July 14, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Quayshawn Nealy has been around awhile, long enough to see that it takes more to build a quality football team than having coaches assemble talented players, pump up their muscle masses, make them faster and turn them loose on a field.
He’s come to believe whole-heartedly that “chemistry” can mean as much or more than anything else in his game of choice.
Given that, news that Georgia Tech’s senior linebacker loves the synergy and respect he’s seeing among the Yellow Jackets ought to be a good sign.
Nealy is eager to see if his hunch is correct that the Jackets are sharing vibes better than ever in his time on The Flats.
Tech players report for fall camp on July 30, two weeks from Wednesday, but Nealy doesn’t need to wait until then to see positive results. He’s seen them building.
“A lot of things are coming together, a lot of guys are bonding,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of things together. I just feel like the whole team atmosphere is going to be better. Guys are willing to take extra steps, and make themselves better. Besides football, we live together and do a lot of things together.
“If we don’t communicate or talk amongst each other and build that brotherhood . . . that’s where a lot of teams fall off. You want to know what your brother is going to do on the field. It takes time to build that kind of relationship, to have respect and trust.”
As a pending fourth-year starter who has started 32 of 39 Tech games since redshirting in 2010 out of Lakeland High (Fla.), Nealy’s been around a few blocks on and off the field.
He’s seen good and not-so-good chemistry.
At no point will he single out poor examples of the past, and he’s not Pollyanna to where he’ll suggest that everything is perfect with this edition of the Jackets.
There have been glitches in the system from the end of last season up to the present. The human element is as real at Tech as anywhere.
The 6-foot-1, 236-pound ball hawk has a feeling, however, that these Jackets are better at building from negatives, better at growing up rather than sideways.
Tech has had a few discipline and academic issues recently, and they’ve hurt.
Yet Nealy said these uncomfortable moments have not been debilitating as much as they have served to illuminate. A few failures have helped light the right way.
The success of a human system is often derived to a degree from the interpersonal relationships of the people who comprise its parts. Nealy believes there are signs that the Jackets are simpatico.
“We’ve lost some guys, and some guys aren’t going to be playing in the first game [or more] because some guys were playing around and not doing things to uplift the team,” he said. “Coaches have built a zero tolerance for that.
“It’s a learning experience. To see a teammate go through something like that can be humbling, and it lets you know where coaches are coming from. As we say, those guys are anchors; they bring a team down. Those guys are being selfish and thinking of themselves. To be a successful team, you can’t think about yourself.”
Nealy, who along with offensive lineman Shaq Mason will represent Georgia Tech at the ACC media days July 20-21 in Greensboro, has individual goals although he’s not ready to talk about them.
He tied for second on the team last season with 66 combined tackles and assists, and he has been around the ball for the duration of his career on The Flats. He has six career interceptions, six pass breakups and three fumble recovers in addition to 197 career tackles. He has scored on both an interception and a fumble return.
To hear him tell it, he’d trade that.
“I definitely want to accomplish a lot of things for myself, but team goals [which have not yet been set] are way more important,” Nealy explained. “I want to win a championship, get to a bowl game, win a bowl game.
“I would be real selfish . . . to just think about myself because it’s my senior year.”
These Jackets have not been doing a lot different from recent teams, but Nealy feels like the bonding process is going better.
Many players trekked to the Campus Recreation Center to play basketball together back in the winter (that has ended for sake of injury prevention as the football season approaches), and that’s not all.
“We’ve taken the liberty to go to Dave and Busters and have a little fun, play games,” he said. “We go to each other’s houses and play 2K and FIFA. We’re going to eat in different places. We were playing basketball, and diving off the diving boards [in the CRC] . . . doing all kinds of things as team other than working out.”
The Jackets are coming together, and slotting themselves into leadership roles.
“Definitely guys have emerged in weight lifting and things like that,” Nealy said. “[Cornerback] D.J. White, he has really stepped up and into a comfort zone. He’s being more vocal, performing. When we run, he’s always No. 1, always leading the pack. A lot of guys are showing up and getting better. I can definitely see it.”
There’s enough heavy lifting in football that help is required.
Nealy values the sense of shared pain, sacrifice and success more than ever.
“I feel like it’s possible for us to win the ACC championship,” he said. “We improved defensively in a lot of ways last season, and that was just the first season in a new defense. We’re definitely more familiar with the defense.
“The guy next to you is putting in on the line for you . . . The closer you are, the better because you’re all trying to reach one common goal. To know that your brother is fighting for you . . . makes all the difference.”
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