Reporters’ notebook: Falcons’ Grady Jarrett gets emotional

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett speaks to reporters after the team's NFL football training camp practice Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Grady Jarrett speaks to reporters after the team's NFL football training camp practice Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The following, a weekly feature of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, allows our reporters to open their notebooks and provide even more information from our local teams that we cover daily. We think you’ll find it informative, insightful and fun.

An emotional Grady Jarrett

Long-time Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is working his way back onto the field after tearing his ACL in October. Jarrett had a lot to get off his chest earlier this week, becoming emotional while discussing the injury and what football means to him.

Among his points: He hopes younger players see that football must be the priority to open other doors.

“I think external things can mess up so many guys and take your focus away from being the best player you can be at the moments you can,” Jarrett said. “There are so many distractions, especially with social media. Everybody telling every player – and it’s good to have plans for after football, but if your mind is in 20 different places, it’s going to be hard to enjoy this time, a short period of time in our life, to give it everything you have. You can’t let things take you away from that. There’s a balance.

“Obviously y’all see me on TV all the time doing certain stuff. But my main focus is being the best football player I can be. Because the reality of it is if I ain’t a good football player, y’all don’t care about anything else I do. I could be doing this, doing that, but the attention isn’t there. So I’m using my platform to showcase the other things I do. And I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t put all my energy into being the best player I can be.”

Burress named freshman All-American

Georgia Tech outfielder Drew Burress earned first-team freshman all-America honors, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association announced Monday. Burress is the 41st freshman All-American in program history.

A native of Houston County, Burress led Tech in a myriad of categories in 2024, including average (.381), home runs (25) and RBIs (67) to become the 12th Yellow Jacket to win Tech’s triple crown. Burress is the first to accomplish that feat since Matt Gonzalez in 2016. Burress’ 25 home runs set the Tech freshman record and fell one shy of tying the overall single-season record set by Kevin Parada in 2022.

In addition to his team-leading average, the ACC freshman of the year finished with 15 doubles and three triples and drew more walks (58) than strikeouts (37) for a .512 on-base percentage and an OPS of 1.333. He also finished 8-for-10 in stolen-base attempts and set the Tech record for most assists by an outfielder by throwing out 10 baserunners from center field.

Burress led all Division I freshmen in six statistical categories to finish the regular season (home runs, home runs per game, slugging, total bases, walks and walks per game) while ranking in the top three nationally in 11 categories. He also led ACC freshmen in eight categories and ranked second in RBIs, RBIs per game and batting average to earn first-team all-conference honors.

Tech’s Cam Jones an Olerud Award finalist

Former Tech standout Cam Jones has been named a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award for his play on the mound, in the field and at the plate this season.

Jones was one of the top two-way players in the country, joining the five-player Olerud Award finalist list as the lone representative from the ACC. He joins Ethan Bates (Louisiana Tech), Carson Benge (Oklahoma State), Jac Caglianone (Florida) and Austin Smith (San Diego) as finalists.

Jones finished third on the team with a .319 average, recording 72 hits, 13 doubles and five triples to go with 34 RBIs. He drew 40 walks and had a .422 on-base percentage. The Houston County native finished second in the ACC (top 25 nationally) with 30 stolen bases, only getting caught once.

On the mound, Jones led Tech starters with a 5.31 ERA and 4-2 record, working 59-1/3 innings over 17 appearances and eight starts. Jones, a Georgia State graduate, recorded one shutout, two complete games and three saves on the season while striking out 41 and holding opponents to a .261 average.

Jones becomes the second Olerud finalist in program history, joining Tristin English (2019). The 2024 Olerud Award winner will be announced June 17.

Preseason all-ACC team

Tech had five players named to the Phil Steele College Football Magazine preseason all-ACC team. Wide receiver Eric Singleton was named to the second team while quarterback Haynes King, running back Jamal Haynes and offensive lineman Jordan Williams were named to the third team, and and kicker Aidan Birr was placed on the fourth team.

Singleton was a freshman All-American and honorable-mention all-ACC selection after ranking fourth nationally among all freshmen in both receiving yards (714) and touchdown receptions (6) in 2023.

King was one of only two Power Five conference players in 2023 with at least 2,800 passing yards (2,842), 25 touchdown passes (27), 700 rushing yards (737) and 10 touchdown runs (10), joining Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 pick in the 2024 NFL draft, Jayden Daniels of LSU.

After making the move from wide receiver to running back during the 2023 offseason, Haynes became Tech’s first 1,000-yard rusher in five years with 1,059 yards on the ground, which ranked fifth in the ACC, 39th nationally and was the 15th-most in Tech history in a single season.

Williams was an anchor of an offensive line that led the Jackets to top-15 national rankings in both rushing offense and fewest sacks allowed. Birr made 17 of 19 field goals in 2023, good for a .895 field goal percentage that ranked ninth nationally.

Working for the great Jerry West

Pete Babcock worked for Jerry West for two years before he even met the legend.

Babcock, who eventually became the general manager of the Hawks, was coaching high school basketball in Phoenix in the late 1970s. He also served as a voluntary scout for the New Orleans Jazz, which is where he met Jack McCloskey, as assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers when West was the head coach.

McCloskey hired Babcock to do advance scouting for the Lakers when West became general manager. So, technically, Babcock worked for West.

Babcock eventually met the NBA legend in 1980 when he became an assistant coach with the San Diego Clippers.

“He couldn’t have been more welcoming and gracious to a young guy coming into the league,” Babcock said of West, who died this week at age 86. “Here is this young assistant coach, he didn’t have to give me the time of day, but he was terrific. We remained friends from that point on.”

Learning on the job

Falcons quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was asked recently what he learned from veteran Kirk Cousins at minicamp.

“Just the way he goes about his business each and every day,” Penix said. “Not just on the field, but off the field. But on the field, just his decision making. How sharp he is. How he pays attention to detail.”

Penix and Cousins have been complimentary of each other, handling what’s surely at least somewhat an awkward dynamic the best they can. The Falcons signed Cousins to a mega contract in March only to draft Penix, his successor, in April.

Not a big Georgia presence in MLB draft

This MLB draft won’t feature much Georgia in the upper rounds, which is a rarity. Beyond Bulldogs phenom Charlie Condon, there might not be another Georgia product – high school or college – taken in the top 50, perhaps even the top 100. Condon is ranked No. 1 or No. 2, depending on the outlet, for next month’s draft. MLB.com’s next-highest rated Georgia players are right-handed pitchers Jackson Barberi, from Brookwood High School, at No. 97, and Conrad Cason, from Greater Atlanta Christian, at No. 99.

-Staff writers Chad Bishop, Gabriel Burns and Chris Vivlamore contributed to this report.