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#TGW: First and Goal

Aug. 1, 2015

By Jon Cooper
The Good Word

Day One of 2015 Fall Camp is in the books for Georgia Tech Football.

No one knows if the Yellow Jackets, ranked 17th in the nation, are bound for another Coastal Division championship and a berth in the ACC Championship Game, and, another BCS bowl — ideally the four-team national playoff.

As little is known of the individual pursuits and whether quarterback Justin Thomas is on his way to capturing the Maxwell Award, the Davey O’Brien Award, or the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award (although he did complete several long passes in 7-on-7s). The same can be said of defensive tackle Adam Gotsis and the Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award, DB Jamal Golden regarding the Paul Hornung Award, center Freddie Burden about the Rimington Award and several other Jackets in pursuit of various honors ranging from preseason awards to All-ACC honors.

Following a day in the 70s, just in time for the break in brutal 90s temps, head coach Paul Johnson was positive — as positive as he’ll ever be after a Day One of Fall Camp.

“It was the first day. The energy was good, a lot of learning going on. That’s what the first couple of days are for,” said Johnson, who didn’t seem any more or less confident about his chances of garnering the Dodd Trophy, for which he is on the preseason watch list. “It’s good to get everybody back out together, the whole staff and the group, the players. Getting back into the grind.”

All that is known for sure is that the team is all together.

Together is the key word.

This team, which returns eight starters on defense from the team that blasted No. 7 Mississippi State in the Capital One Orange Bowl (the unit also gets back Jabari Hunt-Days, who played 13 games, starting seven), and five offensive players (including Thomas and four starters on the offensive line), knows all about the good things they did but also understands that was 2014.

They also know they are in 2015 and a lot is expected from them. It starts with the No. 17 preseason ranking, marking the third time a Yellow Jackets team has started the season in the top 20 in the Paul Johnson era, but the first time in five years. It is the best starting position since 2010, when the coaches picked the Jackets for No. 17 and the writers started them one higher. (There’s no need to conjure up that season.)

But following Saturday morning’s practice, no one expressed much interest in the polls.

“You can’t even look at it. Last year we were ranked fifth and we ended up winning [the Coastal],” said Gotsis. “You have to take it, as the coaches say, with a grain of salt. You have to go out there and handle business. Take it one week at a time and the way it plays out it plays out. At the end of the day it’s going to take a team effort and every individual buying in and doing their job. We all know what we can achieve and how hard we need to work.”

“We just treat that the same as we treated it last year. We don’t pay any attention to it because preseason doesn’t really mean anything,” said Golden. “It’s how you are at the end of the season. Preseason is good and everything but we don’t really pay that much mind.”

Jackets players took similar sentiments toward their individual preseason accolades.

“That was good but it’s kind of like the polls. It doesn’t mean anything until you actually play a game,” said Burden of being named to the Rimington Watch List. “I can’t get a big head or anything. I have to keep playing and prove it to myself. Preseason is going into the season. I haven’t done anything this season. I just have to keep on working.”

If anything, all this fanfare in the Jackets’ direction is cause for caution.

“You have to be careful about it because they didn’t pick us last year and we won it so we can’t let it get to our heads this year,” said White. “But it’s definitely nice to see the program getting respect.”

Fans can be assured that complacency will not be an issue.

“Complacency is the No. 1 factor in failure,” said Golden. “Guys aren’t complacent. Guys are coming out to work every day and we know what we have to do. We want to get back to Charlotte and we want to get another ring. We can’t be complacent and satisfied with going 11-3 last year because this team hasn’t won a game yet so we have something to prove.”

“I think we still have the fight and grit that we had going into last year,” said Burden. “I still feel like we’re the underdog against a lot of teams.”

The focus and single-mindedness has been contagious and has been the norm all off-season.

Gotsis recalled that even during what he called basically his one week of fun during the summer — a trip with friends down to Tampa, Fla., for the Sunset Music Festival — he had business on his mind. There were no “what happens in Tampa stays in Tampa” moments.

“No, no, no. Too much to lose to do anything stupid like that,” he said. “In the back of your mind, when you’ve got something as big as this season coming up for us, it’s not about the individual. It’s about the team. I’m sure everyone had some good time to themselves, had some fun, but we’re back and it’s all business now.”

One day at a time, the Jackets expect to be that way until January 12, at the earliest.

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