Tech’s Jemea Thomas, Louis Young aim to leave legacy

Georgia Tech cornerbacks Louis Young and Jemea Thomas have one final season left with the Yellow Jackets. That isn’t quite enough for either.

“We’ve got people that look up to us, basically,” Thomas said. “We’re just trying to lead by example for the younger guys.”

In the weeks to come, perhaps the best example they can set is their play on the field. Both are returning starters and figure to be impactful members of the Jackets’ defense. As Tech’s defense seeks a new identity with new coordinator Ted Roof in the lead, the Young-Thomas pairing places two of the defense’s better players in two of the more important spots on the field. Roof said that having two cornerbacks that he can trust in single coverage offers flexibility in play-calling.

“Because when you have confidence in your corners to be able to match up, it’s another tool in your tool belt,” he said.

There can’t be an overreliance on man coverage, but “we’re going to have to mix it up and, when we do, those guys are going to have to be up for the challenge, and I’m confident that they are,” he said.

Young is in his third season as a starter, Thomas in his second. Young is coming off an injury-marred junior season and has worked himself into peak physical condition. Thomas was perhaps Tech’s best defensive player last season, with four interceptions and 86 tackles.

“We kind of feed off each other,” Young said.

They are among the seniors who have caught Roof’s notice for their leadership qualities. Roof, who will have seven senior starters when safety Isaiah Johnson returns from his ACL tear, has been tickled to see older players coaching younger players on the sidelines during practice.

“This senior class, as a whole so far, I’ve been really, really pleased with,” Roof said.

Over the summer, Thomas led late-night drill sessions with defensive backs in the indoor practice facility. Young has taken on something of a big-brother role with cornerback D.J. White.

Said Young, “We want to build something strong in that secondary.”

They will need to be something strong this season. The Jackets will face a series of gunslinger quarterbacks. North Carolina’s Bryn Renner, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and Miami’s Stephen Morris will take their shots at the Jackets in the first half of the season. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Georgia’s Aaron Murray wait their turn at the back end. All five are on the 34-player watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, given to the nation’s top quarterback.

In their aspiration to be the best cornerback pair in the ACC, they’ll have the chance to prove it.

“Everybody wants to be the best, so we’re going to say we’re the best because that’s how we think, basically,” Thomas said. “We’re going to go out there and try to show everybody else.”

They’ll be supported by White, a sophomore who played 10 games last season as a freshman. Given the preponderance of teams using three and four wide receivers, White figures to see the field plenty. In nickel packages, White will play cornerback and Thomas will play in the slot as the nickel back, Roof said, which will remove from White the burden of having to execute both the cornerback and nickel back positions.

“You don’t want to put multiple jobs on young players,” Roof said. “You want them to let them do their thing.”

After Young and Thomas graduate, he may be the position’s future at Tech.

“He’s going to be great,” said Thomas of White.

With one final season, Thomas and Young will try to see to that themselves.