During practice Monday, Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall gave Stephen Dolphus what constitutes probably the highest compliment he could have offered the sophomore wide receiver.
In a passing drill, Dolphus had to choose a route based on defensive coverage. He could run a “go” route, streaking straight down the field, or a comeback, hitting the brakes and cutting back in Marshall’s direction.
“When he came back, I said, ‘Steve, you’re Calvin, bro. You’re too big,’” Marshall said. “I said, ‘Them boys can’t handle you out there. Just run past ’em and go get it.’”
Given that Dolphus likely will be the Yellow Jackets’ No. 3 wide receiver, a comparison with Calvin Johnson may not be entirely apt. At least not yet. But the potential that Dolphus has shown this spring has made an impression.
“He’s a big body,” Marshall said. “He’ll go get the ball. I love putting it up in the air to go see him work.”
Dolphus, from Macon, redshirted in 2016 and then played in three games last season as a redshirt freshman. With Ricky Jeune graduating, Dolphus has competed with fellow sophomore Jair Hawkins-Anderson and redshirt freshman Adonicas Sanders to win the No. 3 receiver job behind Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp. Johnson said Saturday that he would be “hard pressed” to pick a No. 3 receiver at that point, but would probably go with Dolphus.
Dolphus fits the mold for Tech receivers, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds and long of limb. He is as tall a receiver as has played for Tech in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, tying former Jackets wideouts Stephen Hill and Darren Waller. (Calvin Johnson, who in January was selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, also is 6-5.)
“I definitely have gotten better from my freshman year,” Dolphus said. “I’ve learned how to use my size at all times, be physical at all times.”
Dolphus has another advocate in A-back Qua Searcy, who has watched him progress this spring.
“I guess he just came into the realization that he’s a big body, and he just goes and gets the ball,” Searcy said. “You just throw it up, and he comes down with it.”
Dolphus had a willing tutor and example in Jeune, who flourished after coming to Tech as an unheralded prospect, the same as Dolphus. Jeune is hoping to be selected in next week’s NFL draft.
“If I needed anything, Ricky always had the answer,” Dolphus said. “He may not always speak out, but if I had a question, he always answered. I always liked Ricky. Ricky was a great receiver here.”
Next season, Marshall may not be the only one making the comparison to Calvin Johnson, if only for a superficial reason. With B-back Quaide Weimerskirch leaving Tech as a grad transfer, the No. 21 jersey that Johnson wore with distinction has become available. Dolphus has his eye on that number and No. 4, his high-school number at Westside High. He wants 21, though, because his brother Shannon Smith wears it for West Georgia. Dolphus has worn No. 84 until now.
“I’m going to meet with (Paul Johnson) and see what kind of choices he gives me,” Dolphus said. (Johnson meets with every player after the spring, when some players make requests for jersey number changes.)
After two years in the shadows, Dolphus has a chance to take a step forward to show the promise that he has demonstrated to his teammates.
“(Wide receiver coach Buzz Preston) always tells me, keep my head up, keep working, my time is coming,” Dolphus said. “So I always kept that motivation and moved on. Got better. Now, it’s here.”
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