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Inside The Chart: Measuring Up

Measuring Up:  Meet freshmen Zeek Biggers (6-6, 363 lbs.) and Malik Rutherford (5-9, 138 lbs.), who form one of the unlikeliest teammate (and roommate) tandems in college football.  Proportions aside, they’re much more similar than you think.

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

When he first laid eyes on him, Georgia Tech defensive line coach Larry Knight loved how skinny Zeek Biggers was.

Seriously.

Oh sure, Knight loved the massive proportions of Biggers, a 6-6, 363-pound mountain of a defensive tackle from Salisbury, N.C. But Knight was also smitten by what supported that huge frame.

“Y’all are gonna laugh at me for this, but he had skinny ankles,” Knight said.

“I like big dudes with skinny ankles. That’s usually a sign of athleticism.”

To the delight of Knight, those twiggy ankles made their way to Tech. So did the fast-twitch legs of Malik Rutherford, a 5-9, 138-pound pocket-rocket slot receiver from Miami, Fla. And together, they form one of the more unusual recruiting duos in major college football this year.

Between Biggers and Rutherford, there may not be a greater size differential between freshman scholarship teammates in the country. Zeek & Malik make for an odd pairing, an object of fascination to fans and a recurring source of amusement to their teammates. Put them side by side and they look like the hour and minute hands of a clock. Or maybe a funhouse mirror. To add to the visual, Biggers and Rutherford are also roommates at Tech, which ensures they probably don’t confuse their laundry piles or shoe racks (Biggers tops out at size 16; Rutherford laces up in a size 9).

And yes, they’re keenly aware of the absurdity of their size mismatch.

“It is kind of crazy,” Biggers said.

“I just embrace it,” Rutherford added.

Technically, others embrace him.

“One time in the weight room in the summer, [defensive back] Cole Neuber said there wasn’t enough weight in the weight room, so he started curling me,” Rutherford joked.

He and Biggers have found far more usefulness on the football field. Rutherford caught the first five passes of his career for 62 yards in the Yellow Jackets’ game against Pittsburgh. Biggers has appeared in four games, totaling four tackles while also serving as Tech’s one-man bulldozer of the opposing team’s punt shield.

But here’s the long and short of the long and short of Georgia Tech football. Zeek & Malik arrived at Tech from opposite ends of the growth chart. But both had to fight the same paradox on the recruiting trail.

For Rutherford, it was proving he’s more physical than his body type suggested.

For Biggers, it was proving he’s more mobile than his body type suggested.

Malik Rutherford caught five passes for 62 yards against Pitt

 

Rutherford was still unranked when wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon II offered him out of Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Fla. Even at slot receiver, a position known for short, shifty playmakers, Rutherford worried that his waifish frame might scare teams away. Most recruiting websites listed him at 160 or 165 pounds; he didn’t have anything to do with those numbers, but Rutherford admits they were an exaggeration.

138-pound players were commonplace in the days of Heisman and Dodd. In 2021 though? Rutherford would likely be the lightest skill position player at the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision level.

“I’m not going to lie. I went to a couple of schools, and that’s what they were telling me. They were telling me I needed to gain, like, 15 pounds,” Rutherford said.

Dixon could have had the same misgivings. With his slight stature, wouldn’t Rutherford be a bug on the windshield of ACC defenses? Yet when he watched his film, Dixon saw a resemblance to a player he coached at the University of Florida: Brandon Powell, a 5-8 slot specialist who’s now in his fourth season in the NFL.

“When I turned his film on, it was very similar to Brandon’s,” Dixon said. “Initial quickness out of this world, [an] ability to make plays down the field. No one could tackle him in a phone booth. The first guy that got there never made the tackle.”

He also saw a trait that made Rutherford play much larger than his size.

“Any ball that came around him, his catch radius was off the charts for a guy that size. And [he had an] ability to create separation. He was one of the kids that excited me from the very beginning,” he said.

Rutherford became Georgia Tech’s first pledge in its 2021 signing class, verbally committing to the Yellow Jackets on November 23, 2019. Over his final two seasons, he led Champagnat Catholic to a pair of state titles, scoring 15 total touchdowns as a junior and senior.

“He was very integral in those games. He had the championship mindset. When you talk to him about the things that drive him, he’s the type of guy in this program that you love to have,” Dixon said.

More Power-5 offers piled up – as well as a three-star ranking from Rivals, 247Sports and ESPN – but Rutherford never wavered from his commitment to Tech.

“I had seen what Georgia Tech was doing. I used to see all the hype videos, like Coach Lew [Caralla] going viral. I just thought it was the right place for me. Me and Coach Dixon, we used to talk almost every day. That’s my guy,” he said.

Unlike Rutherford, it would seem a 6-6, 363-pound behemoth would be a magnet for recruiting attention.  Biggers had girth from birth: he weighed 11 pounds when he was born (not to mention he possessed a last name that practically portended size). He first burst onto the scene at West Rowan High School when he recorded 85 tackles and nine tackles for loss as a sophomore. Yet scholarship offers remained curiously scarce by the time Knight evaluated him.

“I saw the film and I’m like, ‘Man, why does this dude not have any attention or offers?’” Knight said.

“I think he may have had an FCS or small-level FBS offer, maybe. So I’m like alright, let me go see this guy. Because we needed size bad. Obviously, we have some talented guys in this room, but we lacked size at the time.”

Knight paid a visit to Biggers at West Rowan, the same school 45 miles northeast of Charlotte that produced former Georgia Tech defensive back Domonique Noble (2012-15).

“He walked in the room and I’m like, ‘What in the world?’ He walked in like a big giant with a big grin on his face. And that’s all I needed. I just needed to see him in person. Because I knew and I trusted what I saw on film from the evaluation, so once I saw him in person I’m like, ‘Perfect,’” he said.

Zeek Biggers lines up over center against North Carolina

 

Knight’s theory about skinny ankles may have had some merit as well. Biggers played varsity basketball at West Rowan and has dunked since the sixth grade.

“I could always move for my size,” he said.

Knight also acknowledged that the Jackets benefitted from some fortunate timing.

“A lot of y’all don’t know this. Zeek was on campus the day quarantine started. The day that things shut down, he was the last recruit that we had on campus. He and his mom got a chance to see us practice, got a chance to see the facilities, got a chance to meet everybody. So they were comfortable with us by the time it was time to make a decision,” he said.

As for his relatively low recruiting profile, Knight has his theories. The state of North Carolina was loaded with highly ranked defensive linemen in his class. His high school was located “in the country a little bit, off in the cut.” North Carolina postponed its 2020 football season to the Spring of 2021 due to Covid; Knight believes that may have prevented Biggers from getting more offers before the February signing period. Biggers finished the recruiting cycle ranked the 75th-best defensive tackle nationally according to ESPN, though Georgia Tech was his first Power-5 offer.

“That meant something to Zeek. The rest was history after that,” Knight said.

So completed one of the more unorthodox duos in a signing class, the 6-6, 362-pound elephant joining up with the 5-9, 138-pound mighty mouse. And now, both have grinded their way onto the Yellow Jackets’ Above The Line chart, each looking to earn more playing time as Georgia Tech continues ACC play against Duke (12:30 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports).

Biggers first turned heads when Georgia Tech lined him up on punt block against Kennesaw State, sending him on a Zeek-and-destroy mission to detonate the Owls’ punt shield.

“Our guys were going nuts because he ran back there trying to blow up the shield, trying to get his hands on the punt. He embraced that role. You should have seen our GA’s eyes when we practiced that, having Zeek running at him,” head coach Geoff Collins said.

Biggers knows he’s raw – he just turned 18 on Monday. Remarkably, he still has room to grow. But he’s excited to continue his development under Collins and Knight.

“In high school, I was usually one of the strongest, biggest. Now I’m going against guys my size, [who are] stronger than me. It’s definitely been great adapting. I’ve just got to keep working, keep loving the weight room and keep working to get where I need to be,” he said last month.

His roommate also keeps pushing for playing time. With grad transfer Kyric McGowan only available on an emergency basis against Pittsburgh, Rutherford showed last Saturday that he could be a reliable receiving target. He also proved he could handle the physicality of ACC football, as evidenced by his rugged stiff-arm of a Panthers defender on a fourth-quarter catch.

“He’s an ultimate competitor. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He plays with an attitude,” said Collins.

And don’t look now, but Rutherford has started to bridge the size gap. He proudly notes that he’s gained 15 pounds since arriving on campus in June, when Georgia Tech measured him for its official roster page.  He now tips the scales at a robust 153 pounds. Rutherford says he wants to gain another 15 before the start of next season.

According to Biggers, that’s led to another oddity in their relationship.

“He eats more than me,” Biggers laughed.  “I try to slow down a little.”

Meanwhile, Biggers says he wants to get smaller – in the tonsorial sense, at least. He’s grown out his signature dreadlocks for the last seven years; the longest locks cascade down to the middle of the 88 on the back of his uniform. But recently, Biggers realized it may be creating an unfair advantage for opposing offensive linemen.

“I’m going to soon cut them shorter. They keep pulling on them and tugging on them,” he said, smiling.

And with that, Zeek & Malik, the long and short of Georgia Tech football, ambled away to the Yellow Jackets’ locker room, ready to continue their quest to prove they measure up.

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