Two Mondays ago, Will Jackson was in the Georgia Tech weight room as he was beginning his pre-draft training. The team had a 4 o’clock meeting. Jackson walked the hallway leading to the team meeting room and kept on walking, no longer a member of the team.
“It’s definitely weird,” said Tech’s former offensive lineman. “It’s really a strange feeling, just considering how fast everything went by.”
Jackson is in that middle ground, no longer a college player but awaiting a chance to play professionally. From that spot, Jackson and former B-back David Sims shared their thoughts about the season, their careers, futures and Tech’s prospects going forward.
Jackson said it is frustrating to look back on the season. “There were so many games we could have won and what might have been with our season. That sticks with you a little bit.”
In the 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech, he said, the Hokies did “nothing that ridiculous to throw us off our game. If we could have just done simple stuff, we win that ball game.”
Said Sims, “I know for a fact, the Virginia Tech game, we had an excellent game plan. We just didn’t execute.”
Against Miami, Jackson recalled Tech’s second-quarter drive with a 17-7 lead when quarterback Vad Lee lost the ball on a fumble, setting the stage for the Hurricanes to come back.
“We punch in a touchdown there, I’m sure the ballgame’s over with,” he said. “Right there, you’re looking at us playing in the conference championship against, obviously, a very good Florida State team.”
He said there were mistakes in the BYU game that “just really head scratchers when you watch them on tape” and that the Georgia game was obviously winnable.
“That’s kind of the nature of the game,” Jackson said. “It’s certainly frustrating when you look back and see how close we were to having a special season.”
Sims called every game but the BYU and Clemson games winnable. He called the season as a whole “O.K. I definitely think it could have been a lot better.”
Sims divulged his rather bold individual goal – 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He finished with 884 yards, a 5.5 yards-per-carry average and 11 touchdowns. Notably, he had just one carry for loss in 161 carries.
“I didn’t reach my goals, but I did O.K.,” Sims said. “I did some good things this year. I think I did a lot better as far as having a few more big plays than I had in the previous two years.”
Sims acknowledged he has wondered what might have happened had he stayed at quarterback. He said he thinks his running style might have been something of a cross between former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs (49 career rushing touchdowns, 2,665 rushing yards) and Joshua Nesbitt.
I appreciate his optimism and high goal setting. He told me before the season started that his goal was to go undefeated.
“I think I would have ended up running it pretty well if I would have been given a chance,” he said. “That’s water under the bridge now.”
Jackson said he thought he had “a pretty solid season. I felt like, starting off at guard, I probably had the best season playing guard I’ve had since I got here.”
However, he moved over to tackle after Ray Beno’s injury, which required an adjustment period. Notably, Jackson didn’t miss any time to injury after he had been missed time in each of his first three seasons due to various injuries.
“This year, coming out and being able to show (the sprained shoulder from 2012) was a non-issue and playing 100 percent healthy was big for me,” he said.
Jackson is taking one class towards his MBA and working out for Tech’s pro day. He is training in Duluth with Ryan Goldin, who last year trained Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, among others.
Sims participated in the Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, S.C., last week. In the game, he ran eight times for 19 yards. His offense struggled as a whole, gaining 192 yards of total offense and averaging 3.2 yards per play. (Former Tech defensive tackle Euclid Cummings, who also participated, did not appear to play in the game, according to the final statistics.)
Speaking last week, Sims said he planned to go to Orlando to train with Tom Shaw, a renowned figure in the cottage industry of combine/pro day trainers. He was to go there with Jemea Thomas, who is participating in the East-West Shrine game this week.
Sims said he was “kind of not surprised by” Lee’s decision to transfer. Both made similar observations – Lee tried to make it work for him, but the offense ultimately wasn’t a fit.
“I think in Vad’s mind, I think he knew he could be successful in this offense, but I think he wanted to do some different things,” Jackson said.
Lee had spoken with Jackson about the possibility of transferring before he made the decision.
“I could tell he was considering it,” he said. “I didn’t know if he’d actually pull the trigger on it or not.”
Jackson said that, in his conversations with Lee regarding transferring, Lee (and Jackson) arrived at a rather honest realization.
“Basically, we both came to the conclusion that Justin fits better what we’re trying to do better than Vad does in terms of being that under-center option quarterback,” Jackson said.
Jackson had plenty of praise for Thomas saying that “he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers I’ve been around. When he has the ball in his hands, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody running the ball in pads that’s as fast as he is.”
Regarding his size (5-foot-11, 179 pounds), Jackson said, “I think Justin’s a real tough kid. When you see him in scrimmages and whenever he’s gotten in games, he has no issues taking a hit or trying to run through somebody. I think as he grows and develops a little bit and gets a little bit bigger, some of those concerns will go away.”
Sims said that Thomas “knew pretty much everything” about the offense when he first joined the team in 2012, thanks to help from Tevin Washington. Thomas has a pretty good feel for the reads and good footwork, Sims said.
Sims’ scouting report: “Without a doubt, Justin’s the second or third or fourth fastest person on the team. Unbelievable quickness and very, very underrated arm.”
Both expressed confidence in backup Tim Byerly, who was the No. 3 quarterback this past season, citing his knowledge of the offense.
“Timmy would be very solid, very dependable, as well,” Sims said. “He has a pretty good grasp of the offense, too. There’s little things he needs to learn, of course, but there’s a chance he can push for playing time, as well.”