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Inside The Chart: Growth Spurt

Growth Spurt: Jared Ivey once thought his future was in college basketball. The 6-6, 275-pounder has instead proven a quick study at defensive end for the Yellow Jackets.

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

his is a story about Jared Ivey the football player. But to get there, it helps to know about Jared Ivey the basketball player.

Even with Georgia Tech men’s and women’s basketball starting their seasons this week, the sport is a year-round topic of conversation among the Yellow Jackets’ defensive linemen – specifically, their own skills in it. Several of them had fairly decent careers in high school. Mike Lockhart was a standout forward in Birmingham, Ala., who had his own AAU mixtape on YouTube before switching to football his senior year. Zeek Biggers played multiple years of varsity basketball in Salisbury, N.C., and has dunked since the sixth grade.

“We’ll probably talk about it every other day. Somebody will say, ‘I’ll dunk on you. I’ll dunk on you.’ Shoot, I’ve never been dunked on in my life,” Ivey said.

Forgive him if he takes in these conversations with a touch of bemusement. When it comes to basketball prowess, the Suwanee, Ga., native has the ultimate debate ender. After all, how many major college defensive ends have pulled off a 360-degree dunk… in a game?

It happened during a region championship game when Ivey was a senior at North Gwinnett High School.

“It was a fast break. I busted up the right side of the lane and, you know, I got freaky,” Ivey said, laughing.

Jared Ivey throws down a slam dunk during North Gwinnett’s victory over Collins Hill in the 2020 Georgia Region 6-AAAAAAA championship game (Photo: Nicole Seitz/Gwinnett Prep Sports)

 

The 6-6, 275-pounder has since traded dunks for sacks, though his capacity for freaky, highlight-reel plays remains. The second-year freshman has become a rising force at defensive end for the Jackets, ranking second on the team in tackles for loss (6.0) and tying for first in quarterback hurries (3). He used his height and reach to bat down a pass on Miami’s first play from scrimmage last Saturday.

“He’s got a really high ceiling as far as his ability and where he can go,” said defensive ends coach Marco Coleman.

To reach that ceiling, Ivey knew he could no longer look like a small forward in cleats. With guidance from the Georgia Tech strength and conditioning and nutrition staffs, he gained 35 pounds in the offseason, bulking up from 240 to 275. By comparison, he played his junior year of high school at 195 pounds.

With so much weight to gain, eating can sometimes be a nauseating task. Ivey laughed when asked to recall his mindset when the time came for the next meal.

“It’s a part of practice,” he said.

The added weight hasn’t cost him any explosiveness according to head coach Geoff Collins.

“It took a little bit for him to kind of get used to the weight. Now he’s getting very comfortable with the size that he’s in, and he’s out there playing really hard. And actually, he’s playing with more urgency than he did early on,” Collins said.

Ivey’s playmaking ability was well-known by the time Collins targeted him at North Gwinnett, a Class 7A school one hour north of Atlanta. Ivey originally thought his athletic future lay on the hardwood; his first scholarship offer came from Coastal Carolina in basketball his sophomore year (Ivey jokes that he only got it after a hard sell from his AAU coach). Soon, though, his pass rushing ability became too dominant for him to ignore. Using his long, tractor beam arms to reel in opposing quarterbacks, Ivey set a North Gwinnett record with 20 sacks as a senior while earning a 4-star rating from 247Sports.

At one of his games that year, Ivey knew he’d be getting a visit from Collins and Coleman. When the game started and he still hadn’t spotted Tech’s coaches, he started to get antsy.

“I was like, ‘Wow, I thought they were coming.’ I was looking up in the stands, like ‘Where are they at?’” Ivey recalled.

“And then out of nowhere….”

Ivey started imitating the whirring of a helicopter’s rotors. Collins and Coleman decided to bypass the Friday night traffic on I-85 while also making an all-important recruiting splash. The two arrived at Ivey’s game via helicopter.

“We look up in the sky. It’s not a bird, it’s not a plane, it’s Coach Collins in a helicopter,” Ivey laughed. The chopper landed on North Gwinnett’s baseball field nearby.

“It broke everybody’s necks in the crowd. I think they called an official timeout to stop play because of the noise. It was surreal,” he said.

Collins didn’t quite have an Arnold Schwarzenegger “Get to the chopper!” moment that night. But his recruiting pitch – a full court press, if you will – paid off. Ivey said he was drawn to the value of a Georgia Tech business degree, citing the “crazy number of Fortune 500 companies” located in Atlanta. He also connected with the culture of the Tech program.

VIDEO: Georgia Tech student-athletes media availability - Nov. 10, 2021 (Jared Ivey, Devin Cochran, Juanyeh Thomas and Malachi Carter)

“The vibe and the culture that’s being created here – coming on visits, I really felt that. I really saw that. I saw it changing. And it was something that I really wanted to be a part of,” he said.

He wouldn’t have access to a helicopter, but proximity to home played a role as well. When Ivey told Collins and Coleman in his living room that he wanted to commit to Georgia Tech, he admits his mother burst into tears. Privately, she wanted her son to choose Tech all along.

“She was on my head and heart about it. She wanted it to be my own decision, and it was. But I knew staying home, my Mom would be able to come to all the games,” Ivey said.

She and Tech fans have had a good view as Ivey has developed quickly. Already blessed with light feet and agility from basketball, his growth has become fast-tracked now that he’s dedicated himself full-time to football. Ivey says his grasp of scheme and technique has grown exponentially under Coleman.

“One of the things that makes Jared special is his ability to see things. He’s a very smart football player. He plays with really good fundamentals,” Coleman said.

Added Collins: “He’s a big, physical, athletic guy. But the maturity level, even becoming somewhat of a leader within the program, and he just plays really, really hard. He takes coaching from Coach Coleman at a high level.”

Ivey will hunt for more sacks on Saturday when Georgia Tech returns to Bobby Dodd Stadium to take on Boston College (3:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports). He’ll have his work cut out for him: the Eagles boast an experienced offensive line, and starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec returned from injury last week. But the man who once harbored hoop dreams now says he loves to hear the roar of the crowd after a momentum-swinging hit.

“When the crowd gets involved after a big play like that, when you see your teammates go crazy on the sideline, it just fills your heart with joy,” Ivey said.

Whether a quarterback or a 360-degree dunk, Jared Ivey’s mission remains the same.

The freshman just wants to throw it down.

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