Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Lockhart with his mother Tiffany in their home in Birmingham, Ala., May 20, 2019. Tiffany described herself as a "relieved mother" to have her son attending Tech on scholarship. "I'm not worried about a thing," she said. (Ken Sugiura/AJC)

Mike Lockhart is Georgia Tech’s ‘diamond in the rough’

Paying for college was a concern for the elder Mike and his wife Tiffany, although Tiffany believed their son could earn an academic scholarship. Still, they had no interest in a college loan or taking out a second mortgage, and they also have a younger daughter, Tanyah. The younger Mike was a promising basketball player at Huffman High, but as a 6-foot-4 power forward, he was not quite tall enough to be a college prospect.

That spring, though, he tried football at Huffman, but his parents weren’t sure what would come of it. Their son, though, was confident that his football venture would pay off.

“ ‘I guarantee it,’ ” Lockhart said he told his father. “ ‘I’ll have plenty of offers.’ I told him that.”

And, indeed, his prophecy came to pass. On the basis of one season, the scholarship offers came, including one from Georgia Tech. That is how the defensive end from Birmingham became one of the more unlikely members of coach Geoff Collins’ freshman class.

“And that’s what his story was, that sometimes you just have to take a chance,” Tiffany said.

From the time Lockhart enrolled at Huffman midway through his freshman year, Vikings football coach Alex Wilson knew he could be something on the football field. It was obvious to Wilson from watching him play basketball. Lockhart had the size and agility and wasn’t afraid of contact. Wilson encouraged him on multiple occasions to try football, only for Lockhart to tell him he was a basketball player.

College football coaches who came by the school to recruit asked about Lockhart when they saw him in the hallway, and Wilson had to share his lament that he didn’t play football.

Lockhart came around in his junior year, though, telling Wilson that he would join the team for spring practice. Wilson was skeptical until he actually showed up, but Lockhart was committed. (It didn’t hurt that one of those college coaches, from Clemson, invited Lockhart to the Tigers’ junior day just from seeing him in the lunchroom.)

Lockhart had determined that could be his path to getting a scholarship and helping out his family, and also to fulfill a dream of playing collegiately at a high level.

“You’ve got to look at reality sometimes,” Lockhart said. “Look at it and be like, OK, this is what I’ve got to do.”

Wilson was confident that Lockhart could shine.

“I kind of felt like he’d done that before he came out, because he was a big, athletic joker,” Wilson said.

At Huffman’s spring game, “we were shocked,” said Tiffany, a claims specialist for the Social Security Administration. “We were like, Oh. He was making tackles. It was like, Oh, OK, he’s really taking this (seriously).”

Lockhart received some recruiting attention from UAB in the spring, and then interest skyrocketed once his senior season began and he started to shine as a tight end and defensive end. He committed to UAB in October, but withdrew his commitment late in December, after which power-conference offers began to flow in, including Tech in early January.

When he posted news of his offer from Nebraska and hordes of Cornhuskers fans responded on social media, he knew things had changed.

“I’m like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “There’s really people out here writing reports about me getting an offer.”

Lockhart chose Tech over Mississippi State and North Carolina. He said many people figured he would pick Mississippi State, as it’s an SEC school. However, Tech felt like family, Tiffany said, particularly defensive line coach Larry Knight.

“I was looking at both (football and education) because, what if you don’t make it to the NFL?” Lockhart said. “You’ve got to have something to fall back on.”

The decision has delighted his parents, proud of being able to send their child to such a prestigious institution.

“I’m telling people he’s going, anybody I meet,” said Mike Sr., a truck driver. “‘Yeah, my son’s going over (to Georgia Tech).”

It was significant at Huffman also. Lockhart is the first student from any of the seven Birmingham City Schools to enroll at Tech as a freshman since at least 2013, according to Tech’s admissions office. At Huffman, he was a well-regarded student who “kind of led the pack,” according to Candyce Curry, who was Lockhart’s biology teacher and also a sponsor of the basketball team.

“Just keep your eye on him, because this isn’t it for him,” Curry said. “This is a launching pad. I’m sure of that because his heart is in it, and he’ll do well.”

Wilson, Lockhart’s coach at Huffman, called him a “diamond in the rough” because of his potential and limited experience.

“Because you don’t have any bad habits because he played for only one year,” he said. “If he’s committed, there’s no telling what can happen. You can’t teach his size, you can’t teach his speed.”

Lockhart said he’ll miss basketball (interestingly, five of his teammates will play for the football team this fall, following his path). But, as he promised his father a year ago, football has provided opportunity.

“I know it opened up one door already,” Mike Sr. said. “That education.”

This is the fourth story in a series about members of Georgia Tech’s incoming freshman class.

The series so far:

What algebra reveals about Georgia Tech quarterback Demetrius Knight

Nazir Burnett's path to Georgia Tech was not an easy one

Zach Owens brings ‘a chip on my shoulder’ to Georgia Tech

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