ATLANTA (August 23) — As Georgia Tech concluded two-a-day practices, one thing has become apparent to head coach George O’Leary.
“I think it’s obvious we have a lot more speed on the field,” said the fifth-year mentor in anticipation of the Rambling Wreck’s Sept. 4 season opener at Navy (12 noon, Fox Sports Net).
“We’re not where we want to be from an assignment standpoint, but there has been a lot of good contact. The effort and the competition have been very good.”
O’Leary will put the Jackets through a final dress rehearsal scrimmage Tuesday, which should go a long way toward finalizing Tech’s two-deep lineup. The Jackets will then begin preparations for Navy.
Campbell, Watkins Emerge At Wide Receiver
In junior split end Dez White, Georgia Tech features one of the nation’s top receiving threats, but the Yellow Jackets are developing weapons to complement White with sophomore Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.) and redshirt freshman Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.).
White, an all-America and Biletnikoff Award candidate from Orange Park, Fla., caught nearly 30 percent of Tech’s pass completions last fall. He set a school record with 973 receiving yards on 46 catches with nine touchdowns, tying the Tech mark.
“I really do think we’ve helped ourselves at that position,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary.
“Kerry Watkins and Kelly Campbell are getting more vertical push, and that’s going to open up the field for a lot of different things to take place. That’s a real plus.”
Though slightly built at 5-11 and 170 pounds, Campbell is the fastest player on the Tech squad. He showed promise as a true freshman last fall with 11 catches for 131 yards, highlighted by a 55-yard touchdown catch in the Jackets’ dramatic win over Georgia.
Watkins, a highly regarded prepster who was redshirted last fall, adds another a big-play threat. Along with deep speed, the 5-11, 186-pounder has shown the ability to make things happen after he catches the ball.
The Jackets did suffer a blow, however, with the loss of sure-handed junior Brett Basquin (LaBelle, Fla.) to a broken foot. Basquin, also Tech’s holder and a candidate to return punts, had been enjoying an excellent camp when he suffered the injury late last week.
Kicking Competition Continues
With the graduation of all-America punter Rodney Williams and steady placekicker Brad Chambers, Georgia Tech could open the 1999 season with true freshmen winning both jobs.
Freshman Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.), a Parade magazine all-America, is battling junior Kai Cornwell (Newport News, Va.) for starting honors at placekicker.
At punter, freshman Philip Newman (Marietta, Ga.) has the inside track, with sophomore Dan Dyke (Oviedo, Fla.) backing him up.
“We’ve tried to put the kickers under pressure in practice to simulate game situations and see how they react,” said head coach George O’Leary.
Tillman, Edwards Up For Awards
Georgia Tech senior free safety Travares Tillman (Lyons, Ga.) is one of 37 candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, while senior linebacker Chris Edwards (Warthen, Ga.) is among the 65 nominees announced for the Butkus Award, which goes to college football’s best linebacker.
Tillman, 6-2, 190, is Tech’s top returning defender. He has averaged better than 80 tackles as a starter the last two seasons, including 82 hits, one interception and seven pass breakups while earning second-team all-ACC honors last fall.
Presented by the Jim Thorpe Association of Oklahoma City, Okla., the Thorpe Award winner will be announced Dec. 10.
The Butkus Award, celebrating its 15th anniversary, is presented annually by the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando, Inc. The watch list will be trimmed to 10 semifinalists on Oct. 21, and then three finalists will be announced on Nov. 11. The winner will be named Dec. 10.
A preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection by The Sporting News, Edwards moved into the starting lineup midway through the 1998 season, starting the final five games. The 6-5, 225-pounder was sixth on the team in tackles with 53, along with one sack, two tackles for loss and one caused fumble. He averaged almost nine tackles a game over the final five regular-season contests.
New School Calendar
With Georgia Tech changing its academic calendar from quarters to semesters this fall, the Yellow Jackets will begin school before playing their first game. Classes for Tech’s fall semester begin today, whereas in the former quarter system, classes did not begin until late September, meaning that the Jackets often played two or three games before the start of school.