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Inside The Chart: End is the Beginning

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

Geoff Collins has singled out Jordan Domineck a lot lately.

In a team-wide film session following their game at Syracuse, Georgia Tech’s head coach cued up a play from his redshirt sophomore defensive end. It wasn’t one of Domineck’s four tackles against the Orange, nor his first sack of the season, on a lightning-fast dip-and-rip around the edge. But Collins believed the play, like several others, deserved an encore showing.

“There were plays that we’ve showed to the defense of just his pure effort plays – even sometimes when he’s 20 or 30 yards away from the ball. He’s passing five, six, seven guys trying to get to the football. He plays that way every day at practice. He’s played that way in every game,” Collins said.

Others have taken notice as well. Entering last weekend, Pro Football Focus rated Domineck as having the most positively graded plays in the nation among Power-5 defensive players.

“That’s not the goal, for us to get clout on social media, but he handled it well. He was like, ‘Coach, I’m going to back to work,’” said defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker.

“If we’re talking about our defense being an effort-based defense, there are multiple times where we all need to play to his effort standard,” he added.

Domineck comes by that humility genuinely. A year ago, he could have hardly fathomed a comment like that. A year ago, Georgia Tech’s coaches had singled him out for entirely different reasons.

“Most football players feel like if they’re not playing, they’re being treated unfairly. I can say I wasn’t. I was messing up. I wasn’t committed to the coaches. I wasn’t committed to the program,” Domineck said.

It’s not a period he’s proud of, but Domineck doesn’t mind going back to those depths, which began before the 2019 season. The Lakeland, Fla., native appeared in the first three games of 2018 as a 215-pound outside linebacker, then redshirted to preserve his eligibility. When Georgia Tech’s new coaching staff arrived, he looked forward to proving himself to Collins, Thacker, and defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Marco Coleman.

Then came a wrench:  Georgia Tech’s coaches wanted him to play defensive end in their 4-2-5, effort-based scheme. Domineck bristled at the idea.

“When they told me to put my hand in the dirt, I didn’t really want to. I wasn’t buying in,” he said.

“I wanted to be a linebacker. I wanted to play next to Quez [Jackson].  I wanted to play next to [David] Curry.  I wanted to be in the back, two-footed. But that wasn’t the plan. That wasn’t the process.”

Domineck candidly admits he didn’t trust that process. And it started to seep into both his practice habits and his commitment to Tech’s new culture.

“I wasn’t invested as much into the program,” he said. “I wasn’t completely engaged. I wasn’t developing as much as I should have been.”

Georgia Tech’s coaches sent a message to him in return.

Domineck played in only one of the Yellow Jackets’ first six games in 2019, and he wasn’t listed on their “Above The Line” chart in the others.

The statements extended down to his practice jersey.

“Seventy-four,” Domineck said, shaking his head glumly.

During the week, Domineck was stripped of the No. 42 he had worn since his freshman year, when Tech’s coaches gave it to him as an aspirational homage to former Yellow Jacket KeShun Freeman (ironically, a defensive end). He instead toiled through practice wearing an “ugly,” unassigned #74, making him feel even less like the linebacker he wanted to be.

Domineck can laugh about it now. He understood the message the coaches were trying to send.

“Seventy-four could be thought of as a mindset. If I’m not going to give in to the effort, and I’m not going to do what the coaches need me to do to be able to step up to the standard, then I’m just going to be stuck in something that I don’t want,” he explained.

He knows where the narrative normally veers at this point. Player chafes at position switch… player gets into impasse with coaches… player doesn’t see game action… under most circumstances, a transfer seems like the logical conclusion. Domineck says he traded many calls and texts with Coleman, who tried to break him of his stubbornness and get him to believe in his ability at defensive end. Teammates Curtis Ryans and Quez Jackson became trusted sounding boards.

He also spent many late nights on the phone with his parents, James and Stacy – Domineck gives them much of the credit for re-focusing him. James played football at Florida (1988-89) after starting his career at NAIA Bethel College; he didn’t want the middle of his three kids losing sight of the opportunity in front of him. He was already in the ACC, playing for Georgia Tech, at one of the best academic institutions in the world. Why toss that all away?

“My parents were able to tell me, ‘Jordan, you need to stick with it. This is the place for you. Imagine just getting an education from here,’” Domineck recalls.

“I told my Mom I would give it another year. I’ll see what I can do.”

As the 2019 season went on, Domineck worked to regain his coaches’ trust. He gave greater effort and absorbed Coleman’s teachings. He turned himself into a student of the game at defensive end. Slowly, he felt his play improving and his veil of dourness lifting. By Game 7 at Miami, Domineck returned to Georgia Tech’s Above The Line chart. He responded with a third-down sack in the third quarter that pushed the Hurricanes out of field goal range.

Domineck said he finally felt like himself in Georgia Tech’s ACC finale, a 28-26 win over N.C. State in which he finished with 10 tackles (1.5 TFL) and earned the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Week award.

Jordan Domineck was named the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his performance in last November’s win over NC State.

 

“I realized, ‘Oh, Coach Collins knows what he’s talking about. Coach Coleman knows what he’s talking about,’” he said.

That epiphany propelled him into the offseason, where Domineck bulked up to 250 pounds while back home in Lakeland. His play has been even more valuable this year with the Yellow Jackets shuffling players in and out of the lineup at defensive end almost weekly. Yet as Georgia Tech continues its season against Louisville on Friday (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College), the man whose commitment was once called into question is now setting an example with his nonstop energy.

“Who he’s developed into, the maturity that he’s gone through from last year, working on all of his deficiencies in every phase of his life, I am just so, so, so, so proud of who Jordan Domineck is as a young man in this football program,” Collins said.

At this rate, the film sessions may continue to pile up with havoc-wreaking highlights from Jordan Domineck – plays that even he may have struggled to imagine himself making a year ago.

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