Her team’s stunning win over Florida State emphatically and stunningly completed, Georgia Tech freshman Katherine Strickland rushed Grant Field with hundreds of her fellow students.
As she ran about the field, Strickland suddenly found herself in the path of coach Paul Johnson. Strickland, a Tech fan all her life, felt like she should say something.
“Oh, my gosh, I love you!” is what Strickland recalled saying. Tech fans who have seen a video clip of Johnson that went viral on social media may know the rest of the story. On Monday, Johnson said it was her giddy declaration that prompted this response:
Said Johnson at his weekly news conference, “It was some girl, I don’t know who she was. She goes, ‘Hey, I love you, Coach.’ I was just like, Yeah, if that field goal had went through, I doubt she would have loved me much.”
A little about Strickland: She is from Macon and plans to study biomedical engineering. Her veins course with Tech blood.
Her mother is a Tech graduate, as are two uncles, a grandfather and a cousin. Tech games have been a part of her upbringing.
Her mother “always brought us to games,” Strickland said. Among her list of memorable victories witnessed are two other homecoming victories in the Johnson administration, over Virginia Tech in 2009 and Clemson on 2011.
She has enjoyed this season, her first watching the Jackets as a member of the student body. The results have been disappointing, she said, but she has only missed one game.
Saturday night, she watched the game first from the front row before security made her move back, as she was in the aisle. She moved to the back of section 120 in the corner of the north end zone. After Lance Austin’s stunning touchdown return, Strickland joined the throngs jumping from the stands and onto the field. Her cousin Sam Mercer, the Tech grad, helped her onto the field.
And that’s when she had her brief interaction with Johnson. She recalls them being a couple feet apart.
“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” she said. “I was like, (it’s) Coach Paul Johnson. I didn’t know what to say to him. I’ve never talked to him before, but it was one of those surreal moments where it was, like, we just beat FSU, here’s the coach. You’ve got to congratulate him. Those are the words that came out of my mouth instead of ‘Congratulations.’”
The state troopers escorting Johnson off the field shooed her away, and Strickland kept running and continued celebrating. Johnson did his head and tongue wag, captured forever on social media. A Vine clip of the gesture had recorded 1.4 million loops by late Thursday.
Strickland thought nothing more of it until she went out to lunch with her family, in town for homecoming, and the clip was brought up. Strickland recalled her brief interaction, and her family suggested that perhaps it was her declaration that had elicited the reaction. Strickland was dubious until Johnson’s comments Monday.
She posted a tweet to Johnson Tuesday, identifying herself as his muse.
“Hey Coach, I am this girl!! Glad I could inspire you to become vine famous!” Strickland wrote.
So, was she sincere in her adoration, or was Johnson’s cynicism founded? Would she still love her school’s coach even if FSU kicker Roberto Aguayo had been successful on his game-winning attempt?
“Oh, yeah, of course,” she said. “I think I would. He’s won a lot of games for us. Not necessarily this year, but I respect him as a coach.”