Sept. 5, 2009
by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor
OSR Sting EXTRA
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s most unlikely starter did not arrive under the radar. Wide receiver Kevin Cone took the underground, off-the-map route.
Having been lightly recruited a couple years earlier coming out of St. Pius X in DeKalb County, Cone was just another guy in a practice jersey when he arrived in spring of 2008.
Transfer players only occasionally show up with sizzle. Transfer walk-ons from NAIA schools like Rome’s Shorter College, like Cone? No offense, but there were no fireworks when he cast his lot with the Yellow Jackets even though his father, Ronny, rushed for 1,777 yards and 11 touchdowns for Tech from 1979-’83.
Even Cone, who’s hard to miss at 6-feet-2, 206 pounds, is surprised he’ll line up opposite wideout Demaryius Thomas Saturday when the Jackets kick off the season against Jacksonville State. “I am,” he said with what apparently is a plastered-on happy face.
Count Thomas in the same group. “I didn’t think he would start this year,” he said. “On the other hand, that [knee] injury happened to Tyler [Melton last] Thursday, and Kevin works very hard on and off the field.”
Melton, who strained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in practice last Thursday, won’t play Saturday and likely will miss the Sept. 10 game against Clemson. Coach Paul Johnson said, though, that the second wideout position was not sewn up even before Melton’s injury. Nobody who’s watched Cone work is shocked.
“Kevin just works really, really hard. I don’t know if Kevin ever has a bad day; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him when he wasn’t smiling,” Johnson said. “That’s the way he practices. He comes out every day, goes at it 100 mph, and grins. You could say, ‘Kevin, give me 30 [pushups],’ and he’d smile at you and say, `OK,’ and give you 30.”
Beyond that perpetual smile, not much about Cone is standard. He grew up in the Parkview High district, home to one of the state’s powerhouse football programs, but followed a friend to play AAU basketball and eventually to St. Pius. His father is a volunteer eighth grade football coach at Pius now, and Cone’s younger brother Zach graduated from Parkview, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but opted to attend the University of Georgia, where he’ll be a sophomore outfielder.
We’re talking about serious bloodlines.
Still, Cone was barely on anybody’s radar when he played defensive back and wide receiver at St. Pius. He caught 12 passes for 83 yards at Shorter in ’07.
Not exactly a breakout season.
Yet the pull of Tech, where his mother, Janet, and father both graduated, was strong — even if the thought of playing football was secondary to the point he considered transferring but not playing.
“Out of high school, [Shorter] was the main school looking at me, and I really wanted to stay close to home,” Cone said. “I really wanted to do engineering so I transferred to Georgia Tech to study engineering. I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to give football a shot, but engineering was going to be my main focus. If football worked out, I’d love it. If it didn’t, I’d have a backup plan.”
Now, the backup’s going to be a starter, and he’s not the only transfer from a small school who figures to play a big part in the Jackets’ season. Former Marist star Preston Lyons, who attended Colgate for one year before coming to Tech, will according to coach Johnson see action.
“Kevin Cone is probably one of those guys who was overlooked in recruiting,” said wide receivers coach Buzz Preston. “That happens; we don’t always pick the right ones. Some guys develop later in life. He has good quickness, good speed, good hands, he’s a great competitor, has great energy. “Probably the best thing he has going for him is he’s a consistent player. That’s the key to me. You can be a talented player, but unless you’re consistent, it’s worthless.”