When Georgia Tech players, coaches and staff assembled Thursday ahead of the start of preseason training camp, coach Geoff Collins noticed something different, he said.

“There is a focus, there is a level of maturity that we’ve been trying to build, and it’s finally there,” Collins said Friday after the team’s first preseason practice. “The ability to focus in our meetings, just the way they’re carrying themselves – confident, not a lot of rah-rah, not a lot of silliness.”

As the Yellow Jackets begin the third season of his tenure, Collins and players spoke Friday to the changes that they are sensing. It arrives at a time when expectations after back-to-back three-win seasons – the lowest win total in consecutive seasons at Tech since 1987-88, Bobby Ross’ first two seasons – are growing.

Collins has undoubtedly had a hand in practices and team functions having a looser feel, as he has tried to create a team that can have fun at the same time as it wins. But what Collins said he has seen is a team that has more focus, maturity and accountability, not a surprise as his young roster has aged. It’s another facet of a message that Collins has pushed since spring practice, that the Jackets are preparing to launch. Collins credited players for taking the reins.

“It’s an exciting time,” he said. “In the past, (the accountability) had to come from the coaches. The energy level had to come from the coaches. But right now in the program, I’m able to just talk ball, X’s and O’s, scheme, technique, and the guys at this point are handling everything else, and they’re doing a really good job with that piece of it. It’s exciting.”

Cornerback Tre Swilling, going into his fourth season as a starter, said that the change was necessary given the results on the field.

“We came off of two seasons that we didn’t meet our standards, and not even half of our standards,” he said. “I feel like, at this point, it has to be. At this point, you have to shave back some of the things that weren’t really helping us progress too much, and then try to see what can be our right formula to win, win now and win in the future and continuously win.”

Swilling said that players have been more discerning about when to bring out what he called “antics” that have gone on in practice.

“We realize that we only have a certain time slot on the field, and when we’re out there, we’ve got to try to really, really maximize and keep everything going,” Swilling said.

Safety Tariq Carpenter spoke of a team that mostly was focused, but not entirely.

“It’d be like 70/30,” he said. “Now it’s like everybody on the team is bought into our culture now.”

Wide receiver Malachi Carter said that players “talked a lot” about the reasons for the team’s 3-7 record last season.

“And most of that was because we just about led the country in penalties,” he said. “Let’s be honest.”

Tech was indeed ranked 119th in FBS in penalty yardage in 2020, a year after finishing 15th in the country and two years after finishing fourth in coach Paul Johnson’s final season. To address that weakness, Carter said that the team performed exercises all offseason to maintain focus when players were most fatigued.

“That’s really all we know,” Carter said. “Test yourself, push yourself and stay dialed in. It’s just a habit at this point.”

Defensive end Antonneous Clayton said he has seen what Collins also observed, a team whose culture and habits are led and enforced by players. Running back Jordan Mason echoed Clayton’s sentiment, saying that players have made a point of taking leadership.

“There’s a certain standard that is held that we expect everybody within the program to meet,” Clayton said. “Even with the new freshmen coming in, they came in and they knew what to do within a couple of days, and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

The expectation is for the end product of that maturity and self-accountability to be success on the field. Collins doesn’t shy from it. “What’s Important Now” (W.I.N.) is an oft-repeated mantra, one that Collins wore on his shirt at practice Friday.

“The focus on what’s important now, and every single game, focus on winning that game, but you’ve got to win every single day,” Collins said. “We’ve talked about that every single day. That was a big theme (Thursday) in the meetings and the guys are invested in it. So, it’s exciting.”