Georgia Tech’s seniors wanted to create a different level of energy to start their final preseason camp. The solution: Report to the team hotel Thursday dressed as superheroes.
Among others, quarterback TaQuon Marshall was Spiderman. wide receiver Brad Stewart assumed the identity of Captain America, linebacker/safety Jalen Johnson was Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and A-back Qua Searcy walked through the hotel lobby dressed as Superman.
“We wanted to make our last first day fun and unique,” Stewart said.
The hope is that will serve as the prelude to greatness. As some of those seniors spoke at Tech’s media day Thursday, they were charged with excitement for what lays ahead.
“It’s a different feel, for sure,” Marshall said. “We talked about it earlier, me and the other guys. We were like, Man, this feels completely different than any of the other ones we’ve reported to. Everyone’s really excited.”
The group of 17 scholarship seniors represents one of the largest in coach Paul Johnson’s tenure, now going into its 11th season. Their ledger is spotty. They’ve beaten Virginia Tech twice and Georgia once. They have a nine-win season to their credit, one of just 10 since Bobby Dodd retired after the 1966 season.
However, they’ve lost to Clemson and Miami three times in a row. They’ve been through two losing seasons. And they haven’t played for an ACC championship. Until this point, not counting redshirt seasons, every class in Johnson’s tenure has played in at least one ACC Championship game – in 2009, 2012 and 2014.
“I think we’ve got great chemistry,” linebacker Brant Mitchell said. “We’ve got a lot of guys, from the time we got here, we bonded immediately. We’ve been a class that’s kind of stuck together.”
Part of the excitement that Marshall said team members have felt stems from the changes that the team has undergone, some of it superficial, but perhaps still meaningful. New defensive coordinator Nate Woody has brought an aggressive 3-4 defense. Players have been fired up about the apparel change to Adidas from Russell Athletic and also about the $4.5 million locker room that was completed recently.
“We’ve been working so hard this offseason coming off a season that wasn’t the best, just working really hard this offseason,” Marshall said. “You have that energy with the new defense coming in. A lot of young guys that are going to be able to have the opportunity to show their talents and be able to play earlier. Just that, and bringing all that together creates this new type of energy coming into camp this year.”
Marshall likely scored points with Tech’s marketing staff by noting, too, that the athletic department has adopted a new shade of gold and word mark.
“Just that in itself brings a different feel to it,” he said.
There is an eagerness, too, to finish on a high note, particularly after last year’s disappointing 5-6 season.
“We as seniors have gotten together a couple times, and that really is how we’re going to go about it, that this is our team,” Stewart said. “The coaches are going to guide us in the right direction, but if we don’t have that senior leadership, then we’re not going to go anywhere. I’ve seen it happen.”
Johnson might have caution regarding Thursday’s chatter. Inspiring words only go so far. He said he planned to address the matter at a team meeting that evening, that this team does indeed belong to its seniors.
“All the talking doesn’t do any good, because (younger players) are watching,” Johnson said. “Don’t ask them to do something that you’re not doing. So if you’re committed and you’re bound to go out the right way, and you’re doing it off the field and in the classroom and in practice and all the places you need to be doing it, then they’ll follow. If you’re not, they won’t.”
The seniors can assert themselves beginning Friday through the drudgery of preseason camp. Full-pads practices are no picnic to begin with, and Johnson assured that he’ll train the team through the August heat to prepare the Jackets for their game against South Florida on Sept. 8, a game scheduled for a noon kickoff in Tampa, Fla.
It’s an important passage. Johnson has a knack for sensing in the preseason what kind of team is being forged. The 2014 team, which was picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal, impressed Johnson with its work ethic, saying “I think that these guys have bought into what we’re asking them to do.” The Jackets’ 11-win season, crowned with an Orange Bowl victory, followed. (Notably, that team had a large senior class also.)
The next year, as Tech basked in the glow of the previous season’s accomplishments, Johnson warned media, “Guys, you have anointed this team as national champs. You ought to watch them practice.”
Picked to finish third in the Coastal, Tech begins play Sept. 1, at home against Alcorn State. In the interim, Tech’s seniors can begin to shape the trajectory of their season.