By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
David Curry is not interested in being a poster child for any cause, yet he fit the bill the other day, ramping up as if he was just released from a holding pen and then lining up like a sprinter at the start line and waiting to race.
He is so ready to run.
Football — real football — is nearly here and when the subject of Georgia Tech’s season opener came up, he went off.
You can forgive the linebacker for his false start ahead of Alcorn State’s Saturday visit to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Tech hasn’t played in nine months. That last outing was lousy (no details shall be revisited here), leaving the team short of a bowl game and saddled with angst.
A fourth-year junior from Buford who wears No. 32 has a longer, more miserable dry run to rue.
Curry hasn’t played since 2016, no thanks to a lower-body injury that shelved him in ‘17.
Add the fact that the curtain is about to rise on a 3-4 scheme in which new coordinator Nate Woody seems poised to turn defenders loose as if kicking a nest of Yellow Jackets, and there’s plenty to be excited about.
Cue the son of former Falcons linebacker Buddy Curry.
Soon after taking a stand in a small room under the north end zone bleachers with a lectern in front and his school logo plastered behind, he smiled broadly and waited like a quick, impatient cat.
A question came. Bang! Curry heard the report of a starter’s gun.
“Game week’s here. I’m happy, man,” he said. “All of us were excited at the beginning of practice [Monday]. We were jumping around, excited. It’s finally here. I get to hit somebody other than my own teammates, and yeah, we’re very excited.”
You might say Curry is a poster child of another sort. He represents the unique mix of the Tech defense, the young and the old.
Looking at the depth chart released this week by head coach Paul Johnson, the Jackets will start in the front seven two fifth-year seniors, four seniors and Curry, a fourth-year junior.
In the secondary, you’ll have graduate transfer Mailk Rivera at free safety, and then freshmen and sophomores nearly everywhere else. Eight of 11 players listed on the depth chart — with the “Stinger” hybrid linebacker/safety position included — are freshmen or sophomores.
Starting cornerbacks Jaytlin Askew (sophomore) and Tre Swilling (redshirt freshman), and strong safety Tariq Carpenter (sophomore) haven’t played much (chiefly on special teams) or at all.
They’ll all make their first college starts Saturday, as will fifth-year senior “Stinger” Jalen Johnson.
Curry redshirted his first year, played in all 13 games and started one in his second (12 tackles), and limped on the sidelines in his third.
So, he’s an eager connector in the middle of the new Tech defense, where he and fellow inside linebacker Brant Mitchell will join Rivera to form a three-headed quarterback of sorts on the stingy side of the ball.
Theirs is a unique leadership group.
While acknowledging that it’s folly to peg leaders in absolute form for sake of the fact that there is no established criteria to determine that label, tea leaves are there to be read.
Preseason comments made by Tech players and coaches suggest that this defense may have more than a typical number of leaders, and for all the old heads mentioned, the apparent chief in the secondary is a newcomer.
The names of senior defensive end Anree Saint-Amour and senior nose tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson keep coming up in addition to Mitchell in the middle and Rivera in the back.
At Wofford, Rivera played in a defensive system under new Tech safeties coach Shiel Wood, who inherited the defense that Woody installed before moving on to Appalachian State.
“[Malik] is an extremely smart guy. He knows this defense like the back of his hand,” Curry said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes at all, and he’s very vocal now. When Brant and I are looking at each other, boom! He’ll make the call and tell us what we need to do.”
Malik’s name is being called frequently.
He’s of modest size in an outsized Tech secondary, yet the 5-foot-11, 200-pound native of Jacksonville, stands tall among defenders.
The Tech secondary will be young, somewhat foreign (eight of 11 player on the depth chart are from states other than Georgia), athletic and generally big.
Behind Curry, will be the rhymers, Malik and Tariq (6-2, 218). They’re in sync.
“He pretty much knows every position from end to linebacker to safety,” Carpenter said of Rivera. “When he first got here . . . he pretty much gave me like a head start.”
Curry is especially happy now. “Fall” camp is over. The Jackets scrimmaged on last Friday for the final time.
Then, head coach Paul Johnson gave players two days off before another practice. The linebacker joked Monday about going to dinner with his parents on Sunday night, and having an occasion to kneel down. He loved the fact that for the first time in a month it did not hurt.
Curry and the Jackets are jacked up, ready to roll and put the knee to opponents.
He said he felt, “phenomenal” at practice Monday, and he can hardly wait to see Alcorn State’s up-tempo, spread offense Saturday.
“My legs are back under me,” Curry reported. “Tempo, with our new defense everything is run, run, run. I feel like everyone’s really in shape.”
The Jackets are ready to sprint.