July 14, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Nobody is more determined to find the next great Georgia Tech wide receiver than wide receivers Coach Al Preston, better known as “Buzz.”.
Preston, who brings 30-plus years of experience in coaching and recruiting, has been pretty good at it, as in his eight seasons on the Flats, he’s already helped develop NFL-caliber receivers Demaryius Thomas, Stephen Hill, Kevin Cone, DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. Ideally, he’ll add another name to the resume that emerges from this year’s group, one he plans on being the next ultra-consistent Georgia Tech receiving corps.
Preston will have plenty with which to work, as the Yellow Jackets feature a deep and skilled receiving corps that includes returning starters Ricky Jeune, a red-shirt junior, and sophomore Brad Stewart, but also an impressive group of returning underclassmen and hungry incoming freshmen looking to make a strong case in earning playing time.
Preston offered some insight into what he looks for in Georgia Tech receivers, what he’s looking for from this year’s returning starters and what it he looks for from those looking to get the ball.
THE GOOD WORD: How do you keep guys focused when they may only see the ball once or twice a game?
“BUZZ” PRESTON: “That’s not really hard because when they came here they knew what was going to happen. So from that standpoint it doesn’t matter. They’re going to get opportunities. It goes to performance. If you’re performing well, you receive the opportunities. That’s been the past with all of our guys. At one time we had ‘Bay-Bay’ and Stephen [Hill]. They got plays. We had Darren [Waller] and DeAndre [Smelter], and they got opportunities to make plays. The bottom line is we’re going to utilize whoever is going to be there to make a play and when your opportunity comes you need to make it. Brad [Stewart] made a couple of plays last year for us at key times. Although they tend to be divas (laughs) out at receiver, I don’t worry about it. The thing about players, I’ve realized, and I realized it when I was a player, YOUR evaluation of who you are and where you are is never what the coach’s is, and that’s alright. That’s just the nature of the beast. You just deal with it. You try to treat them all with respect and dignity, demand the best from them and make them accountable for whatever they’re doing out there, and then let the chips fall where they may in the end.”
TGW: One thing you preach is consistency. How difficult is it to establish that?
PRESTON: “That’s the hardest thing guys have. They’ll go out and make a play, and then they won’t make plays. It’s consistency. I’ve always felt and always believed this in coaching, you want a consistent performer, not a ‘sometimes-great’ performer. So if you’re consistent in your performance and execution, then the opportunity to play and have success is going to be high. But if you’re one of those guys where one play is like, ‘Oh, wow!’ and then the next five opportunities you’re not, then that doesn’t help you because those next five opportunities are probably key points in the game, where a play has to be made and you didn’t make it. So a consistent performer is what you’ve got to have. What you have to do, which we didn’t get this spring, is get that consistency, that consistent performance every time they’re out there — in practice and then, when you go on into the game, you get that same thing, consistency. I wasn’t very satisfied with our performance overall as a group in the spring game. I felt we just went out there and did not perform like we should have performed.”
TGW: What is the biggest thing you want to see from leading returning receiver Ricky Jeune?
PRESTON: “The main thing is, if you’re going to be the go-to kind of guy, you have to make plays in key moments. So he’s going to have to make those key plays when it counts. He can work on all the other little things and get better at it, because you should never be satisfied with where you are.”
TGW: Is Ricky someone that has the drive to be great?
PRESTON: “I think they all have the drive to want to be really good. The key is … it’s one thing to have the drive. Now it’s the time when you get out there to perform it. That’s what I’m talking about. When you have key plays in a game where you can make the difference, you have to make those plays. Ricky works hard. All those guys work hard, and they really want to be great. But do you do it in the moment of truth? That’s what it boils down to, being a very successful player or not a very successful player. I’ve coached guys that worked as hard as anybody on the team but then, when you put them out there, they don’t have that mental ability to push through and make it happen. Then I’ve seen guys that do okay but then they rise to that occasion when the occasion occurs. Usually the higher the level you get to that work ethic — and that desire better be strong — then you better definitely perform in that key situation.”
TGW: What do you want to see from Brad Stewart?
PRESTON: “I want to see him perform at a level where he is out there getting it done, sustaining things and pushing through, and when we call on him he’s ready to make a play and understands what he’s got to do. That’s the key for all of them. There’s a great opportunity for one or two or three or four to be a guy that can be the go-to kind of guy. I thought he got stronger. I saw some good things, but I want to see some things get even better as far as getting off the press and doing different things, just going out there and executing what you know you should be doing at times vs. sometimes going back to some of your younger issues. So that’s where I want to see him improve. I want to see that in all of them.”
TGW (bonus): There are a bunch of youngsters competing for playing time. Can you handicap them?
PRESTON: “I saw some good things from [sophomore] Mikell Lands-Davis. He’s a guy that’s played a lot, and I think is going to do well with us out there. Towards the end of the spring I saw him improve and do some good things. I’m looking forward to him being a guy that can help us. [Red-shirt freshman] Harland [Howell] is a guy that has to do some work. He didn’t progress as well as I would have liked, but he’s working hard and we’ll see what happens this fall. He’s got to go out there and be able to execute and get it done, pick it up and understand that you have to be a consistent performer. Hopefully [red-shirt freshman] Christian [Philpott] can stay healthy. If he can get out there and show what he can do then it will all work out. Some guys, in their career, start fast and it goes great. I’m not really thinking about [incoming freshmen] Jair Hawkins-Anderson, Jalen Camp and Stephen Dolphus right now. They have a lot of potential, that’s why we recruited them. We think they have a lot of the physical attributes that you want, they all possess different things coming in. It’s going to be a matter once we get them out there and start working with them see how they function.”