There were hugs, smiles and a little bit of sadness. Georgia Tech nose tackle Adam Gotsis had stopped by the lobby of a Midtown hotel to see his parents Doxy and Lou last Friday morning before they were to return to their home in Melbourne, Australia.
Gotsis’ parents had been in Atlanta for five weeks to watch their son play and share in his experience abroad. His younger twin sisters, Kristina and Eleni, have been in Atlanta as well and will remain a few more weeks.
“It’s been good finally to have someone in the crowd, someone to talk to after games that I can see,” Gotsis said.
It beats the usual post-game routine: sending a text message across the Pacific Ocean, meeting the families of some teammates and then going back to his room. For Doxy and Lou, the month in Atlanta proved comforting in many ways.
“It quite reassures me that there’s someone waking him up if he’s going to sleep in, to get him to class,” Doxy said.
Gotsis’ adventure abroad has met no shortage of successes. Gotsis has made the starting lineup as a sophomore and has been a key component of the Yellow Jackets’ defensive resurgence.
“He’s hungry and he wants knowledge and when you tell him something, you’ve got to tell him exactly the way you want it because he’s going to execute it exactly the way you want it,” Tech defensive line coach Mike Pelton said.
Gotsis grew up playing basketball and Australian rules football, but he and his older brother Peter were drawn to the American game when Adam was around 13.
“We played Madden and all that, Xbox,” Gotsis said, referring to the popular video game. “We knew about it.”
A timid beginning — Doxy had to force the two out of the car to go to their first practice — eventually led to outsized success. With size, strength and quickness, Gotsis quickly took to the game, first excelling at the junior level before making the Australian national team.
There is not much of a career path for American football players in Australia. The best play in something akin to a semi-pro league. The Gotsises were trying to figure out how Adam could have a chance to play in the U.S. when they met someone who guaranteed he could place Gotsis in America if he would sign with him in exchange for a cut of future earnings.
Gotsis’ parents were bewildered. Doxy called a national team coach, who told her not to sign anything and offered to help. He was Paul Manera, an Australian who played for Tech coach Paul Johnson when he was an offensive coordinator at Hawaii. Manera recommended Gotsis to Johnson. A visit to Tech and scholarship offer came soon after. He signed as part of the 2012 recruiting class.
“I think sometimes fate has a lot to do with it,” she said. “And I think for Adam, it’s been fate.”
Despite not having the training that most of of his American teammates had, Gotsis played as a true freshman and has started at nose tackle this season. He leads the Jackets with four tackles for loss and has 13 total tackles, second among defensive linemen. Gotsis plays with considerable lower-body power and instinct, but at 6 foot 5 and 277 pounds, has room to grow.
“Adam is a guy that’s really just learning the game,” Pelton said.
One of the highlights of his parents’ stay was being able to volunteer his mother to take a turn making dinner for the defensive line, which gets together to eat on Thursday nights. Last year, Gotsis offered to buy pizza, he said, “but everyone gets pizza all the time, so they didn’t really want it.”
Before the season opener against Elon, Gotsis’ parents stayed with the basics — burgers and steaks — avoiding dishes from home because “we didn’t want to cook something and no one eat it,” Gotsis said. He was glad that his teammates could finally meet his family. His mother was relieved that no one got food poisoning.
“Those Australians came and poisoned our boys!” Doxy Gotsis said with a laugh. imagining the horror if the Jackets had had to play Elon with the defensive line laid up with savaged digestive tracts.
Though almost 10,000 miles away from home, Gotsis has adapted with little trouble. He trades barbs with teammates on Twitter and has dropped “mate” from his speech, he said, because of the weird looks he got from people when he said it. The novelty of his experience hasn’t washed completely away, however.
“Sometimes, it is like a real kick in the face or you just need to open your eyes and be just, like, wow, I’m actually in a whole different country playing college football,” he said. “What are the chances of that? I think there’s 30 kids in Australia playing college football this year or something. That’s 30 out of … a lot of people.”