Hopefully you read the series of profiles on seven members of the incoming freshman class at Georgia Tech, all of whom were gracious enough to invite me into their homes, meet their families and give me a lot of their time. I shouldn’t be surprised, given that the same thing happened last year when we did this for the first time, but it’s remarkable to me that, even at a relatively young age, they all had a story to tell about how they had reached this point in their lives.
Anyway, there were details and observations that didn’t fit into the stories that I thought were worth sharing.
1. It was remarkable to me that so many of their parents are educators. Both of Pejé Harris’ parents. Justice Dingle’s mother. Both of Christian Malloy’s parents. Jaylon King’s mom. That’s six out of 14. Harris’ mother is a middle-school principal and King’s mother is an assistant high-school principal.
On a related note, three parents (the fathers of Jaylon King and Justice Dingle and the mother of Tijai Whatley) have engineering degrees.
Almost any prospect and their family will cite education as a reason for selecting the school he’ll attend, but it seemed like a genuine priority with each of the families I spoke with.
Jaylon King’s mother, Scheniquah, said Tech made an impression with its presentation of the team’s academic support services.
“Well, (other schools) talk about it, but I don’t think they sell it as much as Georgia Tech does,” she said. “Other schools we visited, they also said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a study program. We’ll set you up with tutors and all that,” but it was more like a 10-second spiel, and let’s move on to the next thing. Whereas Georgia Tech, they were, ‘Hey, let me get our academic guy to meet with y’all and explain to you what we do.’’’
Something I heard more than once was that parents didn’t want to voice their preference during the recruitment process, but were secretly hoping their sons would pick Tech in no small part because of the value of the degree.
It speaks a bit to the emphasis that Tech coaches have placed on recruiting private schools, in hopes of a greater likelihood of finding prospects and families who will be drawn to a challenging academic experience. Perhaps the next filter is finding athletes whose parents are teachers.
2. I’m pleased to now know the history of Justice Dingle’s name. Justice Lee Dingle is actually a Junior and the third generation with the name. (Dingle’s grandfather was merely Justice Dingle with no middle name.)
Dingle’s father didn’t like the name growing up, and went by Lee.
“When I got to college, everyone was like, You know, Justice, that is a unique name,” Justice Sr. said. “So it kind of grew on me.”
He started to go by Justice. When his wife, Tonya, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Justice Sr. determined the name would go forward, boy or girl.
“I always told him that your name carries a lot of weight with who you are, and it speaks volumes for you,” Justice Sr. said.
Justice Jr. said he likes the name and intends to give it to his first-born child.
Justice, it turns out, isn’t entirely uncommon. According to Social Security data, it has been in the top 500 for most popular boy’s names in the U.S. from 2000 through 2010. In 2000, the year Justice Jr. was born, it was the 390th most popular name for boys, right between Leo and Guillermo. He was one of 656 Justices born that year.
And, no, Justice’s younger brother’s name is not Peace. It’s Jordan, who is a rising sophomore and a promising tight end who already was getting recruiting attention at spring practice at Bowling Green (Ky.) High.
3. For different reasons, I’m curious to follow the careers of each as they unfold at Tech. A-back Dontae Smith has some shiftiness as a ball carrier and, in terms of straight-line speed, will be one of the fastest players on the team.
Among other qualities, A-back Tijai Whatley has really good size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) for the position. He’ll be, in fact, the biggest A-back on the roster. Cornerback Jaylon King has a great body for the position and an impressive work ethic. You could say the same of linebacker Justice Dingle, who I can envision getting into the two-deep this fall.
B-back Christian Malloy is an under-the-radar prospect, and he’s got a tough climb on the depth chart (he’s got a junior, sophomore and redshirt freshman ahead of him – KirVonte Benson, Jerry Howard and Jordan Mason), but he’s recovering from an ACL tear and should only get faster and more agile. One thing that struck me in writing about quarterback James Graham was that his high-school coach called him the most athletic player he had coached. Wide receiver Pejé Harris has good hands, a physical style and seems to have a really clear idea of how to get better.
4. The most impressive training regimen I heard – Christian Malloy ran up and down Stone Mountain. And this was after he was done doing weightlifting workouts with his father, Leonard, who had done the same training program with Christian’s older brother Tra.
“They hated that word, ‘Stone Mountain,’” Leonard said.
5. A place I’d be more interested in learning about: Fitzgerald, Georgia, home of James Graham. You drive east off I-75 just north of Tifton through farmland and pine groves and it pops up out of nowhere, this town laid out on a grid lined with homes with wraparound porches.
Fitzgerald was founded in 1895 by Civil War veterans from both the Union and Confederacy. Streets are named after Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant and other notables from the war. There’s also a lot of wild Burmese chickens roaming the streets.
It may not come as a surprise that Fitzgerald also loves football. Jason Strickland, who coached Graham for his first three seasons at Fitzgerald High, said he has never been anywhere like it.
“I’ve told folks – I really believe this – that the Atlanta Braves could be playing in the World Series and those people aren’t going to know it,” said Strickland, now at Pierce County High. “Those people aren’t going to have a clue. But they know the Hurricanes are playing on Friday night. It’s just a great place for football.”
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