Georgia Tech players vowing to ‘prove everybody wrong’

Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith, right, and tight end Dylan Leonard laugh as the sit on stage at the NCAA college football Atlantic Coast Conference Media Days in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith, right, and tight end Dylan Leonard laugh as the sit on stage at the NCAA college football Atlantic Coast Conference Media Days in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, July 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith is not immune to venturing into the den of the unwashed – perusing Twitter to read users’ comments about his football team.

“I do see what they say, and I do take it into account,” Smith said. “And I’m so ready to prove everybody wrong.”

After three consecutive three-win seasons, frustration is high within the Yellow Jackets fan base, and expressions of that animus – mostly with coach Geoff Collins – are perhaps most unshackled in the social-media sphere of Twitter. It was revealed, too, in the home attendance (lowest since 1989) and in the sea of red that was the backdrop for Tech’s final home game last season against Georgia.

“I mean, obviously, there’s going to be a lot of negativity when you have the past three seasons we have,” tight end Dylan Leonard said. “When you have three wins (each) the past three seasons, you don’t blame them. Crowds are going to show up when you’re good, and they’re not going to be there much when you’re not doing as well. We realize that. I’m not stuck up about it or anything like that. I think that’s with every fan base and every Twitter fan base you go to.”

But, as is perhaps the case with every team that is counting down the days to the start of the preseason, the Jackets believe better days are ahead this season. Leonard, Smith and cornerback Zamari Walton all shared different reasons for their belief at the ACC Kickoff media event Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

“I definitely feel like it’s our time,” Walton said. “Definitely why not Georgia Tech?”

Walton pointed to the Jackets’ five losses by nine points or fewer in 2021.

“I feel like those single-digit games showed that we’re just a little bit closer, and we just need to do the little things right,” Walton said. “I do think that we’ll be the (surprise) team that everybody’s looking for.”

Leonard also referenced the close losses and the details that can separate winning and losing.

“You hear it all the time – it’s how you do the small things,” he said. “Coach Lew (Lewis Caralla, Tech’s strength-and-conditioning coach) always talks about small things, they build into big things. That’s one thing we need to capitalize on this season, and it’s a realistic course, I think.”

While the Jackets experienced a talent drain through the transfer portal – notably All-American running back Jahmyr Gibbs and starting defensive ends Jordan Domineck and Jared Ivey – Leonard saw a positive in the departures and arrivals through the portal. Leonard said that a difference is that “we know the people here want to be here now.”

“You bring in the people that you know want to be here, and those little things – hey, maybe we capitalize on those things now because everybody’s bought in, everybody wants to be at Georgia Tech,” he said.

Smith is trusting in improvement on the offensive line and quarterback Jeff Sims, now under the direction of new offensive coordinator Chip Long, to compensate for the loss of Gibbs.

“I believe the scheme that we have now, the way our O-line has been practicing, the way Jeff has been, when you play us, you don’t only focus in running,” he said. “You have to focus on all aspects of the offensive unit, and it starts with Jeff and the O-line. They had a tremendous improvement. It’s like night and day with those two. I’m just really excited to see how it all plays into each other. We took a loss (in Gibbs’ departure), but we will make it happen.”

The players’ reasons for improvement could be shrugged off as preseason talk. Before last season, for instance, the offensive line was touted as a reason, along with the team’s leadership, among other factors, for why Tech could win.

“It can’t be the up-and-down roller coaster like we had last year,” Leonard said.

The players’ belief is not shared widely, whether on Twitter or elsewhere. Multiple sportsbooks have set Tech’s over/under win total at 3.5.

The young men who will be responsible for that total don’t care, entrusting the fate of the season to one another.

“I just feel like the fourth year is going to be a big breakout year to where everybody’s talking about Georgia Tech,” Walton said. “It’s going to be a shocker, so I’m excited.”

Said Smith: “I’m ready to show who we are and the hard work and everything that we put into this identity. We want everyone to see it vs. who they think we are.”

Leonard: “I’m looking forward to proving all those talkers wrong and all the supporters right. It’s going to be awesome to be able to do that, and hopefully we’ll do it in a big way this season.”