Dec. 21, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
The megawatt smile is still there, but angst is in Jeremiah Attaochu as well. For a time, he’ll have no one place to drop anchor, no home, and that’s unsettling for a young man who is transitioning into the NFL without knowing what position he’ll play.
It’s not just that he’s not sure if he’ll be a defensive end or a linebacker, but he’s not sure where he’ll end up or even where he’s going to go to prepare.
Georgia Tech’s senior defensive end is home in Washington, D.C., trying to figure out parts of his future. Next week, he’ll return to The Flats after Christmas for a day or so, and then travel with the Yellow Jackets to Nashville for the Music City Bowl Dec. 30.
It’s kind of a guess.
The Attaochu family is trying to work that out while he visits for the holiday.
This much he knows: his earnest time on Tech’s campus is finished; Attaochu said he needs 18 hours to earn his degree in Science, Technology and Culture, and he plans to take nine in the spring semester via independent study.
More urgently, after playing in the Senior Bowl next month in Mobile, Ala., he’ll train for February’s NFL scouting combine, which will be in Indianapolis, somewhere under the watchful eye of someone – TBD.
“There is this fear that comes in . . . everything here [at Tech] is safe haven. For me, it’s bang-bang; you play a bowl game and you’re not going back to Tech,” Attaochu said. “It is surreal, but it’s a part of life and you’ve got to move forward. You have to rely on your family and faith to go into the uncertainty of life.
“I really don’t know. I’m selling my bed and my fridge. I’ll leave some of my stuff at a friend’s place, and when I find out where I’ll be then I’ll ship my stuff. I really only have four or five suitcases I haven’t decided yet. I will decide when I go home. I’m researching, and I’m going to work it out with my family. It’s a family decision.”
With 31 career sacks, Attaochu is tied with Greg Gathers (1999-’02) atop the school record book. One more, and he’ll be alone at the top.
This almost didn’t happen. It was too important at the beginning of the season. He tried too hard. With two sacks through the first seven games, he rested 10 short of the school mark with five games left.
Think about that.
Attaochu had almost one third of his career sacks in the Jackets’ final five games.
He had two against Virginia, two against Pitt, two against Clemson, was shutout against Alabama A&M as he barely played, and then dropped Georgia’s Hutson Mason four times on Nov. 30.
That is work.
It was a process. Around mid-season, with counsel from defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Jerry – as many teammates reference Attaochu – lightened up. He simplified his rush patterns, stopped altering moves in the middle of them and just went.
Sacks and QB pressures started stacking up in a hurry, and here’s how he said he did it: “At the beginning of the season, it was a big deal. There was a point, though, where I was thinking I might not be able to do this.
“Definitely I saw my coming back [to school for 2013] was more about leadership, and enjoying my senior year. When I started doing that, everything else started falling into place. When I started thinking about my teammates and others and getting the best out of them, the best started coming out of me.”
When you pull All-America honors, as Attaochu did by being named third team by the Associated Press and CBS Sports and honorable mention by SI.com, good things are happening on a regular basis.
“You knew he had some athletic ability and some quick twitch when he got here, but I don’t think you could ever guess that he’d reach the heights that he’s reached,” Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “To be one sack away from being the all-time leader and to be an All-American . . . that’s pretty special.”
Attaochu and redshirt senior defensive back Jemea Thomas have been twin rudders on the defensive side of the ball.
“His work ethic . . . Jerry brings it, and he really just dialed in the last half of the season. Every play he went out there like it was his last. You could see it in his eyes, and see it in his performance in him leading us,” said junior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
“He’s a great player to be around. Him and Jemea Thomas are the two best players on the team and they show it.”
So the sack record is right there. One sack, or even half a sack and “bang-bang” as Jerry would say, and it’s his.
Whether that happens or not, the next phase is right around the corner
At about 6-feet-2, and around 242 pounds, Attaochu is quite light for what would be a traditional defensive end in the NFL. He may lack the quickness to drop into pass coverage regularly go be considered a linebacker.
There is more work to be done.
“I’m going to do pass rush stuff, and after the Senior Bowl I’ll turn my focus to running and linebacker drills, and movement things,” Attaochu said. “There’s two phases, and I’m trying to figure out how to approach it.
“Definitely an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, or as long as ‘somebody who rushes the passer’ is attached to my job title I’m fine with whoever wants me because that’s what I’ve done well. I haven’t gone home consistently for four years so home is not really home. I’ve got to figure all that out. It’s exciting. It’s also scary.”
Get Sting Daily in your e-mail box — it’s free! Just register here to get the latest features on Georgia Tech Athletics.