New era, but re­al­ity right around cor­ner for Tech

The Standard Journal - - PIGSKIN PREVIEW - By Paul Newberry TECH

Ge­off Collins jumped right in the mid­dle of things in the open­ing min­utes of Ge­or­gia Tech’s first prac­tice.

As the of­fen­sive line­man set up for a block­ing drill, Collins was there to pro­vide some per­sonal in­struc­tion.

“Right foot on the cone! Right foot on the cone!” the new coach shouted Wed­nes­day on a blis­ter­ing af­ter­noon, grab­bing sev­eral play­ers by the jersey to make sure they lined up prop­erly. “Set! Hit! Good! Good!”

Collins is bring­ing bound­less en­ergy to a pro­gram that has long strug­gled in the shadow of mighty Ge­or­gia. From his ado­ra­tion of home­town diner Waffle House to his in­ces­sant pres­ence on so­cial me­dia to his count­less pub­lic ap­pear­ances the past few months, he’s en­joyed an ex­tended honeymoon pe­riod while gen­er­at­ing plenty of good vibes among the Yel­low Jack­ets’ faith­ful.

Re­al­ity, though, is right around the cor­ner.

In a mere four weeks, Ge­or­gia Tech will be­gin its new era with a road game against reign­ing na­tional cham­pion Clem­son.

“It’s a pos­i­tive any­time you have some­thing to look for­ward to that to the out­side world is a big deal,” Collins said af­ter the first pre­sea­son prac­tice. “It helps you nar­row your fo­cus at times. If it’s a lit­tle hot out­side, or it’s been four straight days of do­ing some­thing, I do think it’s an ex­ter­nal mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor to play such a great team that’s so well coached, and in such a great en­vi­ron­ment.”

If noth­ing else, the Yel­low Jack­ets are brim­ming with con­fi­dence.

“It’s go­ing to be crazy on Au­gust 29th,” de­fen­sive tackle Ja­haziel Lee said. “We’re go­ing to shock the world.”

Bravado aside, Collins’ first sea­son fig­ures to be even more dif­fi­cult than most coach­ing tran­si­tions.

The Yel­low Jack­ets op­er­ated out of the triple op­tion for the past 11 seasons un­der for­mer coach Paul John­son, whose quar­ter­backs were more of an ex­tra run­ning back than any sort of se­ri­ous pass­ing threat. That will change un­der Collins, who in­stalled a no-hud­dle, pro-style of­fense that will be look­ing for far more bal­ance be­tween the run­ning and pass­ing games.

Not much is ex­pected of the Yel­low Jacket this sea­son.

At the Atlantic Coast Con­fer­ence me­dia days, they were pre­dicted to fin­ish last in their di­vi­sion.

“The guys are aware,” Collins said. “I think it adds a lit­tle fuel.”

Collins also has dealt with tragedy since ar­riv­ing at Ge­or­gia Tech.

Just be­fore the start of spring prac­tice, de­fen­sive tackle Bran­don Adams col­lapsed and died at age 21 while prac­tic­ing a dance rou­tine. Collins was just get­ting to know his team, but he re­ceived high marks for the way he han­dled such a shock­ing loss.

“I don’t think there’s any­body else that would’ve han­dled it bet­ter than he did,” said Tyler Cook­sey, a se­nior tight end. “He re­ally uti­lized that time to bring us to­gether and give us time to heal . ... We had to come to­gether. To get through some­thing like that is not easy.”

The new coach will need at least a cou­ple of pro­lific re­cruit­ing years to land the sort of play­ers who fit into his scheme, though his first class did yield dual-threat quarterbac­k Tyler Yates, who was voted the top of­fen­sive player in Ge­or­gia’s largest high school clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

For now, fourth-year ju­nior Lucas John­son is ex­pected to start. Never mind that he’s yet to throw a pass at the col­lege level.

“We’re go­ing to sur­prise peo­ple,” vowed John­son, who didn’t play at all last sea­son af­ter sus­tain­ing a foot in­jury. “Peo­ple are re­ally un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the tal­ent we have here and all the ath­letes that we have here.”

Ge­or­gia Tech head coach Ge­off Collins works with his play­ers dur­ing the team’s first pre­sea­son NCAA foot­ball prac­tice in At­lanta.

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