Gibbs was the marquee name of coach Geoff Collins’ 2020 signing class, recruited out of Dalton by Choice and secured over the likes of LSU and Florida. He joins Mason, who was sixth in the ACC in rushing a year ago at 74.9 rushing yards per game, and Jamious Griffin, last year’s recruiting prize who gained 137 yards in a backup role to Mason. Along with backups Tony Amerson, Dontae Smith and Bruce Jordan-Swilling, it has the makings of a stout group.
“We’ll be unstoppable,” Griffin said of a possible rotation of him, Mason and Gibbs. “If everyone stays healthy and keeps grinding, I don’t think a team can stop us three in the backfield. That’s how I feel.”
Griffin spent his quarantine time getting trained by his father, Tyrone, and brothers Ja’Quon, a Tech defensive tackle, and Jaylen, a linebacker at Virginia Tech. His speed and change of direction were two focuses.
“It shows up on the field,” he said. “We wear our Catapults (wearable GPS technology), and I’m faster.”
Mason, a junior, said he feels the best he has felt since his freshman season.
“We’ve got some athletes,” Mason said of his position group. “We’re going to be ready.”
Last season, Patenaude played to strengths in sometimes using two backs on the field at the same time, sometimes splitting one out to the slot and other times keeping both in the backfield. It would stand to reason that the arrangement would continue, especially given the diversity of skills that Gibbs has shown coaches and Griffin’s comfort in the slot.
Choice also pointed out the work that Smith and Ellison have put in, though the addition of Gibbs likely further reduces their chances of getting playing time on offense. Choice said that Smith “looks ripped, he’s playing faster. He’s just got to continue to work hard on the football field.” Choice appointed Ellison to be Gibbs’ big brother because of his work ethic and knowledge of the offense.
“He works his tail off, and everybody in that football room has nothing but respect for him,” Choice said of Ellison.
There is, of course, the matter of whether the Yellow Jackets will play this fall. While the Big Ten and Pac-12 will not play their seasons this fall, the ACC remained, as of Thursday, on a track to play its revised 11-game schedule.
Asked about playing in the spring and the possibility of two seasons in a 12-month period, Mason responded, “If we play, whenever we play, I’m ready to play. I’m ready to put the ball down and just play, regardless of where we go, when, where. Just let me know when and I’ll be ready.”
Choice praised his group for staying in shape when they were away from campus, expediting their return to practice, and for keeping their focus in a tenuous situation.
“So I tell the guys, ‘Every single day, you have an opportunity to get better,’” Choice said. “‘If this is our last two hours of practice, let’s make it the best two hours of practice that we’ve ever had.‘”
Choice closed his remarks by sharing his pleasure with the entire group, “but I tell ‘em every day they’re sorry as hell,” he said. “And they all understand why. Because if any of them tell you they’re good, y’all let me know. I appreciate that.”
And Choice chuckled with delight.
“I love ‘em,” he said.