ATLANTA (July 31) – Featuring 18 returning starters, including all-America candidates in flanker Kelly Campbell (Atlanta, Ga.) and offensive tackle Chris Brown (Augusta, Ga.), the Georgia Tech varsity football players report to campus Friday to begin preparations for the 2000 campaign.
After Saturday’s annual Media Day (4 p.m.), the 77 veterans will join Tech’s 28 freshmen, who arrive Tuesday, for the first full squad practice on Monday, Aug. 7.
Tech, which posted an 8-4 record and earned a third straight bowl berth in 1999, opens camp with a sense of urgency as two of its first three games are against the two teams who played for the 1999 national championship. The Jackets open Aug. 27 at Virginia Tech in the BCA Bowl, and then after a home date with Central Florida (Sept. 2), Tech hosts defending national champion Florida State on Sept. 9 at Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field.
“I think Virginia Tech is a great opening game for us,” said Tech head coach George O’Leary as he begins his sixth season. “I wanted to set the barometer high, and there’s no better way to do that than playing the best quarterback, and maybe the best athlete, in the country in Michael Vick.”
Led by Campbell and Brown, the Jackets return five starters from last year’s record-setting offense, plus nine starters on defense, led by strong safety Chris Young (Senoia, Ga.), as well as starting placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.) and punter Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.). In addition, two 1998 starters return after missing last season with injuries in tailback Joe Burns (Thomasville, Ga.) and linebacker Matt Miller (Alpharetta, Ga.).
The key loss for Tech is, of course, four-year starting quarterback Joe Hamilton, who has moved on to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers after a record-setting career on the Flats.
“Everyone asks who’s replacing Joe Hamilton, and the answer is no one,” said O’Leary. “I don’t care what school it is, you just don’t replace a player like that. The key is that the surrounding cast around the quarterback is so much better now than when Joe took over four years ago.”
Junior George Godsey (Tampa, Fla.), Hamilton’s backup the last two years, emerged from last spring’s four-man battle, but he is expected to be pushed by redshirt freshman Andy Hall (Cheraw, S.C.), who finished a close second.
“We have good enough coaches to put the quarterback in situations where he can be successful, and we have talented enough quarterbacks to get the job done,” continued O’Leary.
“George Godsey won the job in the spring, and rightly so. He moved the ball, he made fewer mistakes and he knows the system. He knows that the job is his for the first snap, but the other quarterbacks will have to play better than they did in the spring to beat him out.
“I like preseason competition. I think in double sessions, you find out what you’re all about. I like to see how they perform in that second practice of the day, when it’s hot and they’re tired and aching.”
Campbell, who set Tech records last fall with 69 catches for 1,105 yard and 10 touchdowns, highlights a deep group of receivers, while the running game features Burns, who rushed for 474 yards in 1998, junior tailback Sean Gregory (Homewood, Ill.), 837 yards, 13 touchdowns, and senior fullback Ed Wilder (Washington, Ga.), 6.7 yards per carry, one touchdown. Brown and senior guard Brent Key (Trussville, Ala.), another all-star candidate, are the only two returning starters on the offensive line.
Tech looks to be much improved on defense after starting three true freshmen last season. That trio-linebacker Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.), 91 tackles; defensive end Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.), 71 tackles and 18 tackles for loss, and free safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.), 69 tackles-were three of the Jackets’ top four tacklers last fall. Young, a junior, was second on the team with 89 hits, plus one interception and five pass breakups.
“I’m very confident that our offense is going to be potent,” said O’Leary. “Will it be as potent without Joe, I don’t know, but we’ll be able to do the things we need to do to score points.
“The key to our season is not offense, but defense. We return enough big-play potential on offense, so the key will be just how much we’ve improved on defense. I’m very encouraged because in the spring I saw major improvement in the defense, and that didn’t surprise me because we used so many young players. The biggest improvement in players is from their freshman to their sophomore seasons, and I saw that this spring with our young players. I see a lot more speed and athletic ability on the defense.”
JACKETS PICKED FOURTH
Georgia Tech was predicted to finish fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in a poll conducted by area media representatives at the annual ACC Football Kickoff last week in Hot Springs, Va. Tech, which finished tied for second place last season with a 5-3 conference record, trailed Florida State, a unanimous choice for the top spot, Clemson and Virginia in the balloting. North Carolina, Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest and Duke round out the poll.
TRANSFER POREE JOINS JACKETS
Albert Poree, a cornerback from New Orleans, La., has joined the Tech program after transferring from Notre Dame. The 5-11, 195-pound sophomore played in five games for the Fighting Irish last fall before a mid-season knee injury. Poree, who attended St. Augustine High, will sit out the 2000 season and then have three seasons of eligibility beginning in 2001.