Aug. 5, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
– It’s a long way from Aug. 4 in Atlanta to Dec. 6 in Charlotte, N.C., but the journey toward the ACC Championship Game seemed a little bit more realistic following Monday afternoon’s practice, the Yellow Jackets first in pads in 2014.
Of course, just how long that journey is also became obvious — a LOT more so.
“It was hit and miss,” said head coach Paul Johnson of the two-hour practice, which included 20 minutes of actual hitting — quarterbacks were off limits. “I thought there were some good things. A lot of mistakes, a lot of wide eyes. You start playing a little faster. There’s a lot to work, on.”
The players welcomed back full contact, although they certainly felt it and realized the practice was just a first step in a long process. Red-shirt senior A-Back Deon Hill agreed with Johnson about there being a lot to do.
“I was a little winded today, but I guess that’s the whole part of coming back,” said Hill. “It’s basically the hitting. You already know all your assignments. It’s just fitting up, making the right blocks, making the right runs, reading the right blocks, making the right plays.”
Johnson admitted that the day was a special one, unprecedented, he kidded, in that he was able to go three-deep on the offensive line in drills.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever gone three’s since I’ve been here,” he said. “It was fun. I think the one’s and two’s appreciated it.”
Among the one’s that appreciated everything was senior right guard Shaquille Mason.
Mason, a three-year starter, obviously knows the drill, from the adjustment in going to full pads, to doing so in the sweltering temperatures, which on Monday hovered in the low-90s with plenty of Atlanta’s signature humidity.
“It’s an adjustment because everything’s more high-tempo. You’re going against the defense,” said Mason, a 2013 first-team All-ACC selection, who enters 2014 as a potential All-America candidate. “When we’re in just helmets and shorts it’s more just installing stuff. In full pads you’re going through it, executing and hitting the defense. It’s a lot of adjusting to do.”
But nothing was going to bother him. In fact, he appreciated the all-around effort that he saw Monday.
“It was a nice day. Guys were flying around, getting after it. Exactly what I expected for the first day,” he said. “It was hot out there, of course. But when you’re out there just fighting for each other it doesn’t matter.”
The 6-1, 311-pound Mason not only was inspired in fighting for his teammates, he was determined to pick a fight with the heat, going out of his way to do so, intentionally wearing a long-sleeve, team-issue camouflage shirt underneath his pads.
“The heat bothers me but this is something I’m doing in this camp trying to make myself uncomfortable, to get myself in better shape for the season,” he said. “I’m making myself uncomfortable, trying to fight through it. You definitely feel the heat but it’s mind over matter. You just try to block it out.”
Getting the opportunity to block, period, always makes the first day in pads a special one for red-shirt senior A-Back Synjyn Days.
“This is my strong suit with the pads on, all the contact and everything,” he said, breaking into a smile. “It was a pretty good first day out there. A lot of people breathing hard just because we’re wearing pads and everything but besides that everything was looking pretty good at every position.”
Days enjoyed flying around and getting in contact with guys on the other side of the ball.
“We had little scraps,” he said. “But that’s love between teammates, just being ready to hit somebody. Today there was a lot of excitement on the offense and defense.”
It’s all good amongst teammates, he explained. Just what he called tough love.
“You might be mad at somebody on one play but at the end of the day, that’s your brother,” he said. “We’re both fighting for the same goal, which is to be the ACC champs. We’ve been grinding this off-season. I’m ready for the first game so we can show the fans what we’ve been working on, showcase that.”
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