The following, a new 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 in informative, insightful and fun.
At the media availability following Georgia Tech’s second practice of the spring, a familiar-looking man took a seat in front of quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke on Wednesday. Taking the microphone, he identified himself as “Brent Key with the Birmingham Post-Herald.” From there, playing the oft-amusing gag of coach/athlete posing as media member, Key hit Weinke with a staple of spring practice.
“Who’s the starter?” Key asked. “Who’s the starter at quarterback?”
Weinke played the straight man, telling his boss that the starter will be determined by the results of spring practice, summer workouts and the preseason before Key interrupted, unsatisfied with the answer.
“Who do you think the starter will be?”
Weinke, overseeing a quarterback competition between Zach Pyron, Zach Gibson and Haynes King, told Key that he thought all three could be starters. Key shot rapid-fire follow-ups as Weinke continued to stonewall.
“Which one, if you had to put your money down on it, which one would it be?”
Weinke then asked a question of his own of the Georgia Tech head coach and not reporter: “Which one do you want to be the starter?”
Key’s final question to the winner of the 2000 Heisman Trophy, after he said that he wanted all three to play at a very high level: “Is the level as high as you played as a collegiate quarterback?”
Weinke: “We’re working towards that, coach.”
With that, Key offered his thanks, returned the microphone and left to go back to his office.
Another peek behind the curtain
For the second consecutive week, Atlanta United manager Gonzalo Pineda briefed reporters about what would be worked on during Tuesday’s training session.
It’s a new step taken by the franchise, along with injury reports Friday, to pull back the curtain on its operations.
Tuesday’s training session includes the usual rabonas, a one-touch exercise the team frequently does, followed by two segments designed to improve one-touch passing within tight spaces featuring numerous defenders.
The first drill actually was created by Pineda. It’s called “Gonzo drill,” he said a bit sheepishly.
It features six players on the outside of a hexagon wearing the same color top. There are six more players inside the hexagon broken into two groups of three. Each group wears a different color than the other. The players on the outside are supposed to try to pass through the groups on the inside. When one of the groups on the inside intercepts the pass, they become teammates with the group on the outside. They then try to play keep away from the other.
Atlanta United centerback JuanJo Purata surprised journalists Tuesday by speaking English throughout his interview. Purata, a native of Mexico, thanked his English teacher in school as he walked off.
It’s a setup
If you’ve ever wondered how at live sporting events groups of students are yelling right when the camera is on them, it’s because it’s set up ahead of time before the shot goes live. That happened a few times at Kennesaw State on Sunday during the NCAA Tournament selection show. The student section would be instructed to be ready and be loud when a live shot was about to take place from the Convocation Center.
Getting extra attention
As Braves lefty Dylan Dodd spoke with reporters Wednesday morning in the Braves’ clubhouse, pitching coach Rick Kranitz walked by and remarked, “Whoa, a lot of attention over here!”
Dodd has made himself a big part of the conversation at Braves camp. He’s one of two finalists for the vacant rotation spot, alongside fellow southpaw Jared Shuster.
Dodd told the Braves, “I’ve been throwing strikes my whole life.” In his past five years – three at Southeast Missouri State and two in the minor leagues – Dodd had 406 strikeouts against 80 walks. He’s struck out 11 without issuing a walk in 8-1/3 innings in Grapefruit League play this spring.
While Dodd and Shuster are feeling good about themselves, Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder are not. Both players were optioned to Triple-A this week, losing their bids to earn a rotation spot.
It was particularly disappointing for Anderson, who’s played a pivotal role in the Braves’ recent success. Anderson had pitched in a Game 7, a division-clinching victory and pitched five scoreless innings in a World Series game before turning 24. But his career has hit a snag.
“(Anderson) is still young with a nice career ahead of him,” manager Brian Snitker said. “You have to look at the person, too, when you make those decisions. What’s best for him, let alone the organization and our team. It was best for him to go get right and back to where he was.”
How’s this for mixing young and old? The Braves’ 2023 rotation will feature a player from their 2020 draft class (Spencer Strider) and 2002 draft class (Charlie Morton).
“That’s the secret backbone of our team, the pitching staff,” Strider said. “At least we think of ourselves that way.”
One large family
New Falcons tight end Jonnu Smith, a member of a large family, had a rough upbringing in Philadelphia.
His mother sent him to Florida to live with an aunt. He was asked about this during a call with Atlanta media members this week.
Here’s Smith on the adversity that he’s overcome, including help rearing his brothers and sisters: “Just growing up in Philadelphia, in the inner city. I grew up around ... you know, a lot of what comes with an inner city, especially Philly. There is a lot of crime, violence and negative influences around me. A lot of my peers and closest friends lost their lives at such a young age or fell victim to the negativity that was in our area and are now in prison when they could have been a free man. But I had an opportunity ... to be able to make it out, to be a shining light for my community, to me, that’s a miracle. Not only making it out but going back and giving back. That’s why I started my new family foundation to make sure that I’ll be able to touch those at-risk youths in my community. There are a lot of great things going on in my life, and I’m very grateful to be in the position that I’m in.”
Another large family
Kennesaw State men’s basketball coach Amir Abdur-Rahim was asked about growing up with 12 siblings at a pre-NCAA Tournament press conference Thursday. It was, in a word, competitive.
It wasn’t his brother Shareef, who played professional basketball, that made things tough. It was his sisters – Amina and Qaadirah – who took it out on him athletically. Amina played basketball at Clark Atlanta. Qaadirah ran track at California.
“Shareef was always bigger than I was, so there wasn’t a whole lot of playing one-on-on against Shareef,” Abdur-Rahim said. “But my sister Qaadirah, when we lived in California, she would come pick me and my little brother up, take us to the park, and she would wear us out. When I say wear us out, wear us out. Like, I’m young, I couldn’t beat a girl. But she was my sister, and she’d run it in your face.”
Abdur-Rahim added that a large family provided support and built-in cheerleaders.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
They said it
“We’ve kept our core group in the transfer-portal age. We haven’t lost them. That’s real relationships.” – Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdur-Rahim
-Staff reporters Ken Sugiura, Doug Roberson, Gabriel Burns, D. Orlando Ledbetter and Chris Vivlamore contributed to this article.
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