Georgia Tech’s players report for preseason practice in less than a week. Unlike some previous seasons, the roster is loaded with experienced players, many of them still underclassmen, with aspirations of reaching the ACC championship game for the first time since 2014.
“I’m very excited to go into camp and see who earns positions and who comes out on top, so when we go into the first game, we are very happy with what we’re going into it with,” senior defensive end KeShun Freeman said.
Players report Thursday. The Yellow Jackets open the season against Tennessee on Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
With a talented roster and one of the program’s best recruiting classed in several years, here is an alphabetical list of 10 of the players who could have the most impact on the program this season.
Brandon Adams: The sophomore defensive tackle has spent the past eight months getting in better shape. He has lost weight and could be in position to stay on the field for extended snaps. At 320 pounds (give or take) he is quite an obstacle for the opposition to block. He played in 10 games last year, mostly in short-yardage situations. That could change this season.
Parker Braun: The offensive lineman was one of six true freshmen who played a year ago. He started the final eight games at left guard, perhaps the most important position on the offensive line in head coach Paul Johnson’s option offense. Braun is extremely good-natured off the field. Between the lines, however, he is a nasty player who doesn’t like to get beat. He is on track to be the team’s best lineman since Shaq Mason, who starts for the New England Patriots.
KeShun Freeman: The senior defensive end has been a fixture since he arrived. He was named a freshman All-American and has been a steady contributor since. For Freeman to have maximum impact, he needs to return to his “sackability” of 2014, when he got to the quarterback 4.5 times.
A.J. Gray: Soft-spoken and hard-hitting, the junior from Washington County could be ready to take the next step to becoming an all-star. The safety is smart, learns quickly and has the ability to put the hammer down on backs and receivers who dare intrude on his turf.
Ricky Jeune: He doesn’t get a lot of attention because he’s a quiet young man and because the offense isn’t built around receivers. But Jeune (6-foot-3, 212 pounds) has good size and great hands and isn’t afraid to go up and get the ball. If the Georgia Tech quarterback delivers the ball close to Jeune, he’ll likely come down with it. He’s underrated but equally indispensable.
Bruce Jordan-Swilling: A bit of a wild card, since he’s a true freshman and he still has to prove himself. But Jordan-Swilling is one of the best recruits to join the program, and he is expected to get a chance to contribute right away. With great quickness and size (6-1, 210), he could be the best get-after-it defender since Jeremiah Attaochu.
Brenton King: A freshman place-kicker? Really? The team has to replace its all-time scoring leader now that Harrison Butker has moved to the NFL. King, who played at Gwinnett County’s Mill Creek, has a big, big leg. He has yet to prove it in college, but his range may exceed that of Butker.
Dedrick Mills: Other than Johnson, few expected Mills to make the impact he did last year when he emerged as the team’s best runner. Mills is big (5-10, 217) and tough and sturdy. He is a punishing back but has the skills to bounce and take one the distance. He ran for a team-best 771 yards and scored 13 touchdowns a year ago, despite missing four games. No wonder he was one of 61 backs placed on the Doak Walker Award watch list, an honor presented to the nation’s best running back.
Brant Mitchell: The junior has started at linebacker for two seasons and has earned a reputation for being a player who doesn’t take plays off and who is rarely in the wrong place. Some players simply seem to be around the ball (that ability helped make P.J. Davis indispensable), and Mitchell often finds himself in that role.
Qua Searcy: His “Quantum Leap” touchdown against Georgia will forever live in Georgia Tech lore, but Searcy is much more than that. The A-back is dependable, productive and versatile. He is probably the best blocker among the A-backs and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. His numbers aren’t likely to be gaudy, but his contribution can’t be measured by statistics.