TaQuon Marshall and Brant Mitchell will take the podium soon to talk about Georgia Tech football in a tidy, formal situation. Yet when they meet with hundreds of members of the local and national media on Wednesday at the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte, their appearances will be formality.
And if they’re inspected, dirt might be found under their fingernails because the Yellow Jackets’ captains have been digging in to help Tech climb up.
The seniors were verified months ago as leaders, all the way back in January, when Tech voted for team captains before a season for the first time in the 11 years that Paul Johnson has been head coach.
“With 20 seniors on our roster, I felt that it was important to go ahead and select two team captains now to lead us through our offseason program,” Johnson said in January.
Perhaps Tech’s chemistry will be more important in the goal to improve upon last season’s 5-6 record than the fact that so many offensive starters return or that new defensive coordinator Nate Woody is transitioning Tech to a 3-4 alignment.
The Jackets need to get after people, and their chances are better if they get after each other first. Rather than relying on strength and conditioning coach John Sisk and the coaching staff to set the pace, Mitchell and Marshall have been leading the way.
“I thought it was appropriate; we needed to establish some leadership,” said Mitchell, the linebacker from Knoxville. “I think sometimes if you don’t have that, it kind of gets a little diluted. You know the old saying, the player-led team is the best team. Coach [Johnson] has said that before. I totally agree. You get peer-to-peer leadership.
“There’s no better way to do it than hold the guy behind you accountable. If you have somebody that’s on your same level . . . getting up a 5 o’clock, working as hard as you every day. You can have somebody barking at you . . . but if you have a guy right beside you doing the same thing, there’s no excuse.”
Few have done things like Marshall.
He will be familiar to ACC media members at the Charlotte Westin after setting a single-season school record for quarterback rushing yards with 1,146 in just 11 games in his first season as a starter last year.
You’re not a foreign actor when you land on the watch list for the Maxwell Award for the “College Football Player of the Year,” as Marshall and junior B-back KirVonte Benson did on Monday.
Marshall splashed in his debut as a starter when he rushed for 249 yards and five touchdowns on 44 carries in last season’s season-opening 42-41 double-overtime loss to Tennessee in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
He believes that the early election of captains has been a positive, and he’s comfortable in his role. That’s hardly a surprise. He’s been vocal since arriving four years ago from Harris County High School.
“I think it’s more of having a set-in-stone leader in the offseason to push guys to make sure they’re going the right direction,” he said. “I definitely think it’s been a good thing. Brant’s been speaking up a lot. We also have a lot of other guys speaking up, so it’s not always me and Brant sounding like recorders.”
Johnson said the Jackets will add a third co-captain in the fall, and they already have more leaders than Mitchell and Marshall. TaQuon listed teammates Qua Searcy, Brad Stewart, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Lamont Simmons among those pulling extra weight.
Mitchell’s appointment has pushed him out of a comfort zone.
“I’ve never been much of a talker . . . I’ve always led by example. I’ve never been a vocal guy,” he said. “But that’s something that I’ve tried to do a little more this offseason. Quon, he’s always had that vocal leadership.
“I think we both have a great work ethic, and I think our teammates see that, and that’s probably one of the biggest reasons our teammates voted us. We both work hard. We hold each other accountable out there on the field, there’s going to be less mistakes and a better result.”
“I’ve definitely seen him step out of his comfort zone. He speaks up every day,” Marshall said of Mitchell. “He’s very vocal.”
And Brant is checking out everybody’s threads, as the Jackets apparently have a new fashion cop.
“One of the big things we’ve tried to do this offseason is wear the same gear [in workouts],” Mitchell said. “We’ve still got some guys who want to do their thing. I’ve kind of stepped up and said, ‘We’re going to wear the same thing, look the same.’
“I’ve kind of established the standard that we’re going to work as hard as we can.”
Marshall said, “I just stay consistent, speak up when I need to say something, when I think I need to get off my chest. This past season, we didn’t get to where we want to go. I try to push guys, bring guys with me.”