ATLANTA (Aug. 9) — Boasting 15 returning starters and 36 letterwinners from last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference co-champions, the Georgia Tech varsity reports to campus Tuesday in preparation for the opening of varsity practice Thursday.
Seventy-four Yellow Jacket veterans will join the 31 newcomers who have been on campus since Friday. The entire team will participate in Media Day on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, and the full squad will begin practice Thursday with workouts scheduled for 9:15 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Rose Bowl Field. The first practice in full pads is slated for Sunday at 4 p.m.
Coming off a 10-2 campaign last fall, the Yellow Jackets are ranked 11th in the preseason USA Today/ESPN poll. Tech opens the 1999 season Sept 4 at Navy.
“The emphasis will be on chemistry and focusing on what we have to do to get better,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary as he enters his fifth full season at the helm of the Rambling Wreck.
“We want to keep the competition going and make sure that everyone is working to the maximum. We want to make sure that everyone is accountable for every practice, and the depth chart will reflect that. I can understand someone having a bad play, but I can’t accept a bad practice.”
Led by quarterback Joe Hamilton (Alvin, S.C.), a Heisman Trophy and all-America candidate, as well as split end Dez White (Orange Park, Fla.) and tackle Jon Carman (Waldorf, Md.), the Yellow Jackets return nine starters from an offense that put up record-setting numbers last season, averaging 35.5 points and nearly 400 yards per game.
Top returnees from a defense that set an NCAA record with seven fumble returns for touchdowns include strong safety Travares Tillman (Lyons, Ga.), defensive end Felipe Claybrooks (Decatur, Ga.) and linebacker Chris Edwards (Warthen, Ga.).
While anticipating the arrival of the varsity, O’Leary and his staff have worked with the freshmen for four practices.
“Hopefully you don’t have to play too many of them, but from what I’ve seen they’ll create some competition when the varsity comes in,” said O’Leary. “The key is how they relate to the speed of the game when the varsity gets here.”
O’Leary has said that he is looking to inject some additional speed at the skill positions, especially on defense.
“In the secondary, Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.) catches your eye as a very mature freshman,” said O’Leary. “Selwyn Scott (Boynton Beach, Fla.) is catching on. Cory Collins (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.), Eric Lavette (Smyrna, Ga.) and Winfred Brown (Marietta, Ga.) are all doing some good things, and Algis Motiejunas (Scottsdale, Ariz.) has a little more experience as a junior college transfer.
“At linebacker, Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.) is doing a lot of good things, and defensive end Greg Gathers (Laplace, La.) is displaying the kind of ability we recruited.”
On offense, O’Leary mentioned the play of wide receiver William Glover (Tampa, Fla.) and running backs Jermaine Hatch (Baton Rouge, La.) and Sidney Ford (Lindale, Ga.), along with tight end Will Heller (Dunwoody, Ga.), a walk-on from Marist School.
“Overall I just see guys that are athletic,” continued O’Leary. “It’s hard to tell without hitting, but from the standpoint of athleticism and movement, those are the guys that have the best chance.”
O’Leary is also working closely with freshman placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.) and punter Philip Newman (Marietta, Ga.), both of whom have displayed strong legs.
“Kicking is one fifth of the game, and the name of the game is to be able make kicks in pressure situations,” said O’Leary, who must replace the starting punter and placekicker from last year’s squad.
“This preseason we’ll put the kickers under as much as pressure possible and see how they react to game situations. That’s how we get them to build confidence and feel comfortable as we head into the first game.”