ACC Football Kickoff

July 24, 2005

The annual Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff is being held this weekend in Hot Springs, Va. On Sunday, two players from each ACC school visited with the media. Below are comments from Georgia Tech senior linebacker Gerris Wilkinson.

How good can the defense be?

“The sky’s the limit because we have so much confidence in Coach Tenuta, after having played for him the last three years. He gives us so much confidence as a defense, regardless on who’s on the field. And we return a lot of good players, too.

“We have a lot of fifth-year seniors on our defense, and we just feel like it’s our time. We have a very confident vibe.

How good is Coach Tenuta?

“I couldn’t play for a better coach. He tries to teach the defense so that everybody knows what everybody else is doing. Even though a lot of people find our defense complicated, it’s really simple because of the way he teaches it to us. It’s really a learning experience and it takes a lot of focus, but at the same time, he makes it fun.

Do you pay attention to preseason polls?

“I really don’t care where people pick us. They’ll see where we are at the end. We don’t worry about what people on the outside say. We just worry about the people who are “in the room,” the people on the team. You can’t waste energy on the external things.

How much better a linebacker are you this year than last?

“I feel like I’m a lot better. This will be my first year coming into a season playing the same position that I played the year before. That right there gives me a lot of confidence. I know what to expect and what’s expected of me. I can build on what I did last year.

“Playing middle linebacker takes a lot of mental toughness because it’s a position that the offense keys on.

Keys to the season?

“We have to play consistently. Over the past couple of years, we’ve had too many ups and downs during the season. Playing every game with confidence and consistency will be the key to our season.”

“There are a lot of new quarterbacks in the league this season, so a lot of the focus seems to be on the defenses. I think there are a lot of talented players on the defenses in this conference.

Instant Replay?

“Personally, I think it’s something good. You don’t want a game to be decided on a call that a referee missed. Last year against Duke, they had the ball on the one-yard line. The quarterback tried to dive and reach the ball over the goal line. I knocked the ball out of his hand, and I’m pretty sure it was out before he crossed the goal line, but they called it a touchdown. That is something that could be corrected.

Toughest quarterback to play against?

To me, the toughest quarterback to play was Marques Hagans at Virginia. He has a lot of weapons on offense, and then his ability to scramble adds a whole other dimension. (Tailback?) We didn’t play against him last year, but from watching him on film, I’d say Leon Washington at Florida State.

Have any of the freshmen been impressive in the voluntary summer workouts?

“At least once a week, Eric Henderson will come up to me and say, You’ve got to see Michael Johnson. It’s a similar kind of buzz to what there was for Calvin last year, but it’s different for a defensive player. You have to wait to see how he will do with pads on, going against a 300-pound offensive lineman.

What is it that makes Calvin Johnson so special?

“It’s rare that you see someone with that type of talent go into the weight room every day and work as hard as he does. And on top of that, he’s humble.”

What is it like to have Chris Reis behind you now that he’s back at safety?

“I think Chris is the type of player who can excel at whatever position he is at. He’ll find a way to get it done. I’m not really a vocal-type leader. Chris is, so he brings a lot of vocal leadership to the defense. Regardless of where he is on the field, he’ll be a leader and he’ll make plays.

Editor’s Note: The most popular topic among the media was asking the players to name their school’s division and the other teams in it. Mike Knobler of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution posed this question to 13 different players, and Wilkinson was the only one to get it right on the first try. Georgia Tech is in the Coastal Division, along with Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke.

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