ATLANTA (Aug. 14) — The Georgia Tech offense, one of the nation’s best in 1998, returns two of its top three rushers from a year ago, when the Yellow Jackets ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing.
Led by tailbacks Joe Burns (Thomasville, Ga.) and Phillip Rogers (East Point, Ga.) and quarterback Joe Hamilton, the Jackets return 1,436 rushing yards from last season’s squad that averaged 183.7 yards per game.
With such proven commodities already entrenched in the lineup, head coach George O’Leary is evaluating true freshmen Sidney Ford (Lindale, Ga.), and Mike Kitchen (Lebanon, Pa.) to see if any of them might be able to add to the depth at tailback.
“Everybody knows about at Joe Burns and Phillip Rogers,” said O’Leary after Saturday’s morning practice. “I’m interested in looking at the young kids and seeing if they can help us. I think they’ve shown some signs that they have speed and they have burst and acceleration.
“You never have enough running backs,” continued O’Leary. “I know what Burns, Rogers and [Ed] Wilder can do. I think we’ve got to look at some other people and make sure we have enough depth at those positions.”
Burns, 5-10 and 205 pounds, started the final five games of the season and led the Jackets with 474 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-1, 230-pound Rogers was right behind him with 466 yards and two scores, while Hamilton rushed for 298 yards and four touchdowns.
Ford and Kitchen were both honorable mention prep all-Americas by USA Today. Ford, 5-9, 195, was the leading rusher in the state of Georgia as a senior at Pepperell High School with 2,595 yards and 33 touchdowns. Kitchen 5-9, 190, had 1,410 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in only 8-1/2 games in his senior season at Lebanon (Pa.) High School.
Also in the mix at tailback are sophomore Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.), who rushed for 80 yards in one game against Wake Forest, and redshirt freshman Gordon Clinkscale (Doraville, Ga.), who is coming off an excellent spring.
Starting fullback Ed Wilder (Washington, Ga.) also returns after rushing for 118 yards on just 29 carries and catching 11 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Behind Wilder is 6-3, 246-pound sophomore Josh Long (McDavid, Fla.), a convert from linebacker who is coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season.
“Josh is a little rusty after missing almost a year,” said O’Leary, “but he’s tough kid who will put his hat on somebody and get movement. That’s what we’re looking for at that position.
“He’s had to adapt to different positions, but he going to stay where he is now. His attitude has always been great, and I think he’ll be a good role player for us.”
The Yellow Jackets, who open the 1999 season Sept. 4 at Navy, are scheduled to practice in pads for the first time Sunday with a 4 p.m. workout at Rose Bowl Field.