Reporters’ notebook: Falcons’ Jessie Bates was well aware of Michael Penix

First-round selection quarterback Michael Penix Jr. poses for a photo with her jersey during the Atlanta Falcons introductory press conference at the Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

First-round selection quarterback Michael Penix Jr. poses for a photo with her jersey during the Atlanta Falcons introductory press conference at the Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch on Friday, April 26, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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.

Bates knew of Penix from his Indiana days

Falcons safety Jessie Bates III, who is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, was familiar with Falcons first-round pick Michael Penix Jr. from Penix’s stint with the Indiana Hoosiers.

Although Bates played at Wake Forest, he still follows the home-state team.

“My phone was buzzing like I’d got drafted again,” Bates said. “But, it wasn’t very surprising to me. I knew what type of player he is. Being from Indiana, I kind of had an idea about who he was. I think he had a couple almost upsets against Ohio State.”

By the way, Bates is looking forward to playing behind a 3-4 defensive front.

“It’s something that I have not been around, in a 3-4 front,” Bates said. “But it’s a great mix-up. Everything almost looks the same. It’s very challenging playing against it. Offenses don’t like that five-up look.”

More than 40% of draftees played in the Senior Bowl

Penix was one of the 110 players (out of 257) who played in the Senior Bowl and were selected in the NFL draft.

So, 43% of the drafted players played in the Senior Bowl. This was the fourth consecutive year where at least 40% of the Senior Bowl players were drafted. Before 2021, the Senior Bowl never had more than 100 players drafted in a single season.

“It’s always great moving the bar higher for the Senior Bowl, but mostly we’re just happy for all those young men who realized their lifelong dream of getting drafted,” Senior Bowl executive director John Nagy said. “Everyone at the Senior Bowl is truly grateful for so many great players choosing to make our game part of their NFL journeys.”

Overall, 10 first-rounders played in the Senior Bowl: Penix and QB Bo Nix (12th overall, Broncos), OL Taliese Fuaga (14th overall, Saints), DE Laiatu Latu (15th overall, Colts), DB Quinyon Mitchell (22nd overall, Eagles), DL Darius Robinson (27th overall, Cardinals), OL Jordan Morgan (25th overall, Packers), OL Tyler Guyton (29th overall, Cowboys), WR Ricky Pearsall (31st overall, 49ers), WR Xavier Legette (32nd overall, Panthers).

Also, wide receiver Casey Washington and defensive tackle Zion Logue played in the East-West Shrine Bowl and were drafted by the Falcons.

Burress continues to bomb away

Georgia Tech freshman Drew Burress has continued his eye-popping rookie season going into May.

A 5-foot-9, 182-pound center fielder, Burress tied the program record for home runs in a season by a freshman, with 18. That number leads the ACC and is tied for the 19th highest nationally.

Burress’ power isn’t necessarily a surprise for Tech coach Danny Hall and his staff. But the volume of power is somewhat eye-catching for the even the veteran skipper.

“He didn’t hit a home run all fall for us,” Hall said on ACC Network on Monday. “It was just one of those where you couldn’t have predicted this was gonna happen. He was a prolific home run hitter in high school baseball here in Georgia, which is really good, so we knew it was in there. In January and February you could see it coming. Then the season started, and he just hit the ground running and has never looked back.”

Burress’ 18 home runs tied Tech’s freshman home run record held by Jeremy Slayden and set in 2002. Kevin Parada hit 26 home runs for Tech in 2022 to set the program’s overall record for home runs in a season.

Tech’s Lamprecht honored

Tech’s Christo Lamprecht, the world’s top-ranked amateur player, has been named the 2024 recipient of the Byron Nelson Award, which is bestowed annually upon the outstanding Division I, II, III or NAIA scholar-athlete of the year.

The recipient, a graduating senior, is recognized for achievement in the classroom, on the course and in the community.

The senior from George, South Africa, becomes the fifth Tech player to win the Byron Nelson Award, joining Anders Albertson (2015), James White (2012), Roberto Castro (2007) and Troy Matteson (2003). Lamprecht’s honor was announced Wednesday at The CJ Cup Byron Nelson Luncheon at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas.

Lamprecht will graduate from Tech with honors with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Lamprecht also is one of 10 semifinalists for the 2024 Ben Hogan Award which annually awards the top men’s NCAA Division I, II or III, NAIA or NJCAA college golfer on all collegiate, amateur and professional events over the past 12 months, and is one of 15 on the watch list for the Fred Haskins Award which goes to the nation’s top college player.

Tech golf headed to Chapel Hill

Tech’s golf team has received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and is the No. 3 seed at the NCAA Chapel Hill Regional scheduled to be played May 13-15 at Finley Golf Club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The Yellow Jackets are playing in an NCAA regional for the 26th consecutive year, and for the 33rd time in the 35 years the NCAA has used a regional qualifying format for its championship. Tech has made it through the NCAA regional round each of the past four years, sharing a regional title in 2022 and winning a 2023 regional. The Chapel Hill regional in which Tech will compete has the No. 4-ranked team in North Carolina as its top seed and includes nine teams that are listed among the top 50 teams in the Scoreboard NCAA Golf rankings.

The field also includes Alabama, East Tennessee State, Northwestern, Baylor, Virginia Commonwealth, Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State, Clemson, Michigan State, Ball State and Howard.

The top five teams from each regional will advance to the finals scheduled for May 24-29 at the Omni LaCosta Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California. Of the 81 teams, 30 were automatic qualifiers by winning their conference championships, and the other 51 earned at-large bids.

With gratitude

Penix, during a conversation with the AJC, expressed appreciation for his parents’ guidance.

“I always tell them I love them, and I thank them because they’ve been there with me since I was a kid,” he said. “They were always there to help me become who I am today. They made a lot of sacrifices for me to be in this position. I love and thank them for everything.”

Tech two-way star earns national recognition

Tech senior Cam Jones was named the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Week for his performance against Miami last week. Jones also was named to the Two-Way Player of the Year watch list.

Jones shined against the Hurricanes by throwing a 111-pitch complete game April 27 in addition to hitting .417 over three games to help Tech take its fourth consecutive ACC series.

Over the nine innings Jones pitched, the Houston County High School graduate and Georgia State transfer scattered six hits, allowed four runs and struck out seven.

Jones also recorded five hits on the weekend with two doubles, an RBI and three runs scored. When not pitching, Jones played first base and right field during the series.

Looking ahead to the 2025 draft

Georgia didn’t have a top-five pick in this year’s NFL draft, but they shouldn’t have the same outcome next year. Quarterback Carson Beck is +500 (Draft Kings) to be the No. 1 overall pick, behind only Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders and ahead of Texas’ Quinn Ewers (+600). Beck, in his second year as starter, could further improve and position himself as the favorite while the season progresses. He has a much better ensemble around him than Sanders.

Georgia also could have the first defensive player taken. Linebacker Mykel Williams, who the team will move around along its defensive front, is +1000 to be the top pick, tied with Tennessee pass rusher James Pearce Jr. for the best odds among defenders. Beck and Williams will try to obtain another championship before making those decisions, though, and Georgia should be in a good spot to achieve such.

Tech tennis teams makes NCAA Tournament

The Tech women’s tennis team will make its 24th appearance in the NCAA Tournament after receiving an at-large selection to the field of 64 teams Monday. The Jackets will travel to the University of Texas for first- and second-round action Saturday and Sunday.

Tech (13-9), ranked 24th nationally, will open the tournament against No. 38 Illinois at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner will face either Harvard or host No. 9 Texas in the second round Sunday.

The Jackets enter the postseason as winners of five of their past seven matches.

The Tech men’s tennis team will make its 21st appearance in the NCAA Tournament after receiving an at-large selection to the field of 64 teams Monday. The Yellow Jackets will travel to Starkville, Mississippi, for first- and second-round action this weekend.

Tech (18-8) will open the tournament against Middle Tennessee on Friday. The winner will face either Alabama State or host No. 16 Mississippi State in the second round Saturday.

-Staff writers Chad Bishop, D. Orlando Ledbetter and Gabriel Burns contributed to this report.