will walk in the afternoon session, happy to invite his family in to share evidence of a tough task completed.
"I don't want to," he said, mindful that it's a lengthy process in McCamish Pavilion, and Tech has a game at 6 p.m. versus Pitt, and perhaps he doesn't want to indulge in a marker so final.
Looking back, it seems like they've been through a blur and other times as if it's been a scourge, or siege.
"I kind of just feel like I'm getting ready for another summer break. It hasn't set in yet that in the fall I'm not going to have to go back to class.," Poje said. "I feel like the years have flown by, but then if I think back to a specific moment it seems like it was forever ago."
Peurifoy seems most amazed.
"When you're in that tunnel, you can't see the end of it. When you're a freshman, you don't even know what it's going to be like in four years," he explained. "You finally get to your fourth year, and it's like, Wow! You just keep taking these steps and taking these steps and look where I got."
King's last final on Thursday was momentous.
"It's pretty exciting, a weight off the shoulders," he said. "It's been a long time for me and Poje; it's our fifth year doing this. It seems like we hardly spent any time together, and yet we spent 16 hours a day together, typically."
The future is coming fast, and these guys plan to see each other. They'll one day settle and come to completely acknowledge the value of a degree from Tech. Now, they treasure they Tech experience.
"We've got a couple weddings to go to," King said. "Three of our older teammates are getting married this year. We'll have a good time."
Poje suggested, "I see us getting back together for football games, tailgating and stuff. And no doubt we'll stay in touch."
Peurifoy has a similar vision.
"Hopefully," he said, "I'll be able to make new friends and stay in contact with these guys."