TaQuon Marshall’s memories of his first August on the Georgia Tech football team – they are not fond.
“My body was really sore,” the Yellow Jackets quarterback said. “I was like, I don’t know if this is for me.”
In those same practices, in August 2015, Marshall could have commiserated with another freshman at the time, linebacker Brant Mitchell.
“Let’s see,” Marshall said, asked recently to recall his first preseason. “Waking up every single morning, getting on the bus and just being sore as crap.”
Many of Tech’s 24 scholarship freshmen likely are enduring the same painful introduction to college football, an achy lesson that the game at this level is far different from the one they left behind. Marshall and Mitchell figured things out quickly enough that they played that season. In the past five seasons, about a third of Tech freshmen have caught up quickly enough to play in their first season on campus.
To Mitchell, who ended up playing in all 12 games as a freshman and starting three, doing extra work was critical.
“That’s one of the biggest things, is spending time in the meeting room and watching film,” he said. “I had no clue what was going on in my freshman year. I was out there doing my best to make my name physically because the mental part, I was not there yet.”
Being confused by the complexity and volume of plays and having difficulty in executing them at full speed is common. Coach Paul Johnson refers to it as “drinking from a fire hose.” Wide receiver Ricky Jeune said that in his first preseason, in 2013, his memory is getting yelled at by coaches.
“That’s what I remember, it being really tough,” said Jeune, who redshirted.
When center Kenny Cooper began practice last August, his eyes were opened.
“You don’t know what to expect, but when I got here, I just realized how different it is from high school,” he said. “When I got here, I just wanted to be able to learn the plays.”
One of his fellow freshmen, B-back Dedrick Mills, said he didn’t know which way to go or what to do, and that was after enrolling early and participating in spring practice. Even when coaches told him which way to go, he said, “I still went the wrong way.”
Mills figured out enough – he won the starting job in the preseason and ended up leading the team in rushing. Cooper, too, digested enough to earn a backup spot behind starting center Freddie Burden, and started in his place against Virginia Tech.
Perhaps recalling their brutal first days and feeling sympathy, Mitchell and Mills are trying to guide this year’s freshmen. Mitchell said he watches video with the freshman linebackers to try to help them learn the defense.
Mills is rooming with quarterback Matthew Jordan at the team hotel, and they are occasionally visited by freshman B-backs Jerry Howard and Jordan Ponchez-Mason, coming in search of answers. Before practice, they have gotten together in an elevator lobby near the locker room to walk through different plays.
“Which foot you’re supposed to step with and stuff like that,” Mills said.
Another proponent for extra work – wide receiver Brad Stewart, who was the only one of three wide receivers in his class to play in his first season, in 2015. In his first preseason, he said he picked things up through extra study of the playbook and watching the older wide receivers as they ran through plays in practice. He called it the “day-after-day grind when a lot of people aren’t watching.”
“People don’t realize it with our offense, but you have a lot of responsibility on the outside,” he said.
Now a junior, Marshall also had advice to pass long.
“Just come in and work hard,” he said. “Just study your plays when it’s time, and when your opportunity comes, make sure you ball out.”