ATLANTA (AP) — As Georgia Tech gathered Friday for its football practice of the season, the Yellow Jackets felt good about the future even with a tough schedule ahead.
Sure, there will be away games against Clemson, Miami and Notre Dame plus a neutral-site game against North Carolina and a home contest against Georgia, but there's so much room for improvement after a 3-7 season.
The Jackets like that their top two players, quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs, are back and considered freshmen again.
Plus, in addition to 25 freshmen just out of high school, 12 new Jackets have transferred from other programs. Add back seven senior and graduate players who have returned by taking advantage of a free year of eligibility offered by the NCAA for sake of COVID, and there is optimism.
“A lot of people look at the schedule from the outside in and they kind of think, ‘Ooh! They’re going to have a tough time doing X, Y and Z,’" said defensive back Tre Swilling, who — entering his fifth season — is considered a redshirt junior.
“We know we’re overlooked. We know we were put behind due to what we did the past two years. We want to get out from underneath that shadow.”
In Geoff Collins’ third year as head coach, the Jackets are working from beneath a dark cloud.
Tech was whistled for 8.9 penalties per game last season to rank 121st among Division I teams, including 11.8 on the road.
So, when the Jackets gathered all together in their team meeting room Thursday for the first time in 17 months – they’d previously worked in groups, on Zoom calls or outdoors in Bobby Dodd Stadium because of COVID protocols – Collins preached a bit and then stepped back.
He plans to turn the team over to players, the ones who committed 41 of Tech’s 89 penalties before the ball was snapped.
“The ability to focus in our meetings, the way they’re carrying themselves, confident, not a lot of rah-rah, not a lot of silliness, it’s about coming in focused, we understand the process, we understand the expectations, now let’s get to work and hold each other accountable,” he said.
“It’s an exciting time. In the past, the energy had to come from the coaches, but right now I’m able to just talk ball, X’s and O’s, scheme, technique and the guys at this point are handling everything else.”
Tech will be bigger along the offensive line and more athletic along the defensive line.
That may be where the Jackets look most different thanks in part to transfers Keion White from Old Dominion and Kevin Harris from Alabama. Both are edge rushers.
“You add Kevin Harris who’s put up ridiculous numbers in the summer . . . 39-inch vertical, on a daily basis he’s hitting 20-21 mph, which is skill position numbers, and then you add the depth that we’ve developed,” Collins said. “It’s an exciting group.”
Of seven “super senior” Jackets using bonus eligibility, four are sixth-year linemen with two on defense (Djimon Brooks and Antonneous Clayton) and two on offense (Ryan Johnson and Kenny Cooper).
“My decision to come back was really a no-brainer,” Brooks said. “I put in a lot of work with these guys, and I really want to see that work come to fruition.”