Yellow Jackets Begin Practice Monday

Coach George O’Leary helps arrange his players for their annual team photo Saturday during media day. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — As Georgia Tech begins preparations for the 2000 season, head coach George O’Leary is constantly being asked about “Life After Joe Hamilton,” but O’Leary says that his program has reached the point of replacing rather than rebuilding.

One day after Hamilton, the former Yellow Jackets all-America quarterback, began his NFL career by throwing the game-winning touchdown pass in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ exhibition victory over Washington, Hamilton’s former team assembled for Tech’s annual media day Saturday afternoon at Grant Field. The Yellow Jackets, coming off an 8-4 season and a third straight bowl berth in 1999, will hold their first full squad practices Monday at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Rose Bowl Field. The first day of full contact is next Thursday.

“After five years, we have some stability, so it’s not as much rebuilding as reloading,” said O’Leary as he enters his sixth season on the Flats. “We have some replacements to find, but there are a lot of areas that have talent coming back. We’re going to be a good football team, maybe a very good football team if some of the pegs fall into place.”

Running back Joe Burns laughs with teammates as they relax in the shade during media day Saturday. After missing 10 games last season with a broken ankle, Burns says he can’t wait to start fall practice. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Yellow Jackets return 18 starters, including two 1998 starters who missed all or most of last season due to injury in linebacker Matt Miller (Alpharetta, Ga.) and tailback Joe Burns (Thomasville, Ga.). Besides Hamilton, key losses on offense include split end Dez White, now with the Chicago Bears, and starting offensive linemen, while free safety Travares Tillman, now with the Buffalo Bills, is the most significant loss on defense.

“The key is just to get better every day,” continued O’Leary, whose squad opens the season Aug. 27 at Virginia Tech, which is ranked 11th in the preseason Associated Press poll released Saturday.

“I like the chemistry of this football team right now. We only have 11 seniors, but they’ve played a lot of football so we have a lot of leadership in that group. And we have a lot of younger players who have also played a lot of football.”

O’Leary is eager to begin practice after a productive summer of strength and conditioning.

“It was the best summer we’ve had as far as getting stronger,” he said. “We went from having 16 players benching 400 pounds to now having more than 30 guys who are over 400.”

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