Georgia Tech coach Brent Key keeps predicted win total a secret

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key watches warm-ups during their first day of spring football practice at the Brock Indoor Practice Facility, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key watches warm-ups during their first day of spring football practice at the Brock Indoor Practice Facility, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Before the start of the 2024 Georgia Tech football season, coach Brent Key said he will settle on a number, write it on a notecard, fold the notecard, slide the notecard in an envelope and tuck the envelope away in a desk drawer not to be reopened until season’s end.

That number? Key’s best prognostication of how many games he thinks his Yellow Jackets will win.

“That’s something I keep to myself,” he said. “It’s almost an evaluation of where I feel the team is: personnel in relation to other personnel in the league; the grit and toughness that team has to be able to overcome personnel mismatches; schematically where we’re at offense, defense, special teams. There’s a lot more things that go into that than just predicting wins. It’s as much an evaluation to see where I’m at personally in my evaluation of the team coming out of preseason going into the season.”

Key said he learned the number-in-envelope practice from former Tech coach George O’Leary. Key wrote down a number ahead of the 2023 season as well and also refused to reveal if that guess was on the mark.

The Jackets went 7-6 in 2023 and 4-4 in ACC play. They returned to a bowl game and finished with a winning record for the first time since 2018. Those results mean internal and external expectations are for Key’s program not only to replicate that moderate success, but to surpass it.

But Key won’t speak to his team about specific numeric goals with his team. He’ll leave those discussions to outsiders, and to the notecard in his desk.

“Our expectations are to be the absolute best player you can be and improve every single day,” Key said. “When you start putting numerical, statistical expectations on a team, a team that’s totally different than the previous year, that plays a totally different schedule than the previous year, it doesn’t make sense to me how you can try to compare the two.

“Internally do you have wishes and hopes that you wanna reach? Yeah, every single person does. As I said (March 11) in our team meeting, it’s easy to say words, it’s hard to show the actions every single day to carry out that championship mindset that we want everybody to have.”

Injury update

Last week, Key and his staff provided injury updates to several players.

Wide receiver Leo Blackburn, nearly one year removed from a torn ACL, is practicing full-speed, Key said. Blackburn (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) missed the 2021 and 2023 seasons and played in only seven games in 2022, when he caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Key also said that Sylvain Yondjouen, a 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive lineman who sustained a knee injury in August, won’t practice this spring but is on course to return to action when summer camp begins.

Keylan Rutledge, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound transfer from Middle Tennessee and a Franklin County High School graduate, reportedly was involved in a car wreck in December in which he sustained leg injuries. Key said Rutledge also will be brought along slowly to be able to participate this summer.

Isiah Canion and Trelain Maddox also are recovering from injuries sustained during their respective senior seasons of high school. Maddox (6-1, 205), a freshman running back from Parkview High, sustained a knee injury in the fall, and Canion (6-4, 195), a freshman wide receiver from Warner Robins High, was dealt a shoulder injury.

Tech defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci said that linebacker E.J. Lightsey, a transfer from Georgia and a Fitzgerald High graduate, also is rehabbing an injury and has not been fully active yet this spring.

The next Haynes?

One of the biggest storylines of the 2023 Tech team was the emergence of running back Jamal Haynes. But Haynes wouldn’t have had the breakout season he did, rushing for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns on 174 carries, had Tech’s offensive staff not moved him from wide receiver to running back.

Tech offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner hinted he and his staff are continually evaluating personnel to see who may fit at a different position on the roster going into 2024.

“I think it’s just more of finding different roles for different guys to get ‘em on the field more,” he said. “I think that we are very, very deep in the receiver (group), so you gotta find ways to get multiple guys on the field at the same time. We’re experimenting with some of those things right now.”

Tech began spring practice with 15 players listed as wide receivers.

The schedule ahead

The Jackets have this week off and are scheduled to resume spring practice Monday morning. Workouts are also scheduled for Wednesday, Friday and Saturday next week.

Tech has 11 practices remaining building to the program’s annual spring game scheduled for 1 p.m. April 13 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.