By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
There is a calm before the thunder, a moment when Georgia Tech's Michael Cheever is in a low stance, the ball sitting on the grass beneath his hands.
He waits in anticipation, his breath still coming in hard waves from the last attack. When the ball is snapped there is no time to think, no time to hear. And like a captain guiding a ship through a swirling sea, Cheever is forced to recoil, then steer his vessel in another direction.
Whether it is to stand as a wall, protecting his cargo from the storm, or to open a hole in the sea before him, it is an experience that lasts only a moment. With the sound of a whistle the sea will suddenly calm. To a lineman, it is only a moment of peace before the next upset.
For the last four years, Cheever he has been the wall on this team, the anchor that has kept it secure. He is an All-America candidate in his senior season with the Yellow Jackets and has appeared on an All-America or All-Atlantic Coast Conference roster in one form or another since his freshman season. Cheever has been the one solid rock on a team that has gone through numerous changes since the late 1980s and very early '90s. It has not been smooth sailing for the lineman.
"Despite all of my personal achievements in the past, I haven't been satisfied," Cheever said. "I want this team to be successful. That is my number-one goal."
The Yellow Jackets' visit to Arizona is something they have been looking forward to since last year's 19-14 loss in Atlanta, when the Wildcats scored a touchdown with 29 seconds left to pull out the victory.
"That loss seemed to break this team's spirit," Cheever said. "I don't know if you really recover from a loss like that."
Georgia Tech won its next game against Western Carolina, then proceeded to lose nine straight games to finish the season 1-10. This year's team has already matched last year's total with a 51-7 home victory over Furman last Saturday.
"You don't believe in winning as much as you believe in yourself," said Yellow Jacket coach George O'Leary. "(You must) be very positive but firm that the kids have to work to win."
As the leader of the offensive line and the foundation on which the offense stands, Cheever feels that he is responsible for bringing this team together.
"I'm a team leader," he said. "I have to make sure we do what we need to do to win."
Last season was one of personal disappointment for Cheever. He suffered a non-displaced fracture of the ulna in his left arm in a preseason scrimmage and was forced to miss three games. He played the other games in considerable pain. Amazingly, he gave up only one sack all season, and that was in the first game against Arizona.
"I'm really looking forward to playing healthy," Cheever said. "I was not at my best all season long, especially against Arizona. They had put a nerve block on my arm to stop the pain. Unfortunately, it made me unable to use my arm at all."
Cheever is credited with allowing only three sacks in his three years in Atlanta. Last season he led the team with 63 knockdown blocks and averaged better than 60 snaps in his eight games.
The offense, however, averaged just 104 yards per game on the ground last season. Things may be looking better for the Yellow Jackets as new offensive coordinator Pat Watson returns after spending three years with Texas. Both Watson and Cheever know that for Georgia Tech to improve, the offensive line has to step up.
"We have to be able to establish a running game," Cheever said. "A team like Arizona will dare you to pass. For us to establish that running game we need to take them out of what they are doing."
Georgia Tech did that against Division I-AA Furman last week, but faces perhaps its toughest challenge of the season against Arizona's rushing defense.
"If you're going to talk about offense I think you need to start up front, and the offensive line is one of our strengths," O'Leary said. "Watson has done a great job of getting them to play together and be in the best shape they've ever been in."
Cheever knows that the offensive line might very well be the key.
"Playing a defense like Arizona's is what offensive linemen look forward to," Cheever said. "We know they have great players, and that makes it a great challenge. It's that challenge that usually decides a game."
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