Georgia Tech wide receiver Ricky Jeune (2) runs for a touchdown as Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds (22) and defensive back Mook Reynolds (6) give chase during the fourth quarter of a football game on Saturday, Nov.11, 2017, in Atlanta. (Photo/John Amis)
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Georgia Tech’s Ricky Jeune: Quiet, steady, almost to the end

Two years ago in Durham, N.C., Georgia Tech wide receiver Ricky Jeune announced himself as the successor to the Demaryius Thomas-Stephen Hill-DeAndre Smelter line.

On a wet and bleak afternoon, Jeune was a bright spot in the Yellow Jackets’ 34-20 loss to the Blue Devils. In the fourth start of his career, Jeune caught four passes from quarterback Justin Thomas for 91 yards, including his first career touchdown.

Two seasons later, Jeune’s Tech career is winding down. Including Tech’s game Saturday, when the Jackets return to Duke, he has three games left in the white and gold, if the Jackets make a bowl game.

“It definitely came fast, and it’s been a fun ride,” said Jeune, from Spring Valley, N.Y. “I’m looking to go out with a bang.”

He hasn’t been the most spectacular wide receiver in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure. Others have been faster and bigger and created more sensational moments. But his mark on the Jackets has been firm all the same – consistent, quiet, team-first and steadily improving.

“I think Ricky changed his body a lot since he came,” Johnson said recently. “He’s leaned up, gotten stronger, probably increased his speed. I think he’s worked really, really hard at his craft, and he’s improved a great deal from the time he came in.”

In 34 career starts – every game since the start of his sophomore season – Jeune has caught passes in all but three of them, not a small accomplishment in Tech’s run-heavy scheme and an acknowledgement of the trust that quarterbacks Justin Thomas and TaQuon Marshall have placed in him.

His 70 catches for 1,407 yards rank behind only Demaryius Thomas for Tech wide receivers in Johnson’s tenure. His 10 touchdown receptions are third behind Thomas and Smelter. He has shown dependable hands, the coordination to adjust his body in the air to the ball and an ability to use his body (he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds) to shield off cornerbacks and position himself for catches.

His most recent catch was among his more memorable. With the Jackets down 22-21 to No. 17 Virginia Tech with less than seven minutes to play, he scored on an 80-yard touchdown reception from Marshall for the game-winning score.

Lined up in a three-point stance outside right guard Shamire Devine’s right shoulder in Tech’s “overload” formation, Jeune sprinted free off the line and was wide open to run under Marshall’s play-action pass and outrun the pursuit to the pilon. It helped Tech finish a game with the upper hand, a challenge the Jackets have had trouble meeting this season.

Jeune’s contributions have far exceeded his receptions. Training under wide receivers coach Buzz Preston, he has been an exceptional perimeter blocker, a dutiful and effective piece of Tech’s run game. Any number of long runs down the sidelines in the past three seasons have been made possible by Jeune clearing out the alley, driving cornerbacks downfield or pinning them against the sideline, a one-man cordon. Against North Carolina in September, B-back KirVonte Benson said he knew it was an “automatic touchdown” when he broke free on a run and saw Jeune locked on a defensive back.

“When Ricky has his hands on, nobody is getting off him like that,” Benson said.

It is effort like that that has gained the respect of teammates. Despite being a quiet sort, Jeune received the second most votes among offensive players for captain this season, Johnson said.

“Rick’s not really a big talker,” A-back J.J. Green said. “He’s more just laid-back. He’s much older than us, so he’s just real chill. When he does talk, though, when he does speak, people are going to listen. It’s like, You said something. When he does speak, guys are going to tune into that.”

Jeune is on track to graduate in December with a degree in business administration. He arranged his course load, in fact, so he would just have one class to take this semester to complete his degree.

And there’s the three games: the return appointment to Durham, the Georgia game and, pending a win in either, a bowl game.

“Of course we want to win out, but right now we’re just focusing on Duke,” Jeune said.

It’s been a good run for Jeune, who chose Tech over Purdue and Rutgers and was ranked the No. 81 receiver in his class by 247 Sports.

After the season, Jeune will take a shot at the NFL. Johnson believes he’ll get a chance. He would seem either a late-round pick or perhaps more likely an undrafted free agent. He probably won’t overwhelm with his measurables, but his highlight reel will tell more of the story.

As is usually the case, Jeune will let his actions speak for him.

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