April 18, 2018
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Heading into spring practice, Georgia Tech wide receivers knew that playing time was up for grabs.
That philosophy worked perfectly for third-year sophomore Stephen Dolphus, who at 6-5, 210, was a power forward at Westside High School in Macon, Ga. But he was better known for his exploits on the football field, where he set the school record for career receptions.
As Georgia Tech’s spring practice concludes with its annual spring game on Friday night (7 p.m. – Bobby Dodd Stadium), Dolphus has played himself into the mix for significant playing time this fall.
“[This year’s spring has] been quite different because I had Ricky [Jeune], Antonio [Messick], Brad [Stewart], [Jalen) Camp in front of me,” he said. “I went from learning to having to lead some guys. So it’s been kind of different taking reps, watching film, getting better.”
The process of going from unquestionably being the guy in high school to hopefully being a guy in college wasn’t easy. But Dolphus used not seeing the field as the driving force to get him back on it.
“It was actually motivation,” said Dolphus, who has played in three games as a Yellow Jacket. “I didn’t put my head down. [Wide receivers] Coach Buzz [Preston] always said, `Keep your head up. Keep working. Your time is coming.’ I always kept that motivation. Got better. Now it’s here. I definitely have gotten better from my freshman year. I’ve learned to use my size at all times. Be physical at all times.”
That physicality makes him a potential match-up nightmare on the outside, where blocking is a major part of the job description in Georgia Tech’s spread option offense. Using that asset is something Dolphus loves.
“That’s what I looked at coming in as a freshman. I knew I had the physicality to play in this offense,” he said. “I’ve never been a selfish player. I enjoy blocking. I enjoy blocking for my teammates and seeing the big pass open up.”
Dolphus not only has no problem doing what head coach Paul Johnson requests blocking-wise, he’s getting used to taking requests from veteran quarterback TaQuon Marshall.
“Quon, after a play, he’ll always come to me and tell me, `That’s what I want,’ or `This is what I want,'” Dolphus said.
Marshall went out of his way to tell Dolphus what he wanted during Monday afternoon’s practice and used a unique analogy to motivate him — invoking the name of the most famous 6-5, physically imposing wide receiver to start outside at Georgia Tech, Calvin Johnson.
“Steve’s a big body, man,” said Marshall. “[Monday], he ran a route and I thought he should have run a go-route and converted it. When he came back, I said, `Steve, man, you’re Calvin, bro. You’re too big. Those guys can’t handle you out there. Just run past them and go get it.’ He’s a big body. He’ll go get the ball. I love putting it up in the air and seeing him work.”
Of course, it’s unfair to Dolphus to make such a comparison, but if he can keep that motivation the burgeoning wideout could play a big role in the Jackets’ offense in 2018.
Teammates have noticed this spring that desire in Dolphius.
“I guess he just came to the realization that he’s a big body and he’s going to go get the ball,” said senior A-back Qua Searcy.
At Westside High School, Dolphus got more balls than anyone, grabbing 52 as a senior for 832 yards and nine touchdowns, en route to all-state recognition. Before choosing Georgia Tech, he’d make visits to 13 other schools, including Florida, Louisville, Virginia, Wake Forest, Central Florida, South Florida, Mississippi State and Appalachian State, where, ironically, he would have gone up against the defense of new Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Nate Woody — the defense he now practices against every day.
He has no choice but to do so now, but is having fun now that he’s locked in on the right approach.
“Just be consistent every single day, look for improvement every single day, take reps,” he said.
His consistency could go hand-in-hand with his senior quarterback’s, who has made it a mission to be more consistent in the passing game in 2018. Teaming up consistently would be fun — the kind of fun Marshall plans to show on Friday night.
“Just get in front of the fans and show them what we’ve been work on this spring,” he said. “It’ll be exciting because this whole spring, we’ve just been going up against each other, no crowd. So it’ll be exciting to get the crowd into the game and kind of get things going.
“Especially getting off the line, I can see things a lot better,” he added. “The guys up front are giving me a great amount of time so I can go through my reads pretty quickly and can get the ball to the playmakers.”
Searcy believes Georgia Tech fans would enjoy get used to seeing Marshall going deep more accurately and using Dolphus as a playmaker for whom the ball’s intended.
“Especially with deep balls, I feel (Marshall’s) gotten a lot better about ball placement,” said Searcy. “We’ve also got great guys there that get in position that he has a place to throw the ball. You throw it up, (Dolphus is) coming down with it.”