Georgia Tech wide receiver Jalen Camp (80) catches a pass under pressure from Bowling Green defensive back Montre Gregory (6) in the second half at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, September 29, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Why and how Georgia Tech’s Jalen Camp is rocking the No. 1 jersey

When Georgia Tech wide receiver Jalen Camp returned to campus for the summer, he didn’t quite believe what awaited him at his locker. He had to text coach Geoff Collins to be sure.

“I was like, is this for real?” Camp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s like, yeah. I was real excited.”

The source of his enthusiasm – the prized No. 1 jersey. Collins had awarded it to him, allowing him to trade in the No. 80 that he had worn his first three seasons. When the Yellow Jackets begin preseason practice on Wednesday, their first with Collins, safety Juanyeh Thomas will also wear the jersey number that was freed up with A-back Qua Searcy’s graduation.  NCAA rules stipulate that teams can issue duplicate numbers so long as those players are not on the field at the same time.

Camp said he had been eagerly awaiting Searcy’s departure for that reason. (Here’s to hoping that Thomas and Camp, as they pull their jerseys over their shoulder pads, take to singing, “Don we now our Qua apparel.”)

Other Tech players who have distinguished the jersey include Eddie McAshan, Ken Swilling, Reggie Ball, Morgan Burnett and Isaiah Johnson.

With Collins, single-digit jerseys – prized garments among college players – are not a matter of mere seniority or starting status. Players have to submit a written statement to Collins about why they want to wear a single digit.

Camp made his request and turned in his paper after spring practice.

“I just like that number,” Camp said. “I wore it my senior year in high school (at South Forsyth High). So I wanted my senior year in college to do the same thing. I had a really successful senior year in high school. Just keeping it going.”

Camp’s reasons may not exactly be tear-jerking, but Collins’ approval is more indicative of his estimation of the senior’s work ethic and commitment to the team than his persuasive writing skills. At the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte two weeks ago, linebacker David Curry playfully asked Collins his thoughts on “senior linebacker David Curry.”

After a chuckle, Collins said that “he’s really good, and the way you can kind of tell I have a high opinion of him is he’s wearing a single-digit number.”

There are nine players on the roster with single-digit jerseys. Five have received them since Collins’ hire – running back Jerry Howard (5, from 15), grad-transfer tight end Tyler Davis (9), Curry (6, from 32), Thomas (1, from 28) and Camp. Howard, Curry, Thomas and Davis all had their new numbers for spring practice.

As of Monday, No. 4 was not assigned according to the team website. Quarterback James Graham had it last season, but Collins switched him to No. 14 with him being academically ineligible. It’s likely he’ll be swaddled again in single-digit splendor once he regains eligibility.

Camp is one of several Yellow Jackets who changed their jersey numbers from last season, including every returning wide receiver.

“We didn’t come together and talk about changing our number,” Camp said. “That was just something that each person wanted to do.”

New Georgia Tech jersey numbers

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