For a small-town product like A.J. Gray, comfort means a lot. On the football field, it translates into confidence and making plays, which the former Washington County star has done for two years at Georgia Tech.
“I’m real comfortable because I know what I’m doing,” Gray said. “I’m starting to learn what other people do, so I can fix them if they line up wrong. I feel like by the end of my career, I’ll be the guy who can tell everybody what he’s supposed to do.”
Gray played 10 games as a true freshman, missing two games with an injury, and totaled 21 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.
“My freshman year everything was all over the place, and I was all over the place,” Gray said. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was just going off instinct. It was, ‘See ball. Get ball.’ ”
This season, Gray has started all 12 games and has 64 tackles, which is fourth on the team, with one forced fumble and two breakups.
“He’s more comfortable in the calls, more reactive as opposed to you could see him connecting the dots from A to B to C and then missing a dot or two,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “He’s been more instinctive, and because he’s more confident, it goes hand-in-hand with making him more productive. He’s a fun guy to coach.”
Gray said he felt like he was getting faster as a player. He credits safeties coach Andy McCollum for giving him some good advice.
“A lot of it comes from what Coach Mac says, ‘Put your eyes where they’re supposed to be, and things will happen,’ ” Gray said.
Gray’s best games came late in the season. He had eight tackles and one assist against both Duke and North Carolina. He had six assists in the win over Georgia.
Head coach Paul Johnson said, “A.J. is the kind of guy that the more comfortable he can get, and the more familiar he is with the scheme, the better he can play ... if he doesn’t have to think about it and can just react because he’s a really good athlete. So you would hope that when it gets simplified a bit, and the more he plays, the better he’ll be.”
Christmas break: The Yellow Jackets held their final practice Wednesday morning before a five-day holiday break. They will return to campus Monday night and hold a practice Tuesday morning before heading to Jacksonville for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
“I’m sure everybody is excited,” Johnson said. “I think my mom is more excited than anybody. She’s asked me 80 times when I’m coming home.”
Ticket giveaway: Georgia Tech has donated 700 tickets to the TaxSlayer bowl to VetTix, an organization that provides tickets to military members and veterans. Fans contributed the funds needed to purchase the tickets.
A TaxSlayer Bowl official said Tuesday that ticket sales have been steady and a crowd of 50,000-plus is expected for the game Dec. 31.