ATLANTA – With 18 starters and 36 returning letterwinners joining a talented freshman class, the Georgia Tech football team begins practice this week as the Yellow Jackets prepare for a challenging season opener Aug. 27 at 11th-ranked Virginia Tech.
Georgia Tech, seeking a fourth straight bowl berth, held its first full squad practices Monday, with the first full contact workouts slated for Thursday.
“There’s no question we’re stronger at the point of attack,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary following Monday’s initial workout at Rose Bowl Field.
“We have a lot of installation going on right now, so the players are not reacting as quickly as they should be, but I do see a lot of retention from the spring.
“I like the chemistry of this unit. We’re getting a lot of reps in, so we’re trying to give everybody an opportunity. We’re running two fields at a time, so they’re all getting a chance to show what they can do.”
Tech’s Aug. 27 date with the Hokies in the BCA Bowl marks the earliest season opener in school history. In fact, the only other ear in which Tech played a game in August was 1991, when the Jackets faced Penn State in the Kickoff Classic.
“I’m very pleased with the varsity right now,” continued O’Leary as he begins his sixth season on the Flats. “We do have some talented freshmen out there, but it’s hard to judge them without contact. I think we’ve seen that they have the speed and athletic ability, but now we have to see if they have the contact speed and the mental toughness. I’d like to get through these first three days of installation, and then see where we are.”
Led by junior flanker Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.) and senior tackle Chris Brown (Augusta, Ga.), the Jackets return five starters from last year’s record-setting offense, plus nine starters on defense, led by strong safety Chris Young (Senoia, Ga.), as well as starting placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.) and punter Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.). In addition, two 1998 starters return after missing last season with injuries in tailback Joe Burns (Thomasville, Ga.) and linebacker Matt Miller (Alpharetta, Ga.).
Junior George Godsey (Tampa, Fla.) won the quarterback job last spring, and O’Leary looks for competition from redshirt freshman Andy Hall (Cheraw, S.C.), who finished a close second, sophomore Jermaine Crenshaw (Greenville, Ala.) and redshirt freshman Brian Camp (Dublin, Ohio).
“George threw the ball consistently on target today,” said O’Leary. “I was pleased with the improvement I saw in Jermaine Crenshaw. I thought he looked a lot smoother and more confident. That’s keeps competition going, which is what you want.”
Tech’s quarterback has a deep and talented cast of receivers in Campbell, who set school records last fall with 69 catches for 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns, as well as sophomore Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.), 33-476-6, senior Jon Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), 9-105-1, and sophomore Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.), 4-50-1. In all, eight of the Jackets’ top 10 pass catchers return from last season.
Burns, who rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries last year before breaking his ankle in the second game, was Tech’s top ground gainer in 1998 with 474 yards and five touchdowns. In his absence last fall, junior Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.) led the Jackets with 837 yards and 13 scores. Powerful fullback Ed Wilder (Washington, Ga.) also returns, while Brown and senior guard Brent Key (Trussville, Ala.) lead the offensive line.
Tech’s top four tacklers return on defense, including Young, who 89 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups. Linebacker Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.), 91 tackles, defensive end Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.), 71 tackles and 18 tackles for loss, and free safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), 69 tackles, all return after starting as true freshmen.