Depending on the perspective, the weather has either cooperated for Georgia Tech’s preseason or it hasn’t. Beginning with the first practice Aug. 3, the Yellow Jackets have had a steady stream of afternoon practices with temperatures in the high 80s or low 90s with high humidity
The conditions are miserable for strenuous exercise while wearing gear weighing about 10 pounds for two hours-plus in the afternoon heat. But they’re great for testing mettle.
“I think there’s some mental toughness involved, certainly,” coach Paul Johnson said of practicing at a high level under such conditions.
Pushing through the aches and the heat has taken a toll on the Jackets.
“Just got to turn the engine back on, keep going,” offensive lineman Will Bryan said Monday. “There comes a time where everybody gets a little tired, you get a little worn out, but I think we’re over the hump already and we’ve already started to apply the pressure again, and today was a good day of practice for us.”
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The following day, which Johnson surmised might have been the worst weather-wise of the preseason, Tech did not handle as well.
“We struggled with it,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys beat up, banged up.”
For a team whose 2017 season was defined by its inability to finish games and hold leads, the drive to push through the heat and practice with focus takes on extra meaning. The Jackets’ season was ruined by four games in which they held two-score leads before losing, three of them in the final minutes.
“The biggest thing we’re working on is sort of fighting through adversity,” guard Parker Braun said. “We’re such a young team. Usually, when we have a bad play or a bad drive, that tends to spiral down. So that’s the biggest thing we’ve been working on, is sort of coming together when things are tough, and when we’re down in a game or when we’ve had a bad drive, coming together and trying to turn the momentum around. That’s really been the overarching focus throughout camp, I think.”
To Braun, the solution has been addressing the matter to the team, listening to leaders and having the awareness to recognize the challenge and the significance of meeting it. He recalled a practice earlier in the preseason when sun and heat followed rain, which then was followed by a poorly executed period of practicing the option.
“But we sort of came together and (quarterback TaQuon Marshall) talked to us a little bit about not letting it get to us and sort of coming together and fighting through that adversity, and we did,” Braun said. “We ended up having a good day of practice.”
Marshall said that when practice drags, he speaks to the team, or at least the offense that he directs. He said that the Jackets have to have a mindset of bouncing back from a bad play or a bad period of practice.
“Like when things aren’t going well, I try to get the guys up and say, ‘Hey, this is like a game,’” he said. “Especially after a break (in practice). How are we going to finish the practice? Because the break’s like halftime for us. I tell the guys all the time, How are we going to finish the practice? Make sure the energy’s there, make sure everybody’s paying attention, so when it comes time to go ‘O’ vs. ‘D’ again, everybody’s locked in and everything’s going.”
It’s a platform that Marshall has earned through three seasons and was acknowledged in his being voted captain along with linebacker Brant Mitchell in January.
“He tries to push through,” Johnson said. “I think our kids respect him. He’s one of the guys that, probably, when he talks, they listen.”
Tech will have its second scrimmage Saturday and after that, the focus will turn from teaching schemes and practicing offense vs. defense to getting ready specifically for Alcorn State in the season opener.
The work rate has met Braun’s satisfaction, at least. Before the start of practice, he had said that this preseason was the most excited he had felt of his three years at Tech because of the energy and rededication he felt within the team. That feeling had persisted through a week and a half of practice.
“For sure,” he said. “I mean, I’m more excited after seeing everybody work after 10 days.”