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Inside The Chart: In Good Hands

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

As the son of a three-star general in the U.S. Air Force, Mikey Minihan had a peripatetic childhood, bouncing between nine states and three countries by the time he entered eighth grade. The family’s last stop, serendipitously, took them to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Minihan played his final two seasons of high school football for powerhouse Saint Louis. The 6-3, 307-pounder grew into a college prospect protecting Saint Louis’ star quarterback, a strong-armed, sought-after lefty named Tua Tagovailoa.

So yes, Minihan has experience watching – and blocking for – a precocious true freshman who showed preternatural calm rallying his team from a double-digit halftime deficit.

“Tua was similar in the way that he was just unbothered by everything out there. I liked to say he was a cool cucumber. He was just perfectly unfazed by everything. Jeff is the same way in that sense,” Minihan said.

Of all the people who watched Jeff Sims’ ACC Rookie of the Week performance against Florida State, Minihan, Georgia Tech’s redshirt junior center, may have one of the more unique perspectives. It was Minihan who snapped Sims the ball for all 75 of the Yellow Jackets’ plays. It was Minihan who kept a running dialogue with Sims, on and off the field, throughout Tech’s 16-13, come-from-behind victory.

Highlights: Georgia Tech 16, Florida State 13 (Sept. 12, 2020)

Despite some rocky turnovers and a 10-0 halftime deficit, Minihan saw a QB whose demeanor never changed.

“He was so calm and collected the whole time. He didn’t get the freshman jitters, even though he was starting a big-time game for the first time ever. It was just really impressive the way he handled himself, and the way we were able to make adjustments with him,” he said.

But Geoff Collins knows Sims’ performance wouldn’t have been possible without the strong play of his offensive line. Florida State, the Jackets’ head coach points out, features three of the top 10 returning defensive tackles in the country according to ESPN, headlined by a consensus preseason all-American in Marvin Wilson. Georgia Tech rolled up 438 yards of offense, 43 more than their previous high last season.

Collins points to Tech’s improved heft – their offensive line weighed 18 pounds more per person compared to their “Above The Line” chart from last year’s season opener – and their improved grasp of offensive line coach Brent Key’s blocking scheme. Minihan conducted it all deftly, Collins said.

“He did a great job redirecting the protections,” he explained.  “Brent and [offensive coordinator] Dave Patenaude, they put a lot on Mikey’s plate to get the protections set, to get the run game set, to get us going in the right direction to help a true freshman, on the road, in his first game, manage all the things going on around him.”

He may have looked the part of the cerebral, even-tempered veteran, but Minihan had his own pressure to handle against FSU. The game was also the first start of his career at center. Minihan started six games at left and right guard in 2019, but began taking reps at center as he worked his way back from a month-long injury. He transitioned to center full-time in the spring, but only trained there for two weeks before COVID-19 shut down Tech’s spring practice.

“The mental aspect, I knew all the plays. I knew everything. I just couldn’t get the snaps down. That’s the part I had to improve on to be able to play,” he said.

Minihan said he honed his skills by meeting with Key and picking up pointers from fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kenny Cooper, who has seen extensive time at center in his career. Minihan also learned by watching snapping videos posted on social media by Duke Manyweather, a respected private offensive line coach who has gained a large online following.

Still, Minihan said he didn’t feel totally comfortable with his snapping technique until late last month.

“I’d find something and think it would work for me, and it didn’t work so much. Then I’d switch to something else – a different way of gripping the ball, a different way of securing my arm before the snap,” he explained.

“I finally found something that worked for me toward the end of camp, thank God. I think my snaps have been good, and I just want to be the guy that my teammates can rely on.”

Sims may have offered the best endorsement of Minihan’s snapping skills: until told about it on Wednesday, he had no idea that Florida State was his first career game at center.

“That’s crazy. I didn’t know that,” said Sims, who added that Minihan came up to him constantly during the FSU game asking if his snaps were okay.

“Mikey, he’s an incredible worker. We get snaps before practice every day. He’s a great guy,” he said.

They’ll look to keep that chemistry, confidence and calmness going in the home opener Saturday. After staring down an NFL-caliber defensive line at FSU, Georgia Tech now faces No. 14/13 UCF at Bobby Dodd Stadium (3:30 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College). The Knights led the nation last year with 9.0 tackles for loss/game. They also feature quarterback Dillon Gabriel, the most prolific true freshman passer in college football last season (he’s also a Hawaii native – Minihan’s team defeated him in the state semifinals his junior year).

Another daunting defense awaits them. Then again, Minihan can always heed the words of the second precocious freshman QB he’s played with in recent years. Before Georgia Tech’s game-tying drive against Florida State, Jeff Sims spoke up casually to his offensive teammates.

Recalls Minihan: “In the huddle before, he was like, ‘Alright…. let’s go score.’”

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