Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins celebrates the on- and off-the-field contributions by players against Virginia. (Video courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletics)

Geoff Collins dishes out praise to heroes, walk-ons, process

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins spoke Tuesday at his weekly news conference in advance of the Yellow Jackets’ game against Virginia Tech at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Among other things, he recognized players of the week, the effort of wide receiver Malachi Carter and gave an update on the inculcation of his culture and processes.

Personal hero

Collins mentioned that Saturday’s game is recognized as “Heroes Day,” when the athletic department recognizes military personnel (active and veterans) and first responders.

The athletic department also is asking fans to nominate veterans for a VIP experience that includes four tickets and four pregame sideline passes. Collins mentioned that he tries to honor first responders by using an offseason workout that incorporates the rigors of firefighting, such as carrying fire hoses. (Collins wore the “ProTech and Serve” T-shirt that players were given for the workout.)

“In our culture, the highest honor that you can be considered is to be considered a great teammate, and being a great teammate, it’s giving of yourself for the betterment of others,” he said. “And I think all of the military service, veterans, first responders, that’s what they do on a daily basis for all of us.”

Collins said he wanted to nominate his father-in-law John Haynes, who served in the Vietnam War in the Army. Collins said that, as both his biological and stepfather have died, “the role that he has played in my life is nothing short of special, and I’m lucky that he’s my father-in-law.”

(Fans can nominate veterans and are asked to e-mail the veteran’s name, dates of service, branch of military and a photo to gtmarketing@athletics.gatech.edu by 5 p.m.)

Practice update

Collins said that, in Tuesday morning’s practice, the team had “as good of a team run/team force period as we’ve had all year. That’s just a credit to the leadership that is in our program.” (Team run/team force is a live 11-on-11 period.)

Players of the week

Collins recognized quarterback James Graham, linebacker David Curry and tight end Tyler Davis as the “3 Stripe Life” honorees for their play against Pittsburgh.

“And the cool thing culturally of that is all three of them are single-digit guys, and I think that’s cool that they’ve earned the right to wear those numbers and went out there and played at a high level,” Collins said.

Defensive tackle Chris Martin, quarterback Lucas Johnson and guard Connor Hansen stood out for their support on the sidelines. Martin made the trip despite not being able to play because of injury “because he has such an impact in the D-line room in particular.” Johnson, who was dressed but not available, helped Graham prepare during the week and was in his ear on the sideline. Collins said Hansen supported guard Mikey Minihan, who played most of the snaps at right guard that Hansen had been playing in recent weeks.

Collins also made a point to mention by name all 14 of the walk-ons who were on the travel roster — center William Lay, defensive tackle Djimon Brooks, slot receiver Josh Blancato, long snapper Cade Long, linebacker Taylor McCawley, tight end Dylan Leonard, cornerback Devin Smith, offensive linemen Chet Lagod and Hamp Gibbs, defensive lineman Hinson Fowler, running back Spence Massey, quarterback Liam Byrne, long snapper Jack Coco and linebacker Olin Broadway.

“Just wanted to make sure we recognize these young men that we’re blessed to coach have names and we recognize their effort and their contribution to this team is really cool and we’re proud of them,” Collins said.

(Collins did not name the developmental players of the week, but they were wide receiver Marquez Ezzard, cornerback Kenan Johnson and cornerback Devin Smith.)

Short week coming up

With Tech playing a Thursday night game against N.C. State after its game Saturday against Virginia Tech, Collins said that the team has begun implementing its plan to ensure that players are physically and mentally ready to play on short rest next week. He said that football research and analytics coordinator Pat Boyle and director of applied sports science Ryan Horton have overseen the development of the plan, which originally was used when Temple played on short rest last season. (The Owls beat Tulsa 31-17 at home in a Thursday night game played after a Saturday game.)

Collins declined to offer any specifics about it, “but it’s worked well for us and we will continue to do it.”

Injury bug

Collins made note of a statistic provided by assistant athletic director for communications Mike Flynn (“Mike Flynn is awesome at what he does,” Collins said) that 13 players who had been on the “above the line” chart for at least one game this season were not available to play against Virginia. Collins then said that “we don’t even worry about” not having players out with injury or spend “a minute’s thought” about it.

“We expect everybody that gets to play in the white and gold to play at a high level and, even with 13 ‘above the line’ guys not playing in the game, we still had a chance” to beat Virginia, Collins said.

Malachi Carter

Collins praised Carter, who made a sensational effort on his 25-yard touchdown catch against Virginia.

Carter had not caught a pass in the previous two games, “but that didn’t change his thought process, it didn’t change his mindset, it didn’t change his work habits,” Collins said. “It elevated even, maybe, his preparation habits.”

Carter’s catch, Collins said, was evidence of the benefits of continuing to work and follow the processes laid out by Collins and his staff.

“ ‘Just stick to the process, good things are going to come’ is the message and mindset, and Malachi is living it and breathing it, and then he has success,” Collins said. “It’s going to continue to come for him. We’ve got a lot of really good receivers in that room. Coach (Kerry) Dixon does a great job coaching them.”

More about the process 

Regarding his efforts to institute better preparation habits, Collins said he brought up with the team a video of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott doing pregame drills Sunday that caught widespread attention on social media.

Prescott, who was quarterback at Mississippi State when Collins was defensive coordinator there, is a favorite example of Collins for his leadership and commitment. While Prescott took some ribbing on social media, Collins found it an example of his devotion to practicing his fundamentals.

“He never wastes a rep,” Collins said. “Anytime.”

Collins said that players such as Graham, Curry and cornerbacks Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton have begun to grasp the benefits of preparing at a high level. Collins said that it was “happening more and more,” noting that other cornerbacks such as Myles Sims, Jaytlin Askew, Kenan Johnson and Jordan Huff were paying attention to Swilling’s lead.

“Then they learn to do those things at a high level and, collectively, when you have a travel roster of 72 that are all functioning at that level, really good things happen,” Collins said. “So these are the building blocks of what it takes to be an elite program and collectively play at a very high level on Saturday.” 

Assessment of Virginia Tech’s offense

Collins: “They’re very multiple, but it starts and ends (with the fact that) they’ve got really good players and, obviously, coaches that are getting their guys in good positions and matchups and those kinds of things. But the thing that we always focus on is us — setting edges, building walls, running to the ball, leveraging everything, tackling at a high level and flying around and making sure we’re trying to create turnovers.”

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