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#TGW: How The Deck Is Stacked

July 31, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

It’s a strange deal showing up in a hotel lobby to sort through more than 100 college football players trying to figure how the deck is stacked for the 2014 season.

Georgia Tech’s Yellow Jackets “reported” for summer camp Wednesday, and as they streamed into and milled about the lobby of their hotel while waiting for rooms to be readied, the search was on for leaders.

Obvious candidates on either side of the ball – right guard Shaquille Mason and linebacker Quayshawn Nealy – moved about with gravitas.

They’re going to need help, however, and so a casting call was sent out for lieutenants on the criteria of back stories.

Adam Gotsis and Justin Thomas leaped into the frame.

They have roles to fill that go beyond stat sheets. One of the goals of summer is to, “Get a good chemistry going.” Thomas said. “Our offense rotates a lot of people, so chemistry is even more important.”

Gotsis is the only returning starter among defensive linemen, so there’s work to be done there not only by way of body count, but in the search for glue.

He seems excited about the two-plus weeks the Jackets will spend in their hotel rooms before moving into dorms and apartments just prior to fall semester.

“I just think it eliminates all the distractions. You don’t have to pay attention to all this other stuff,” he said. “Being as busy as we are during the school year . . . it’s good that we can bond, whether it’s playing X-box or cards, just building that camaraderie. We need to be able to trust each other, and be friends.”

The big Aussie is right about that.

Beyond teams so over-stocked with talent that agents circle like flies, or a singular quarterback or running back — as in Heisman caliber — and pretty good players elsewhere, no squad can compete for a title without good or great chemistry.

We’re talking peer-to-peer leadership here, the kind where a small group of players polices a much larger group without alienating. At the age of the Jackets, no coach — head or assistant — can keep everybody in line, on task and utterly accountable. At some point, people — especially in groups — have to regulate and divine themselves without the law having to step in and lay down protocol at the risk of seeding resentment among the rank and file.

Social order is best built through those ordered rather than ordering.

Gotsis and Thomas are similar, other than one of them is from Australia while the other is from Alabama, one is huge and the other quite not, one is a quarterback, the other sacked quarterbacks five times last year.

Really, though, they’re the same in that teammates on their respective sides of the ball are already looking to them for signs.

Gotsis has earned his spurs already by diving into his freshman year of American football two days after his flight landed from Aussie land in 2012 — without any summer workouts at Tech or anything — and playing significantly as a true freshman, and playing as a potential All-ACC player last fall.

Their personalities are different, but not diametrically.

Thomas is soft spoken, but not to the degree of Tevin Washington or Josh Nesbitt. Yet he has nowhere near the future prospects as a radio DJ as Vad Lee.

Gotsis grins and smiles a good bit. He will not, though, seek out a microphone. He loves what’s going on in his life, and, if asked about it, he’ll tell you in a fashion made more interesting by that Crocodile Dundee accent. Otherwise, he just plays.

Frankly, the defensive tackle has a better idea of the pecking order on defense than Thomas does on the offense.

When it comes to leaders and those with potential, he said, “We’ve already got a few like Quayshawn, Jamal [Golden], Isaiah [Johnson].”

A junior, Gotsis also mentioned sophomore D.J. White. That’s not the first time White’s been mentioned; he’s had a fantastic offseason.

Coaches will sift through the next four weeks of summer camp to distill their depth chart. Players will sort out their leaders.

There will be a connection between the two processes.

Thomas, who like Gotsis followed a roundabout recruiting process to Tech as he first committed to the University of Alabama as a defensive back before deciding that he wanted to try quarterback on the Flats, will not be a Johnny Manziel-type field general, at least not right out of the box.

No way.

“I’m not loud vocal, but if I see something where [teammates] can be better I might pull them to the side,” he said. “I like to lead by example, and just go 100 percent and try to keep it going. I’m comfortable with that.”

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