Georgia Tech

With injuries on the rise, these Yellow Jackets are stepping up in last games of season

One emphasis at Georgia Tech this season has been player development. Great attention has been paid toward getting football players ready to compete, with the staff taking a long-range view of the process.

Now the results are starting to pay off.

Most teams are physically beaten up by this point of the season. And Georgia Tech certainly has its share of walking wounded on the roster. But since the Yellow Jackets have invested hours to develop the talent, some of the new faces are starting to make their presence known.

“You watch college football, watch the NFL, and people are beat up. To be a developmental program, this is where it pays off,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said.

As an example, Thacker pointed to Taylor McCawley, a freshman from East Coweta High School. He has been on the developmental team all season but has found a way to contribute to the team.

“The calls we call on defense, he’s been playing them on the developmental side, as opposed to looking at a card and lining up and doing whatever the card said,” Thacker said. “Now when we get light on depth or we need him to contribute, he’s over on our side with the above-the-line squad this week and playing his tail off and functioning at a high rate for a true freshman walk-on linebacker.”

While players who aren’t on the two-deep roster at many other programs get little practice time, Coach Geoff Collins makes sure all of his players get on the field and take reps. While Georgia Tech’s above-the-line list won’t be announced until Thursday, new faces like wide receiver Kalari Norris, defensive end Sylvain Yondjouen and cornerback Myles Sims are constantly showing up.

“With the point of the season we’re at, we need depth and you need to continue to develop those guys,” Thacker said. “They’ve been in meetings, they’ve been involved and they’re playing our defense on the development squad.”

The offense has benefited from the added development, too. Last week some of the regulars were given additional time to heal during the off week, with developmental players getting extra time in practice.

“Last week was more about the younger guys and the development of the younger guys,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said. “Some of the older guys were just banged up. We just said, hey, come out here and have your spider pads on and you’re going to run around and we’re not going to bang around a whole lot. The developmental piece for the younger guys was really, really good.”

Collins singled out several developmental players for their role in helping the team prepare for its win over Miami: tight end Ben Wilhelm, a freshman from Thomasville; defensive lineman Antonneous Clayton, a junior from Vienna; offensive lineman Jack Coco, a sophomore from Johns Creek; linebacker Demetrius Knight II, a freshman from Locust Grove; and running back Dontae Smith, a redshirt freshman from Spring Hill, Tenn.

Other notes

  • Collins said that defensive end Chico Bennett Jr. would miss the rest of the season with a lower body injury. The freshman from Ashburn, Va., played in seven games and recorded 12 solo tackles and five assists.
  • Thacker’s wife, Liza, gave birth to the couple’s third son last week. Jackson Thacker joins sister Carolina and brother Bear.
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