Feb. 26, 2018
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Even with so much that is unpredictable in the world, it’s a lock that Georgia Tech football fans will be surprised to learn that players are routinely laughing at each other in offseason workouts.
When they get around to playing tug-of-war, it gets crazy.
And dodgeball? Will Ferrell would have been perfect in that comedy show.
Tech’s offseason program is not merely about lifting weights and running.
Head coach Paul Johnson and the rest of the Yellow Jackets football coaching and support staff have turned the grunt work into bonding opportunities so it’s not like, you know, heavy lifting.
The Yellow Jackets are deep in a semester-long competition that sees the roster spread into seven teams of 13-14 players each, and they get after each other in pursuit of points in the classroom, the weight room, running and more.
So, they’re fully engaged in a rewards program.
“It’s an incentive . . . ” said senior-to-be linebacker Brant Mitchell. “The dodgeball game was pretty fun. A bunch of guys got drilled in the face. You have all these guys who haven’t played these games in forever. It’s good to kind of go back to your childhood.”
That said, this is not child’s play.
The program was rolled out in 2016, and points are available based on traditional offseason metrics — such as improvements in the weight room and body composition and performance in conditioning sessions — as well as non-football-related measures, including highest grade-point average, participation in community service and weekly non-football competitions like dodgeball and tug-of-war.
Points are deducted for student-athletes missing or being late to classes, tutoring sessions, meetings with academic advisors, workouts and/or breakfast.
“Everybody really takes pride in which team has the most points . . . ” said senior-to-be quarterback TaQuon Marshall. “It’s a daily motivation thing. We’re constantly telling guys every day make sure you’re doing the right thing, going to class.”
TaQuon and fellow seniors Andrew Marshall and Lamont Simmons were diligent in choosing their team. So were Mitchell and fellow senior-to-be Clinton Lynch drafted theirs.
This process began with Johnson empowering the rising seniors as front-office officials.
“We go into the staff meeting room and we have every single name all up on a board,” Mitchell said. “You try to make the best decisions on which of your teammates will provide the best chance to win … Which guys are going to work the hardest?”
While competition doesn’t end, Marshall said the goal is to raise the collective tide.
“In a sense, you don’t want to see any other teams lose points because you know the team overall suffers,” he explained. “You want your team to have the most points, but the goal is to get the whole team collectively to go the right direction.”
In addition to prompting players to work toward spring practice, which will begin after Georgia Tech’s spring break near the end of March, this program teaches responsibility and prompts student-athletes to evaluate, adjust and account for themselves.
As much as anything, this program encourages peer-to-peer accountability, and the draft process is critical.
So is waking up teammates for pre-breakfast workouts.
“There are guys who don’t get picked (early),” Mitchell said. “It kind of exposes some people. The guys that get chosen last are the ones that nobody wants on on their team. It is a motivator . . .
“You’ve got to be accountable to yourself, but also the guys next to you. It means a lot more coming from your peers because they’re doing the same things you’re doing . . . if it’s not one of us (captains making early-morning phone calls to wake up teammates), it’s the guys that are rooming with them. It’s trying to teach accountability.”
Although Johnson separated seniors into front-office positions, he and the coaching staff have had little to do with this program because NCAA regulations limit the time coaches are allowed to spend with student-athletes. Strength and conditioning coach John Sisk and the rest of the player development staff have more access to student-athletes.
The coaches show up, though, for tug-of-war, dodgeball and so forth.
“[Coaches] see what’s going on,” Mitchell said. “Even in those competitions, you can see the competitors. You can kind of see fourth-and-goal on the one yard line.”
Marshall said, “[Coaches] see the guys who really like to compete and get down to it. The coaches are really observant.”
And it’s fun.
“Especially in dodgeball,” Marshall said. “I wasn’t really paying attention, and got hit right in the head. People were slipping and falling in tug of war. The hype around everything is kind of hysterical.”