To Georgia Tech’s tradition of gold-painted vehicles, the Chaos Cruzer joins the ranks in the non-ramblin’ category. In coach Geoff Collins’ first spring practice, a $150 beach cruiser has become a one-speed representation of his vision for the Yellow Jackets and one more way in which he is trying to fashion an elite team.
“Any way where we can be creative and just feed energy to our kids,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said. “If they think it’s cheesy, it’s cheesy. If they think it’s cool, it’s cool. Right now, they think it’s cool, so we’ll build off it. We’ll see how organic it is.”
The origin story of the Chaos Cruzer is not quite an epic tale. The walk from the Tech locker room to Alexander Rose Bowl Field, where the Jackets practice, is about a half-mile, a journey that may seem longer when wearing full pads and particularly after an exhausting practice.
Cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich had the idea of awarding a player use of a bike to ride to and from practice based on the previous practice. He shared it with Thacker, and Collins weighed in.
“O.K.,” Thacker said, quoting the text message. “Awesome. Triple exclamation points, emoji, emoji.”
Thacker said he took his children Caroline and Bear on a spring-break shopping excursion, visiting two Targets and two Walmarts before laying eyes on a Huffy Nel Lusso, a ride merely advertised as “specifically designed to be the most comfortable bike you ever ride.”
Thacker took home the Nel Lusso (Italian for “in luxury”), disassembled it, spray painted it gold and put it back together, adding a facemask where the front basket might have been. Since spring practice began, it has been awarded to the defensive player who played with the most effort and created the most chaos (for example, takeaways) in the previous practice. It has been dubbed the “Chaos Cruzer.” (It’s also called “Goldblooded.”)
“Everything that we’ve talked about as a program, it’s an effort-based program, and then beyond scheme, we’re an effort-based defense,” Thacker said. “So that’s one way that we always talk about incentivizing what we’re emphasizing.”
Recipients thus far include linebacker Quez Jackson, defensive end Jaquan Henderson, cornerback Tre Swilling, linebacker Charlie Thomas and defensive back Rich Stanzione. It is awarded at a team meeting prior to practice. Thacker said he personally carries the recipient’s helmet and cleats to practice. Jackson said “it felt so good” riding to practice as his teammates cheered him on.
“Of course, some of them were a little mad, but they were all happy for me,” Jackson said. “So it was pretty cool.”
It is one of a few incentives that Collins has been giving out during spring practice. The helmets of the top performers from the previous practice are adorned with three stripes down the center. Collins also hands out compression arm sleeves to the players who log the best effort according to the team’s wearable GPS system, which tracks data like accelerations and changes of direction.
Bike rides and stripes on a helmet may not win an ACC title. But they have helped affirm the culture of competition that Collins so craves, and they have caught players’ attention.
“You have one good practice and the next practice, you have a bad one, the stripes come right off,” linebacker David Curry said. “It’s the people that have earned them.”
There’ve already been some tweaks to the cruiser. It debuted with red tires, which were painted black after outcry on social media. They’ve since been replaced with whitewalls.
“I’ve got a feeling Goldblooded’s going to get a couple more bells and whistles, and we’ll keep evolving it,” Thacker said.
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