“They have taken that to heart,” Gailey said just before signing day in February 2007 and nine months before his firing. “They believe that we can get there.”
Under coach Paul Johnson’s stewardship, Tech won the 2009 ACC title — which the NCAA took away last summer and the school is appealing — on the strength of 2007 signees Derrick Morgan, Joshua Nesbitt, Morgan Burnett, Jonathan Dwyer and others.
“Technically, we didn’t win a championship, but if you ask any of us, we’ll say we won,” Melton said.
The aforementioned four are on NFL rosters; Morgan was drafted 16th overall by Tennessee in 2010. No fewer than 13 of the 20 signees have graduated or are on track to graduate this spring, either at Tech or elsewhere.
“I’m proud of what we as a class accomplished,” Jones said.
While the Jackets ended Georgia’s seven-game winning streak in 2008, the 2007 class ultimately finished 1-4 against both the Bulldogs and rival Virginia Tech. The Hokies twice won narrow victories over the Jackets to deny them more shots at ACC titles. In 2010, a year after going to the Orange Bowl, Tech had its first losing season since 1996.
However, Tech went 5-1 against Clemson over the past five years (including an ACC Championship game) and 4-1 against North Carolina. With a win, the class could earn its third season-ending Top 25 finish. Tech’s record from 2007 through this season is 41-24.
“I feel like I went out there and fought with my brothers, and my brothers fought with me,” Jackson said. “What the outcome was was what the outcome was.”
Jones sometimes wonders what might have happened had the class all redshirted and played out its eligibility. Morgan, Burnett and Dwyer played as freshmen in 2007 and declared for the draft following the 2009 season.
“I give Dwyer a hard time about it every now and again,” Jones said. “He should have stayed for a couple more years, just hanging with me.”
Instead, as Jones put it, he and his remaining teammates are the last of the Mohicans. Former linebacker Albert Rocker, who accepted a management position with Microsoft over the summer, will watch the Sun Bowl at a Tech alumni event in Los Angeles. Burnett is a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers, preparing to win his second Super Bowl ring in as many seasons.
Nesbitt made the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad as a safety and was signed to the active roster in November, once again playing for Gailey.
Former wide receiver Willie White, who transferred to a Kansas junior college after the 2008 season, is on track to earn a criminology degree from Missouri State in the spring.
Back home, Jackson, who gave up his final season of eligibility to prepare for law school, will enroll at Georgia State in the fall and is engaged to be married in June.
His groomsmen include three 2007 signees — Jones, Peters and Rocker — as well as another former teammate, Robert Hall.
“Our class was literally like a group of brothers,” Jackson said.
The last of them will complete the voyage Saturday.