While no official record is available, it can be safely assumed that none of the 28 football players at the ACC Kickoff event attempted to downplay his team’s chances Sunday.
That said, Georgia Tech guard Shaquille Mason and linebacker Quayshawn Nealy did their best to affirm that their optimism is based on more than good feeling and happy thoughts.
“The summer workouts are going great,” Nealy said. “Guys are going the extra mile, going the extra distance and the team chemistry is better than any year I’ve been there, definitely.”
Similar pronouncements have been made by past Yellow Jackets, not to mention members of perhaps every team to ever attend a preseason media function, before seasons such as the Jackets’ 7-6 effort in 2013. But Nealy and Mason stood resolute in their conviction of a different Tech mindset.
They spoke of a collective focus on finishing well to avoid losses to teams like Georgia, Miami and Virginia Tech, when they came up lacking in the fourth quarter.
“It was one of the key emphases we tried to instill in everybody’s head – finish the drill, whether it be through the line, through the cone, through the bag – finish strong,” Nealy said.
Mason, among the fittest and strongest members of the team, has been encouraged by other players trying to push him.
“They’ll even start suggesting like, Hey, let’s go ahead and get a couple more (sprints),” Mason said.
He singled out center Freddie Burden, in line to win the starting job despite not having played a single college snap.
“He’s tried to step up a little bit,” Mason said. “He challenges me every day in sprinting and conditioning, as well.”
Nealy said that players who sometimes tried to coast through sprints are now sustaining their effort throughout the runs. He sang the praises of defensive tackle Shawn Green, who is slated to start after three injury-marred seasons.
“He always has struggled with running, but this year, he’s in top shape,” Nealy said. “He’ll be running in the top of the pack with this guy (Mason).”
Nealy said that it’s common to see 10 or 12 players in Bobby Dodd Stadium on a Saturday (players have conditioning workouts during the week) working out together.
“They want to make the team better, and want us to get better as a whole,” Nealy said.
Cornerback Lynn Griffin has an insatiable workout appetite, staying after team workouts to perform footwork drills on his own.
“Lynn always stays after, no matter what,” Nealy said. “We can be at the workout, I’ll be dead tired and that guy has another gear.”
Mason said that the offense, in anticipation of operating at an up-tempo pace, has been preparing for it by simulating drives at game speed after workouts.
“It’s very effective as of now, but we’ll see how effective it is come camp time when we’re in full pads and all that,” Mason said.
Improved conditioning will be imperative for a team that will have to replace most of its offensive and defensive lines and lost its starting quarterback (Vad Lee), its top two running backs (David Sims and Robert Godhigh) and its All-American defensive end (Jeremiah Attaochu), among others.
And it will probably take more than that. Nealy sees team chemistry improving, pointing out gatherings hosted by defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Most recently, nearly the entire defense drove to Roof’s home in Gwinnett County to watch a World Cup match. Other coaches have done likewise with their position groups.
Linebackers coach Andy McCollum “was supposed to bring us to his place,” Nealy said, “but he just got married, so I don’t know.”
Male bonding has its limits, evidently.
“I feel like chemistry-wise, we’re right there,” Nealy said. “Everybody is on the same page. I feel like this is going to be a great year.”
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