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Inside The Chart: Back to Back

Back To Back: Jahmyr Gibbs has made it look easy. But his production wouldn’t be possible without running backs coach Tashard Choice making it hard on him. And their relationship has pushed both to national recognition.

By Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets) | Inside The Chart

Jahmyr Gibbs knew he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

On Tuesday it was announced that his running backs coach, Tashard Choice, was nominated for the Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant coach in college football. Gibbs, the man who currently ranks second in the nation in all-purpose yards per game, decided to offer Choice his congratulations on the Georgia Tech running backs’ group text. Gibbs sent him a copy of a tweet announcing the news, along with his own heartfelt, personal message.

“Sorry as hell man,” the text read, followed by three laughing/crying emojis.

Choice flashed that famous incandescent smile of his. He knew he had it coming. He spouts that line often to his running backs.

“I never give them credit. I always want to bring them back down to reality and keep working,” he explained.

As Gibbs recounted the story, a smile curled up from the corner of his lip, his expression falling somewhere between sheepish and impish.

“We always play around like that. When we get an award or something, he tells us we’re sorry.  t’s never just us. Everything is always bigger than us,” he said.

Where else could “you’re sorry” serve as both a put-down and a term of endearment? But that expression explains a lot about the relationship between Gibbs and Choice, and how that partnership has helped the 5-11, 200-pounder grow into one of the most dynamic backs in the nation.

Gibbs’ list of accomplishments is long and growing fast. On Saturday, he torched Boston College for a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at Bobby Dodd Stadium.  In doing so he became the first Yellow Jacket with a rushing, receiving and kickoff return for a touchdown in the same season since Eddie Lee Ivery in 1977.  He’s had a play of 50 or more yards in six-straight games, making every chunk play look effortlessly explosive. He’s on pace to break Ivery’s school record for all-purpose yards in a season.

VIDEO: Georgia Tech's Jahmyr Gibbs Goes The Distance vs. BC | ACC Must See Moment

All-purpose yards in a season
1. Eddie Lee Ivery (1978) 1,879
2. Kelly Campbell (2000) 1,777
3. Jonathan Dwyer (2008) 1,775
4. Jahmyr Gibbs (2021) 1,680

“I think he’s the Player of the Year in the ACC in my estimation, in terms of his talent and what he does to impact the football game,” said Brian Kelly, head coach of No. 6 Notre Dame, Georgia Tech’s opponent this Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports).

But in Choice’s world, there’s no room for platitudes. Only critiques. He doesn’t see how many yards Gibbs has gained, only how many yards he’s left on the field. As gaudy as his numbers have been, Choice still hammers and humbles him constantly.

“I’m on him about every single thing that helps him win a down,” he said.

Even as he’s overseen a dazzling, all-ACC caliber season, Choice still isn’t satisfied with his young back’s performance. And the two-time former ACC rushing champion has no plans on letting up, either with Gibbs or the rest of RBI (“Running Back Institute”), Choice’s nickname for his position group.

“I don’t hold my tongue with them guys because I love them,” he said.

It begins with pad level and the way Gibbs completes his runs.

“Even though he was finishing, he wasn’t finishing hard enough. He’s got to finish like he’s the best player on the field. He has to finish like he’s the best back in the nation. And that’s what he wants to be,” he explained.

“Jah has good feet, but I want to make sure that he’s pressing the line of scrimmage, getting his pads down, being physical in his runs, showing that he has that part of his game.”

Gibbs has felt that commitment to pad level pay dividends. Entering the Miami game on Nov. 6, he averaged 3.95 yards after contact according to Pro Football Focus, the 13th-highest average among Power-5 running backs with at least 100 carries.

“Last year, I was always finishing in an awkward position, so this year I’ve been focusing on finishing forward,” he said. “Scouts, they don’t want you falling back [or] sideways. They like running backs who fall forward to get more yards.”

His recent flurry of long plays hasn’t come by accident either. After a lackluster practice during the week of the Pittsburgh game, Choice pulled his running backs into their meeting room afterwards. He noticed they were cutting off their runs early, coasting after reaching the open field.

Choice wouldn’t stand for it. From that point on, he demanded his backs finish every rep in the end zone.

“He talked to all of us about finishing our runs. We all started doing that. You can tell in the games we’ve improved a lot,” Gibbs said.  Not coincidentally, the Pittsburgh game touched off his streak of six-straight games with a play of 50 or more yards.

VIDEO: Georgia Tech RB Jahmyr Gibbs Highlights Against Duke | ACC Digital Network

Habits are a big deal with Choice. A veteran of six years in the NFL, he knows how narrow the margin is between making a roster and wistfully wondering what if. He knows how success can seduce people into letting their attention to detail fall off. That’s why Choice is unrelenting in his scrutiny. Rip off a long run but didn’t make a man miss? Get an explosive play but stumble on a cutback? Choice won’t let Gibbs off the hook, no matter how many yards he gained.

Details matter, and he wants that mindset to inform everything Gibbs does.

“I’m on his head every single time. All that does is make him say, ‘Okay, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.’ And now, it becomes habit to them,” Choice explained.

“He understands how important it is because I’m telling him, ‘If you don’t catch it now, the more and more you play, it’ll be on you later and you’ve got to catch up,’” he added.

That extends to Gibbs’ recovery habits, which Choice has also pushed him on this year.

“He didn’t like to get in the cold tub. [I] make him get in the cold tub, try and teach him to take care of his body,” Choice said.

In Gibbs, Choice has found a willing audience. Over the summer, he and Gibbs watched film of New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, studying the way he ran routes out of the backfield. Gibbs says he has a better understanding of how to adjust his routes based on a defense’s coverage. His stats support that: he’s currently the only running back nationally with multiple receptions of 70-plus yards. He also credits Choice with improving his understanding of special teams.

“Since he was in the league, he knows a lot about everything. He’s put that knowledge in me,” Gibbs said.

But for all his pushing and needling, his critiquing and his challenging, Choice knows he doesn’t need to do much to keep Gibbs’ ego in check. The man nicknamed the “Humble Beast” by his grandmother does plenty of that by himself.

“That’s one of the things I respect the most about the kid. No matter how much praise he gets, he always stays low,” Choice said.

That relationship has pushed Choice into national recognition for his coaching, and it’s pushing Gibbs into national recognition for his all-purpose ability.

Both appreciate the praise. But it’s time to get back to work.

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