Georgia Tech seniors have stay-or-go decisions to make

Georgia Tech wide receiver Jalen Camp (1) sprints toward the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson at Georgia Tech.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

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Georgia Tech wide receiver Jalen Camp (1) sprints toward the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson at Georgia Tech.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

When he committed to play for Georgia Tech as a graduate transfer in December 2019, Ryan Johnson was signing up for one season under the tutelage of offensive-line coach Brent Key and the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in analytics. Johnson, the Yellow Jackets’ right guard, is almost finished with the former and can complete the latter next semester.

But, thanks to the NCAA granting fall-sports athletes an extra season of eligibility because of COVID-19, he has the option to play for Key for another year and earn another degree (which would be his third master’s, as he earned a bachelor’s and master’s in engineering at Tennessee before transferring).

“This is very unique, but with Ryan’s intelligence level and his options that are on the table now, we would be silly not to look at all of them,” Johnson’s father Tyke Johnson told the AJC.

When the Yellow Jackets play Pittsburgh on Thursday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the team will celebrate Senior Night in a ceremony that will be atypical. One, families won’t be able to accompany players on the field, as, by ACC protocol, field access is extremely limited. Two, a number of the honorees could return in 2021.

The chance to continue playing and developing for a shot at the NFL – or to earn another degree – has given players and their families pause. For this year, it’s become akin to the decision that high-profile players face when they are juniors or third-year sophomores – stay or go? Many seniors are believed to be undecided.

“If there was no choice, of course, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” said Richard Camp, father of wide receiver Jalen Camp. “But being that COVID has given players a choice this year, a lot of people are re-evaluating their situations.”

When they spoke with media Tuesday via videoconference, defensive tackle Djimon Brooks and punter Pressley Harvin both indicated that they had not made a decision.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about right now is just finishing the season,” Harvin said. “Whenever that time comes to make a decision, that’s when I’m going to make it.”

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Georgia Tech right guard Ryan Johnson is contemplating playing a second senior season, an opportunity available to him by the NCAA's decision to grant all fall-sports athletes with an extra year of eligibility. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Georgia Tech right guard Ryan Johnson is contemplating playing a second senior season, an opportunity available to him by the NCAA's decision to grant all fall-sports athletes with an extra year of eligibility. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech right guard Ryan Johnson is contemplating playing a second senior season, an opportunity available to him by the NCAA's decision to grant all fall-sports athletes with an extra year of eligibility. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

From the standpoint of scholarship limits, any seniors returning would not count against the team’s 85-scholarship limit, although there would be an added cost for the athletic department to pay for the extra scholarships. Since as early as mid-November, coach Geoff Collins has been having conversations with seniors and their position coaches about next season.

For a player such as Camp, the appeal of staying at Tech is understandable. While he has developed as a potential NFL prospect this season, his statistics (24 catches for 342 yards and three touchdowns) don’t stand out. Getting another season to improve and gain experience figures to improve his candidacy. Richard Camp said that he will rely on Collins and wide-receivers coach Kerry Dixon for guidance.

“I would hate to be the one to say, ‘Yeah, Jalen, you leave,’ and it doesn’t work out and it’s all over,” Richard Camp said. “That’s where it’s such a delicate situation.”

Further, Camp earned his business degree in May and has begun working on a master’s in building construction.

“As long as he’s at Georgia Tech, he’s going to be making sure he utilizes that 100% powerful engine of that school to his advantage,” Richard Camp said.

Tyke Johnson said that his family is gauging Ryan’s NFL possibilities. If there’s enough interest in him as a draft prospect, it’ll make sense to leave Tech. But, there are factors tugging at him to stay. Tyke Johnson said that his son is “having the time of his life. He’s enjoying his coaching staff, he’s enjoying his teammates. So for him, that’s part of the game.” At Thanksgiving, Tyke said that Ryan told him that he hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the Tech fan base, as attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium has been restricted.

“I think that weighs on him,” Tyke Johnson said. “He would love to participate in that.”

Running back Bruce Jordan-Swilling also is considering using a second senior season, possibly elsewhere.

“Our main goal is to graduate and then try to make a decision,” said Pat Swilling, Bruce’s father and a Tech legend. “We all know that they have a lot of great running backs ahead of Bruce, and Bruce wants to play football. I think a lot of that is going to have to do with what coach Collins tells him.”

Jordan-Swilling is on course to graduate in the spring with a degree in business. After switching in the spring from linebacker to running back – a position where he was a four-star prospect in high school – he has played on special teams, but has had few snaps at running back behind Jahmyr Gibbs, Jordan Mason and Jamious Griffin.

In any other year, Jordan-Swilling would just be out of luck. This year, he has another chance. Swilling even pointed out that, not having redshirted, Jordan-Swilling could go to another school, play four games in 2021 and redshirt and then play a full season in 2022.

“We’re going to look at all our options,” Swilling said. “That’s the best way to put it.”

Linebacker David Curry is one senior who has confirmed that Thursday night will be his final home game as a Jacket. Curry’s willingness to move on can be understood. This is his sixth season – after he redshirted his first year on campus, the NCAA granted him an extra season when he didn’t play the 2017 season because of a preseason foot injury. Curry’s first season at Tech was in 2015, when his freshman teammates were in eighth grade.

“It’s bittersweet,” Curry said after the team’s loss to N.C. State on Saturday. “I’m looking forward to it, but I’m not looking forward to it because I don’t want it to end.”

Technically speaking, it doesn’t have to.