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Sweeting hopes to shine on big stage

Jeff Hurndon Photography
Luella’s Rod Sweeting (No. 6) could be playing in the NFL this time next year, but he’s only focused on helping Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Florida State.

Jeff Hurndon Photography Luella’s Rod Sweeting (No. 6) could be playing in the NFL this time next year, but he’s only focused on helping Georgia Tech in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game against Florida State.

ATLANTA — It’s been 1,446 days since Rod Sweeting last played football for the Luella Lions.

That is approximately 34,704 hours and 2,082,240 minutes since the Lions lost 41-13 to Lowndes in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.

ACC Championship Game

No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech

Saturday, 8 p.m., Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., ESPN

But ask Sweeting, now a senior cornerback at Georgia Tech who’s preparing to face No. 13 Florida State in Saturday’s ACC Championship game, and he’ll tell you that it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long.

“My time here at Tech, it all went very fast,” Sweeting said. “But it feels pretty good to be here now. It’s my senior year, and I’m pretty much happy with that.”

The former four-star recruit out of high school — originally from Miami — has tallied up 49 tackles with six for losses, one sack and has had a hand in five passes broken up this season for the 6-6 Yellow Jackets.

He’s also accumulated a lot of memories. One of his best, he said, was being a part of the Yellow Jackets’ 49-44 victory at Florida State in 2009. Georgia Tech went on to win the ACC title that year by defeating Clemson 39-34 and earning itself a trip to the 2010 Orange Bowl.

That, Sweeting said, is a memory he would like to repeat this week when his Yellow Jackets meet FSU in Charlotte.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we’re all going to be on the same page for this one,” he said. “We haven’t played them since my freshman year and this will give us a chance to go back to the Orange Bowl.”

If Georgia Tech could do it, it would be quite a feat. The Yellow Jackets are licking their wounds a bit ahead of Saturday’s game after losing 42-10 against instate rival Georgia last week. But Sweeting said an upset win against a top 15 program like Florida State would go a long way in curing those wounds.

“With the type of season we’ve had, we get the chance to play for a conference championship,” Sweeting said.

But Tech won four of its last five games before their annual clash with the Bulldogs, and Sweeting said he likes the mood of his team right now.

“Everybody’s been flying around at practice this week,” he said. “If you look at it, we’re probably not supposed to be in this position, but God just kind of opened that door for us and it all worked out.”

Sweeting has been playing football since he was eight, but it became serious for him after moving to Locust Grove with his family because his mother wanted to ensure a better upbringing for Sweeting and his siblings.

What he found upon arrival was a slightly slower pace in Georgia, which eventually turned into a second home for him complete with new friends and former high school teammates — many of whom he still keeps in touch with.

He mentioned guys like West Virginia senior quarterback and early season Heisman Trophy candidate Geno Smith — also a Miami native — and a pair of Florida-born Syracuse cornerbacks Keon Lyn and Ri’Shard Anderson.

Detrick Bonner, a 2010 Luella graduate and current Virginia Tech safety, is also one who Sweeting says he keeps close tabs on.

“We’re all in college now,” Sweeting said. “We all try to keep up with each other and what we’re doing out on the field. I like that we still have a pretty good relationship.”

Sweeting will get his degree in business management next spring and said that he would like to work in real estate.

But if a chance at playing in the NFL would arise?

“That’s where I’m trying to go,” he said. “That’s the plan.”

But for now, Sweeting said his focus is squarely on Florida State and going out a winner against a team from his home state while playing for his second home.

“I really want to play well in this game,” he said. “It’ll be a great chance to show out in front of (professional) scouts. I know my friends who are not playing from back home will be watching, and I want to put on a show for them.”