By Paxton Delany
Fourth-year coach Paul Johnson led his team to an ACC record of 5-3 and an overall record of 8-5. Georgia Tech started its 2011 season with a six-game winning streak, including ACC wins over North Carolina (35-28) and NC State (45-35). The Yellow Jackets ended their streak after beating Maryland 21-16 when they lost to Virginia 24-21. Miami also defeated Georgia Tech 24-7. Georgia Tech went back and forth the rest of the season beating the Clemson Tigers 31-17, losing to Virginia Tech 26-37, defeating Duke 38-31 and finally losing to their Bulldog rivals from Georgia 17-31. Georgia Tech ended its season with a trip to the Sun Bowl but came out with a heartbreaking loss in overtime to Utah. The Utes crept past the Yellow Jackets 30-27.
GT’s upsetting loss in the Sun Bowl was devastating enough but soon afterward assistant coach Todd Spencer resigned for violation of NCAA rules. Later in March, David Walkosky, recent head coach of Division II Tiffin University football program, was officially named the special teams coach. Walkosky brings much experience at the collegiate level, and should be a step forward for the Jackets instead of backward.
Georgia Tech will be returning many key plays to its lineup this season. Team-leading rushers David Sims and running back Orwin Smith are geared for the upcoming season. Similarly senior quarterback Tevin Washington is returning to lead his team, but close on his heels are sophomore quarterbacks Synjyn Days and freshmen QB Vad Lee. Coach Johnson commented about his three quarterbacks saying “I think all three bring something to the table. It’s really a matter of who can improve the most.” Sophomores Fred Holton (safety) and B.J. Bostic (back) were out of the 2011 season due to injuries, but are fully recovered and ready for 2012. Returning as a starter for the Yellow Jackets is offensive lineman William Jackson, who will be essential to the offense in order to replace those who are not returning like Roddy Jones.
Others not returning include wide receiver Stephen Hill, who was picked in the second round of the NFL Draft by the New York Jets. Julian Burnett, who is suffering from an undisclosed injury that occurred during the Sun Bowl, will not be returning either. Many key defensive players are not returning. The list includes seniors Logan Walls and Jason Peters. Coach Johnson hopes to use defensive end Izaan Cross, T.J. Barnes and Emmaneul Dieke to replace these seniors.
Coach Johnson recruited many new faces for the 2013 season. At least eight new players have committed: Travis Custis (RB), Jeremi Hall (OG), Shamire Devine (OT), Chris Griffin (OG), Kevin Robbins Jr. (DE), Donovan Wilson (RB), Darius Commissiong (DT), and Harrison Butker (K). Coach Johnson also is expecting his most recent freshmen class to step up with experience and be ready for the spotlight. At least 20 of the freshmen class are expected to come off of redshirts to play.
March 26 marked the first spring practice session for the Yellow Jackets. April 7 was the first scrimmage for the Jackets in Bobby Dodd Stadium. “That’s the thing about an intra-squad scrimmage, you can’t win. But, I thought we made progress, I thought we took strides today,” Coach Johnson said. The first scrimmage included an 8-yard touchdown run from back B.J. Bostic. Redshirt freshmen quarterback Vad Lee had 2 rushing touchdowns (9 and 39 yards). Washington, the returning starter at QB, saw limited action in this first scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Al Groh commented on the defense saying, “it was a sub-par performance.” He clearly was not pleased with the performance of the defense.
Seven days later, Georgia Tech had its second spring scrimmage. Synjyn Days (older brother to incoming freshmen Jabari Hunt-Days) had 3 rushing touchdowns. Lee stepped up again with a 2-yard push for the TD. Sophomore Zach Laskey had 1 touchdown and 1 reception for the game. Hunt-Days had the hit of the scrimmage on Bostic. Junior Jeremiah Attaochu had the only interception of the game.
The Yellow Jackets’ final scrimmage, the White vs. Gold spring game, occurred on April 20. Coach Johnson said: “I think we had a productive spring.” The White team led 3-0 at halftime after kicker David Scully made a 41-yard kick, but the second half brought new life to both teams. The defense started the scoring when Correy Dennis’ fumble return turned into a touchdown, putting the White team up 10-0. Washington had a 1-yard TD run to make it 17-0. Days was the leading rusher of the day with 79 yards over 15 carries; he scored Gold’s only points of the night. The final touchdown of the night came from Lee (playing for gold) when he tossed to senior wide receiver Chris Jackson (Alabama transfer), who ran it in for the 31-7 final score. Later in the week Coach Johnson talked about his need to keep what team he had left healthy. “We wanted to stay fairly vanilla. I didn’t want to do a whole lot, we got out of the game tonight and nobody got hurt. That’s what you want out of your spring game,” he said.
Georgia Tech opens its 2012 season on Sept. 3 against Virginia Tech, who went 7-1 in the ACC a year ago. The Jackets face Virginia on Sept. 15. Non-conference games of interest include BYU (Oct. 27) and Georgia (Nov. 24).