Georgia Tech notes: Assistant coach lauds football culture, new faces in secondary

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

Chris Weinke has been around the game of football for a long time. And the former Heisman Trophy winner often has been around winning football, too.

He knows what it looks like. He hinted Wednesday, after Georgia Tech’s fifth practice of the spring, that the Yellow Jackets are on the right track toward playing the type of consistent, winning football he has seen during his long tenure around the game.

“I think you’ve got a full buy-in. And I think when you’re in a program and you can walk in a locker room and you can feel that, and sense that? It’s special. Because it doesn’t happen everywhere,” Weinke said. “I think what happened is (Tech coach Brent Key has) created this culture and environment. We’ve brought the right kids into this program, they’ve bought in, they’re here for each other, to support each other. But the ultimate goal is to have a championship mindset every single day. Those guys know that, believe it and live it every day. To me (Key’s) done an outstanding job of simply creating the culture.

“I think that’s a cliché, ‘Hey, we’re a family here. Hey, we’ve got a great culture.’ What does that really mean? It means you have the right people in the building collectively pulling the rope together in the same direction. I think that’s really important, and I think (Key’s) done an outstanding job with that.”

Key and Weinke both joined the Tech coaching staff in 2022 for former Tech coach Geoff Collins, Key as the program’s offensive line coach and Weinke as the quarterbacks coach. When Key, after being the team’s interim coach for the final eight games of 2022, was given the reins of the program after the ‘22 campaign had finished, he retained Weinke.

The two also worked together in 2017 when Weinke was an offensive analyst at Alabama and Key was the offensive line coach for the Crimson Tide.

Weinke now also is the co-offensive coordinator for the Jackets and an assistant coach to Key. He said Wednesday that when Key stepped into his role as head coach in the final month of 2022, Weinke immediately saw a shift in mentality for the entire program, a mentality founded in toughness.

Moving forward into 2024, the former Florida State and NFL quarterback won’t publicly state what sort of benchmarks he and Key have for the Jackets. But rest assured those benchmarks are higher than before.

“You have to be a little cautious saying, ‘Hey, this is what we’re trying to reach.’ I’m a firm believer since the day I started playing sports, I’ve always set my goals really high,” he said. “Do you always reach them? No. I think if you don’t have a plan, it’s hard to reach that final destination. We all have phones, and if we punch in an address in the GPS system, we expect it’s gonna bring us to the right place. It’s no different in our everyday lives as coaches, dealing with our players. We’re simply trying to help teach them.

“When you start to put too many things or too many goals set in stone, sometimes you become frustrated and you become disappointed. For us, we want to see guys playing with energy and enthusiasm, being disciplined and detailed and playing with toughness, and I think that permeates through the whole building.”

New faces in the secondary

Tech’s secondary lost a handful of key contributors this offseason in Jaylon King (graduation), Myles Sims (graduation), Kenan Johnson (transfer to Utah) and K.J. Wallace (transfer to UCLA). To fill a couple of those holes the program signed transfers Warren Burrell from Tennessee and Syeed Gibbs from Rhode Island.

“They are football players. They love football,” Tech cornerbacks coach Ricky Brumfield said of that pair.

Burrell, a North Gwinnett High School graduate, spent five seasons at Tennessee and played in 40 games. Because of injuries and the COVID-19 season of 2020, Burrell still has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

In 2021, Burrell made 41 tackles in 12 games, seven tackles for a loss and broke up seven passes for the Volunteers. Burrell was Tennessee’s second-highest graded tackler, according to Pro Football Focus, in 2023.

“(Burrell) is a guy that wants to be specific with his technique. He’s always talking to me, like, ‘Stay on me, Coach.’ He’s a pleasure to coach,” Brumfield said. “He’s never too down, he’s never too high and he wants to be perfect. He understands he’s not gonna be perfect, but he wants to work toward being perfect or as close to it as possible, and he’s always wanting to be corrected on his technique. He’s a willing player, and he’s a willing learner. I think he’s gonna be a really, really good player for us because he cares.”

Gibbs, after playing in four games for Rhode Island in 2022 and using that season as a redshirt year, became a freshman All-American at the FCS level in 2023. He started 10 games, led the Rams with three interceptions and recorded 52 tackles.

The Coastal Athletic Association named Gibbs the 2023 defensive rookie of the year.

“(Gibbs) is different in the aspect of his mentality and how he goes about everything. (Gibbs) is more serious,” Brumfield said. “(Gibbs) is gonna come in and get extra time, extra work and he’s a perfectionist as well.”

Freer from tuition

Earlier this month, Tech announced after one of the Jackets’ spring practices that long snapper Henry Freer had been placed on scholarship. It was a joyous moment for the now former walk-on who acknowledged he never expected his career to evolve this much.

“It was awesome. It was everything,” the senior said. “Been here for, now, going into my sixth year. Kind of all the hard work is paying off. It meant a lot. It was really cool.”

A graduate of Woodward Academy, Freer (6-foot, 205 pounds) played on 99 special-teams snaps in 2023, all coming on extra-point snaps, field-goal tries and punt snaps. He has seen the field for 214 plays over the past three seasons and is pursuing a doctorate in Tech’s school of chemical and biomolecular engineering. According to the school, Freer is believed to be the first active member of Tech’s football program enrolled in a doctorate program.

“When I first got here I thought I was gonna be a student. I didn’t even think I was gonna be on the team,” Freer added. “I got the call over the summer (in 2019), and then I got to go to a camp, and the next year I got to travel, and the next year I got in for one or two games, and every year it’s been a little bit more. Now going into the last year I get to be on scholarship, so it’s been a cool journey to go from there to here.”

Longest. Kick. Ever.

Aidan Birr wasn’t bashful about how he hopes to cement his name in the Tech record book before all is said and done.

The sophomore, who took over primary placekicking duties for the Jackets in 2023, wants to make every field goal he tries in 2024, of course, but also he wants to make the longest kick in Tech history.

“Break the record here, that’s the goal,” he said. “Hopefully I get something above 55 and can break that. That’d be nice.”

Tech’s longest field goal in program history is from 55 yards out and was done three times: by E.O. Wheeler in 1973 against the Virginia Military Institute; in 1982 by Ron Rice against The Citadel; and in 1986 by David Bell against Georgia.

Scrimmage Saturday

Tech will hold its first scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Weinke said the mission for that workout, from an offensive perspective, will be pretty vanilla.

“It’s alignment, assignment, execution. We’re not looking for anything more specific than, ‘Hey, are we getting lined up? Are we playing with a sense of urgency? Are we being detailed in our fundamentals?’ Then, most importantly, are we protecting the football?’” Weinke said. “Obviously the defensive coaches are telling the guys let’s strip the ball, let’s get turnovers. Well, on our side we’re saying protect the football. It’s what helps you win games.”

After Saturday, the Jackets will get right back to work with four practices next week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The program’s annual spring game is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 13.