ATLANTA -- One of the eight freshmen who played a lot of snaps on defense in the Georgia Tech season opener Thursday was A.J. Gray, who was the Georgia High School Player of the Year in 2014.
Gray played special teams and logged a lot of time at safety when the game got out of hand. He made a tackle on a kickoff return, intercepted a two-point conversion pass and wound up with four tackles. He even got a compliment from head coach Paul Johnson in the post-game news conference.
“It was good to get the first game under my belt, but I’ve got a lot to work on,” Gray said. “I’m going to work hard. I played all right, but I could have done better.”
Gray, who was usually the most athletic player on the field when he played at Washington County, learned quickly that the game has changed.
“It’s faster, much faster, with faster people,” he said.
Overall, Johnson was pleased with the effort of the freshmen who played Thursday.
“Marcus Marshall did some good things. He has to hold on to the ball and block better,” Johnson said. “I think TaQuon (Marshall, A-back) is going to be a good player. A.J. Gray made some good plays. (Linebacker) Brant Mitchell did well when he was in there. That’s probably about it that stood out.”
Johnson had to look hard to find something to criticize about Marcus Marshall’s performance. He ran for 184 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns, runs of 49 and 64 yards. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native’s 184 yards were the most by a Georgia Tech back since Jonathan Dwyer ran for 189 against Wake Forest in 2009.
Marcus Marshall’s mistake was being stripped from behind on a play at the end of a 20-yard run, which Alcorn State recovered.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely went well,” he said. “It was really exciting, just simply stated. It’s something I have looked forward to growing up. It was great to come out like that.”
Harris County’s TaQuon Marshall only got one carry and took it for 18 yards. He also caught a pass for 24 yards.
Mitchell, from the Webb School in Knoxville, Tennessee, had three tackles, one for loss, in his debut.
The other true freshmen who played were linebacker Victor Alexander, offensive lineman Will Bryant, wide receiver Brad Stewart and defensive lineman Anree Saint-Amour.