“Literally, we went toe to toe with them, late in the season,” Stansbury said.
The Jackets have plenty of areas to address, starting with a defense that gave up 36.8 points per game, the highest average in the team’s modern era. And someone who found a different game to be representative of the season – the 48-27 loss at Boston College, for example – might reach a different conclusion.
However, the fight that the Jackets put on display at Carter-Finley Stadium and the relatively close outcome help inform Stansbury’s optimism about the team’s direction with coach Geoff Collins, who will convene his third spring practice March 23.
“I think we’re a lot closer than many would have anticipated,” Stansbury said.
As Tech fans hope for (or wonder about) the rise of a team that has a 6-16 record in Collins’ first two seasons, Stansbury sees the team being on track, and not only for what happened in Raleigh, N.C., on Dec. 5. The Jackets return 19 players who started at least four games in 2020, for example.
“Seeing the young guys perform the way they did (was encouraging),” he said. “And, of course (quarterback Jeff) Sims and Jahmyr are kind of a window into the future. So I saw a lot of good things out there that I think we’re going to build on, and so I think the future is bright.”
Regarding Collins, Stansbury praised him for the culture and rapport that he has created with players. Stansbury said that it was “readily apparent” to him that Collins has earned players’ trust, evident in their adherence to COVID-19 protocols and their effort throughout the season in a highly unusual year.
“Even when the postseason wasn’t really in the cards, they still just kept on playing,” Stansbury said. “That’s why I think that N.C. State game, really, I think said a lot about this team in general.”
One way that Collins has created this buy-in, Stansbury said, has been by his staying in the present and not playing for the future.
“And he was focused on that from Day 1,” Stansbury said. “Even when you look at last year (2019), those seniors, he made sure they knew that they were the ones setting the tone, that they were leading the team.”
From a perspective of health and safety, Stansbury was elated that the Jackets were able to play 10 games, one fewer than was scheduled. (Tech did not play the final game of the season, at Miami, for reasons of health and safety.) The Jackets went almost all of November without a game and finished a week later than planned in the modified schedule. But, if he had been offered that arrangement at the start of the season, Stansbury said that “I would have taken it because I wouldn’t have believed that it was possible.”
Stansbury credited players’ diligence in following protocols such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings and also the coaching staff remaining flexible to adjust to the many curves that were thrown its way.
“Because normally we know who we’re going to play five years in advance,” Stansbury said. “And here we were, trying to reschedule games in the middle of the season. So I think just everybody buying into the fact that, hey, this is the environment that we’re in, and we’re going to have to be flexible, pivot when necessary and have got to be open to the fact that tomorrow, we may be changing when practice is. We may be changing who the opponent’s going to be next week. There’s no way we could have pulled it off without that.”