Wink's MIPs (Most Intriguing Players)

Aug. 6, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Today we’ll make use of a fabulous word and concept: intrigue. Specifically I’ll nominate the two Georgia Tech players whom I deem most intriguing to me – one on each side of the ball – while reserving the right to change my mind.

And the winners are . . . Julian Burnett and Vad Lee.

First, though (while I build suspense), there was a great moment in Paul Johnson’s Saturday presser where Kelly Quinlan of Rivals.com said in so many words to the Georgia Tech coach that he seemed to be in better mood this year than last.

The air went out of the room for a moment as folks waited to see how Johnson would respond because, well, you know.

Anyway, with little noise but the faint crackle of static electricity for a moment or so as even the sound of keyboards being banged came to a halt, Quinlan was compelled to add something like, “are your stocks up or something?”

Johnson being Johnson, the coach said, “Yeah, Thursday was a BIG day for me.”

That was intriguing. And Quinlan was right. I think Johnson knows something.

The seed for today’s idea came when Johnson was asked about Lee, the uber-recruit from North Carolina who had hoped to enroll early at Tech but instead stayed in high school and arrived on campus several weeks ago instead.

Bear in mind the Yellow Jackets have not yet practiced in pads.

Johnson said, “Vad Lee is intriguing. He has a presence . . . the way he carries himself.”

This coach is not one to blow smoke, nor heap praise in wanton fashion — ever, to my eyes and ears. Especially in the direction of a true freshman who has not yet put on pads (today the Jackets don full gear for the first time).

Johnson’s comments are only part of my reasoning, however, if not a small part.

If you’re an ardent fan of Tech football, you’ve heard of Lavaedeay “Vad” Lee. You’ve been waiting for Vad Lee. You’ve probably looked him up on Youtube, read about him, thought for a time that he’s the type of hand that ought to fit neatly into the glove that is Johnson’s unique offense.

There’s more.

My intel suggests the lad has plenty of that something extra.

He plops himself down in offices within the athletic department and chats up staffers who find themselves nearly amazed at the young man’s precociousness.

If you’ve spent any time on campus in recent weeks, you may have seen him hugging somebody, or walking and talking with one of his arms draped around the shoulders of whomever he is ambling alongside.

One day he may be a top ambassador of Georgia Tech football. He lent a hand in recruiting the class of 2011 . . . repeatedly. He seems inclined to do whatever he can.

Apparently, Lee’s making impressions all the way around.

“He wants to take as many snaps as he can,” Johnson said. “He comes in every spare moment and watches tape. Is he ready to play tomorrow? No.”

Well, of course not. But the Jackets don’t play a game for 25 days.

Junior Tevin Washington has done his work. He’s healthy. He’s more confident. He is the Jackets’ No. 1 quarterback until there is reason for him not to be, and he may remain that way through the season.

I’m thinking of the future, although that may arrive sooner than later.

Lee apparently has grasped the basics of the offense quickly enough that thoughts are reasonable of him not only playing this season rather than red-shirting, but perhaps playing early.

Or playing a lot. Early.

“He’s light years ahead of where I thought he’d be,” Johnson said.

I’ve moved some of Johnson’s comments around, changed their order a bit, to serve my purpose here. That can be a dangerous maneuver. Here, I think not. I’d bet big if I a gambler that Vad Lee will not redshirt this season.

As for Burnett, he chased a peculiar path last season as a sophomore.

Johnson referred to him in 2010 as a “heat-seeking missile” on special teams, but Burnett saw scant action on defense early in the season.

He is not a prototypical Al Groh linebacker. Groh’s track record in the NFL and college ranks has shown him to favor large chaps in those roles.

Burnett is listed at 5-feet-10, and I think that is generous. I stood next to him for a bit Saturday, and I’m a solid inch-plus taller than he is, and I’m 5-11 and change.

The Macon man is taller than the AJC’s Ken Sugiura, but not by much.

But the dude brings it – BIG TIME!

Burnett is what I like to call sudden. When he pulls the trigger, there are no pea shooters being fired. At about 220 pounds, he’ll wallop you as if he were the Jackets’ new assistant strength and conditioning coach. I don’t know his name, but I’ve seen him twice.

The only humans I’ve ever seen up close who were as big and solid (low body fat) were Lou Ferrigno about 25 years ago, and former NFL offensive lineman/part-time actor Matt Willig.

This is a nice transition, actually, because Burnett is a freak in the weight room. You might be able to look up video of him in there.

Back on point, he finds the ball, and he arrives at it in a foul mood. Burnett does not try to drag ball carriers down. His goal appears to be to knock them out of their clothing.

It took Burnett a while to arrive on Groh’s radar last season. He didn’t start the first five games, and played sparingly on defense in that time.

He started the final eight games, and guess who led Tech in tackles for the season? That was not fellow inside linebacker Brad Jefferson (84). It was Burnett, who had 89 combined tackles and assists.

Burnett is looking so very forward to today because the Jackets will finally work in full pads. “Shorts . . . that’s not really Julian’s game,” Johnson said.

The coach spoke a bit about how Burnett is not likely to impress people in street clothes. Frankly, he’s a bit like Mighty Mouse; big up top and in the heart, with a mixed tank of adrenaline and rocket fuel strapped to his back.

Put the gear on, though, and it’s like he’s riding a rocket.

I asked him if he hated practicing in shorts, and my suspicions were confirmed.

“Being a linebacker, you always want to hit. Just being out there in shorts, it kind of bothers me a little bit,” he said. “You don’t get the `Thud’ factor.”

Julian Burnett is going to bother people this season. Mark it down; he’ll be involved in a whole bunch of thuds.

We have some honorable mentions in the most intriguing department:

WR Stephen Hill. To cut to the quick, he had a disappointingseason in 2010 not only relative to expectations, but relative tohis almost boundless potential. Johnson said he’s had a greatsummer, and I think Hill’s head is right. R-Fr. B-back Charles Perkins. He’s behind senior Preston Lyons now, partly because Lyons has fit his mind aroundthe nuances of the position better. CBs Louis Young and Rod Sweeting. Johnson said this is the best batch of DBs Techhas had since he’s been around in terms of athleticism. They’reyoung. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu. He played quite a bit last year as a truefreshman. Groh recruited him to Virginia, and then after Groh wasfired there and hired at Tech, Attachou switched his allegiance.He’s prototypical at 6-3, 235 or so.

Send `em in. I’m sure you have thoughts. Here you go: stingdaily@gmail.com.

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