June 15, 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
You may not have heard much about Ricky Jeune, which is about right because Georgia Tech’s leading receiver doesn’t say much and the Yellow Jackets don’t throw often. He wants to change these realities and chances are he’s going to make noise this fall, not that the football figures to be in the air much more.
Hard to miss when nearby, the 6-3, 212-pounder has typically rolled stealthily while starting the past 25 games for the Yellow Jackets.
“He’s quiet, leads by example,” said Tech wide receivers coach Buzz Preston. “He’s not one of those guys who sits there and — yap, yap, yap — talks about it.”
The fifth-year senior has a new plan for his final collegiate season, not that he’s going to yap in his excitement about an offense that returns nine of 11 starters. He’s even had a chat about this with head coach Paul Johnson.
“I’m not a vocal person. I lead by example. I spoke to coach about it; this year I want to be more vocal,” Jeune reported. “He feels like people will listen because I’m not just a talker. I lead by example. I want to have a breakout year.”
Jeune’s 25 receptions paced the Jackets last year.
No catch was bigger than the 26-yarder he hauled in on third-and-10 late to keep alive the drive that beat Boston College in the season opener when Dedrick Mills ran it in with 35 seconds left.
The Jackets went a long way for that one, all the way to Dublin, Ireland, and Jeune’s come a long way from Spring Valley, N.Y.
He redshirted as a freshman, played in 12 games in 2014 and has started every game since.
“He’s improved immensely,” Preston said. “He’s made the progress that you hope a guy will make who works as hard as he does. He’s just got an understanding of what it takes, always improving every part of your game, understanding the game and how it has to be played.”
Much of this upswing can be pinned to reading an opponent’s secondary and its coverage — whether on a pass play or a run — and making the adjustments against it to succeed. Breaking a pass route or taking the right angle to block, these have been Jeune’s greatest growth areas on the field.
“I’ve definitely improved with route-running and reading the defense,” he said. “That definitely improves with experience. I’ve been here going on five years. The faster you can read a defense, the better you can run routes.”
Fans surely wonder what will come of the quarterback position, where Justin Thomas departs after three seasons as a starter. Junior Matthew Jordan has a leg up on the spot, although there will be competition later this summer once practice begins from fellow junior TaQuon Marshall and redshirt freshmen Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson.
Jeune professes no favorites, working out with all of the potential pass-throwers in player-led sessions every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and on Saturday mornings.
That’s on top of team workouts in the weight room (and running) under the eyes of strength and conditioning coach John Sisk and his staff before every crack of dawn, Monday through Friday.
“My freshman year, I was like 225 [pounds]. I’ve really slimmed down. I’m in the best shape of my life. I feel great,” Jeune suggested. “The quarterbacks are working their tails off. It’s going to be interesting to see what Coach does.
“Our strength and conditioning coaches have upped the workouts. This is the hardest offseason at Tech since I’ve been here. The value is going up in everything. As a team, I feel like we’re closer, and we’re putting in extra work, even on Saturday mornings.”
Life is not all about football. Jeune will graduate in December with a degree in general business. He’ll have just one class this fall: strategic management.
He’d love a shot at the NFL and to become the latest in a long line of Georgia Tech wideouts that led to Tech being tabbed as college football’s “Best Wide Receiver Factory” by ESPN this spring. But, while joining the likes of Demaryius Thomas and former teammate DeAndre Smelter in the NFL is a distinct possibility for Jeune, he continues to work as hard off the gridiron as he does on it.
“Hopefully, I can continue playing football, but always have a plan B,” Ricky said. “Maybe I could be a consultant with a big company, use my Tech degree to the fullest.”
Preston’s just about positive that the future will work out for Jeune, in the near term as a leader among the Jackets and down the road, whether in football or business.
“He may be quiet within you and me, but his teammates probably have a different view,” the coach explained. “Rick’s not one to walk around and talk about how great he is; he just goes about doing it. He’s done a great job of growing.
“He’s going to be doing an internship during his senior year like Smelter and Tyler Melton before him, set that stage for after football. Whether it works out in the NFL or not, they’ve got themselves set up for life after football.”
It’s nearly time to put a bow tie on his college career. Having become a man in body and spirit, Jeune intends to tie it tight with a sense of heightened ownership.
“It feels like yesterday that I got on campus yesterday. Waking up at 5 in the morning can really mature you,” he said. “I want this year to be my best year at Tech. I really feel great about the team this year.”