“The expectation from the outside world is not very high. That’s OK. They don’t know what these young men have done, what these young men have invested in the program.”
Growing up in Conyers, Collins had some fuzzy dreams of one day playing defense for Georgia Tech. He remembers Saturday morning phone calls from the Yellow Jackets’ defensive back coach, but those faded and he ended up walking on at Western Carolina, later earning a scholarship there.
“It’s always been a dream to be here, and now I’m here and I’m excited,” he said. No one expected him to feel otherwise.
Players will be hard-pressed in this camp to keep up with the head coach. Matching his energy level now becomes a workout onto itself.
The new coach brings with him a catalog of change, a shock to the system of a team that had fallen into an 11-year Paul Johnson habit. The biggest, of course, will be the abrupt transformation on offense, from Johnson’s option attack to a more 21st-century approach.
But there will be multiple other differences in form and function meeting these players. For instance, their new coach doesn’t believe in depth charts. Players will be arranged either as above the line (capable of contributing that week) or below the line. During the season, those who started the week before will be listed in bold. ATL doesn’t just stand for Atlanta any more. Now it’s also Above The Line.
The new guy explains his eccentric way: “I don’t believe in naming starters, I don’t believe in naming backups. The second you get labeled as a backup you start preparing as a backup, you start practicing like a backup. But if you know you’re going to play and get meaningful reps because of your preparation and how well you do in practice, you’re going to practice like a starter, you’re going to prepare like a starter.”
The season figures to try even the most upbeat man’s resolve. Those players above the line will be faced with undergoing a quick, month-long metamorphosis into a new-look football team before unveiling themselves at Clemson. The Tigers will be unveiling something of their own that evening – the stadium signage extolling 2018’s national championship. Yes, the Jackets will be walking into a working juicer that night.
The season holds little promise from that point forward. Crack conference beat writers, having just discovered that Collins’ first name begins with a “G,” then got together and decided Tech would finish last in the Coastal. Vegas sharpies have put the Yellow Jackets over-under win number at four. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way this wind blows.
The coach, of course, is undeterred.
There may be the big question about finding a quarterback to trigger a new kind of offense. But, said Collins, “When we took the job the question mark was how well do they throw? And when we got out there that first day of spring ball and saw them throw, and then saw the body of work they put together in their improvement and development, we were really pleased with that group.”
And his offensive line must learn a whole new kind of blocking physiology. “We inherited a system where with the offensive linemen, 80 percent of their weight was on their front hands for 11 years (blocking for the option). There’s nothing wrong with that but now we’re developing into a system where 60 percent of their weight is on their instep, like they do at the next level. That learning curve for the organization has been most felt on the offensive line,” Collins said.
But no matter. He is excited.
“I get paid every day to talk football and coach football and be around great kids. It’s awesome,” he said. “I have an absolute blast doing what I do. I’m having fun with it. I have a great staff that affords me the opportunity to set the vision we have for Georgia Tech football, and they take it and run with it.”
A self-described “Star Wars” nerd, whose father pulled him out of school to see the first batch of films as soon as they were released, Collins is conflicted when asked which character he might most relate to when he hits the field with his team. A little Yoda, a little Obi Wan, sure. But also a Darth Vader – “A bad dude, man,” Collins said.
Whatever, it seems there is a kind of very positive force that’s always with this one. That will be much needed this season.