Tech Tuesday Review: No crowing for Preston

Former Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter averaged 20.4 yards per catch for the Yellow Jackets last season. (GETTY IMAGES)

Former Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter averaged 20.4 yards per catch for the Yellow Jackets last season. (GETTY IMAGES)

1. There was no moment of in-your-face redemption for Georgia Tech wide receivers coach Buzz Preston. When Yellow Jackets wide receivers DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller were taken in the NFL draft Saturday, Preston wasn’t even watching. He spent the day with his family and received updates from his son Quinn.

“That’s a good thing about having a teenage son about that age,” Preston said Sunday. “They can keep you abreast of what’s happening so you don’t have to spend much time looking at the ticker.”

Preston was excited for Smelter (taken in the fourth round by San Francisco) andWaller (taken in the sixth by Baltimore), but declined to take a victory lap, though one might have been understandable.

Given that the Jackets don’t throw the ball much – their run/pass ratio was 80/20 last season and they were No. 124 in the country in pass attempts per game – Preston’s position is an easy one to negatively recruit. Prior to last year’s Duke game, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe, speaking of recruiting, said, “If I’m a receiver, why (play at Tech)?”

Cutcliffe gave the comment amidst questions about why more teams don’t run offenses similar to Tech’s given its success. He said later he didn’t intend offense, that he was explaining the recruiting challenges that Tech faces and making a comment on the mindset of high-school prospects. He did praise Tech coaches for finding fits and “coaching them very, very well.” Regardless, Tech coach Paul Johnson responded that Cutcliffe “ought to worry about his own business.”

Preston, while acknowledging he had been made aware of the comments last fall, wanted no part of jabbing back at anyone.

“There is no redemption,” he said. “You just do what you can do and do it to the best of your ability and don’t worry about what people say.”

That’s not to say he wasn’t thrilled for his two players.

“To see two guys that you had an opportunity to coach get drafted, it’s a good feeling to know that you helped them in some way, hopefully, to reach it,” he said.

With four receivers selected starting with the 2009 NFL draft – Demaryius Thomas, Stephen Hill and now Smelter and Waller – only Clemson and Miami in the ACC have had as many in that span, both with four. To Preston, it isn’t about the scheme. He likens it to what he and the Tech staff do in offering scholarships – finding players that can play.

“What it all comes down to is, just as we coaches when we go out and look at the film, we have to see something that makes us say, ‘This guy has what it takes,’” Preston said.

Preston said that the NFL question comes up when speaking with high-school wide receiver prospects and their parents, both subtly and directly. He also said that the question is a reflection on the prospect’s priorities.

“If you can find a guy that appreciates what Georgia Tech has to offer and is truly concerned about their whole future and not just their NFL future, then there’s a great chance everything will work out,” he said.

It probably won’t hurt that Preston can mention that four wide receivers have been drafted in his tenure, as well as undrafted free agent Kevin Cone also making an NFL roster.

Said Preston, “You’ll mention it. Then again, it depends on what they’re looking for.”

2. A couple notes from former B-back Zach Laskey that I didn’t include in the post about him and teammate Synjyn Days receiving undrafted free-agent contracts.

First, I asked for his impression of Preston, who recruited Laskey out of Starr’s Mill High.

“I’m telling you, he’s a class-act guy,” Laskey said. He added that Preston continued to stay in touch with Laskey’s parents throughout his Tech career and has made sure to tell Laskey to greet his parents for him. “He truly cares about all of us, wants us to do well and succeed.”

Not bad: Preston coached two players who were drafted and recruited a third. For what it’s worth, he is listed as the recruiter for Isaiah Johnson (given an undrafted rookie contract by Detroit) on Rivals.

Second, I asked about the running back that the Rams (the team Laskey signed with) drafted with the 10th overall pick – former Georgia running back Todd Gurley. Laskey said he didn’t know him, but had seen him a couple times in Athens. He said his impression, both from limited interactions with Gurley and conversations with friends on the Georgia team, is that Gurley is “a stand-up guy.”

“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Laskey said. “I mean, I know the Georgia Tech-Georgia rivalry is buried deep in my bones. Now that we’re on the same team, if I have to block for him, I’m going to block and protect for him. He’s my boy now.”

Laskey will be playing a new position as a fullback. (Tennessee, which also was interested, wanted him as a running back.) The Rams have a returnee at the position, Cory Harkey, who also plays tight end, but Laskey was the only fullback signed or drafted. Further, St. Louis has a new offensive coordinator (former Rams quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti, who replaced Brian Schottenheimer, who, ironically, is now at Georgia). Laskey said that running backs coach Ben Sirmans told him they didn’t want a traditional fullback, but  “a guy who’s a little more athletic that can do a few more things. He said I fit that mold.”

Laskey further said he was told that “they had some guys they were trying to plug in. He told me the spot was up for grabs. I don’t know what more you can ask for with that kind of opportunity.”

3. Isaiah Johnson had to make a quick decision Saturday night on where he would sign after going undrafted. He leaned on Tech coordinator Ted Roof and a somewhat unlikely source – special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski.

The Lions coach who was trying to sell Johnson on coming to Detroit, secondary coach Alan Williams, had been on the same staff with Indianapolis as Rychleski.

“Coach Ray knows him very well,” Johnson said. “Coach Ray was saying he’s a good person.”

Johnson will head out this week to begin offseason training with the Lions.

“I don’t want to take anything for granted,” Johnson said. “I know it’s going to be a long road and I’m preparing mentally and physically. I’m ready to take on this challenge.”

Former Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson had offers to sign an undrafted free agent contract from the Lions, Rams, Saints and Titans, eventually picking Detroit. (GETTY IMAGES)

Former Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson (center) had offers to sign an undrafted free agent contract from the Lions, Rams, Saints and Titans, eventually picking Detroit. (GETTY IMAGES)

4. The Tech golf team was sent to the second-most distant regional site when the NCAA put the Jackets at the Farm Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., which is north of San Diego and about 1,900 miles from Atlanta.

Coach Bruce Heppler is looking at it optimistically. Only two teams in the 13-team field are from California. Much of the top competition – Arizona State, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Virginia, Georgia and East Tennessee State – will likely be as unfamiliar with the course as Tech is.

“I just think sometimes you can overanalyze that stuff,” Heppler said. “I don’t call around when we go somewhere during the regular season. The idea is just do what you always do and go somewhere and learn a little bit in the practice round. … You try not to change anything. Then it looks like you’re in a panic.”
Teams will have one practice round, next Wednesday, before the 54-hole tournament begins the following day. The top five teams will advance. In the 25 appearances that the Jackets have made since the regional format was instituted in 1989, they’ve advanced 23 times.

By Golfstat rankings, Arizona State is No. 3, Tech is No. 10, Oklahoma is No. 14, New Mexico is No. 22, Virginia is No. 27, Georgia is No. 34, East Tennessee State is No. 39.

Said Heppler, “I think it’s as good as we can hope for.”

The college careers of Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson are down to, at most, two events. Schniederjans, having finished last summer as the world’s top-ranked amateur, will play in the U.S. Open in June and the British Open in July.

“He’s happy,” Heppler said. “He’s trying to stay in college for another month and worry about all the other stuff later. His position is tremendous. He’s trying to help the younger guys. He’s in a great place, and so is Anders.”

5. The Tech baseball team swept Presbyterian over the weekend in the Jackets’ only games during finals week. Tech hit five home runs in the final game of the series, two from freshman Kel Johnson. A.J. Murray also hit one, his 12th of the season, which is tied for second in the ACC. Johnson has nine, which is tied for ninth in the conference, despite playing in 32 of 46 games because of an ankle sprain.

The sweep didn’t do much for Tech’s RPI, which improved from No. 28 to 26. (Presbyterian is No.141.) This week’s opponents won’t help much, either. Mercer (Wednesday, in Macon) is No. 129. Pittsburgh (three-game series at Russ Chandler Stadium Friday, Saturday and Sunday) is No. 182.

Tech’s going to have a tough time getting its RPI into the top 16 in order to have a good shot at being home for an NCAA regional. According to the website boydsworld.com, which tracks RPI, the Jackets will need to sweep their final eight games of the regular season, though they could help themselves in the ACC tournament beginning next week in Durham, N.C. But a sweep, after taking care of Mercer and Pittsburgh, would mean beating Georgia at Turner Field and then taking three from Miami (No. 3 in RPI) in Coral Gables, Fla.

Murray is putting together what looks like a no-doubt All-ACC season. He is No. 6 in slugging percentage (.580), ninth in runs scored (41), ninth in RBI (44), tied for second in home runs (12).

6. The Tech tennis teams will play in NCAA regional tournaments beginning Friday. The women, ranked No. 27, will play No. 33 Wichita State at Florida Friday. The winner plays the winner of Florida-Bethune Cookman on Saturday to advance to the national tournament beginning May 15 at Baylor.

It’s the 16th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance for the Jackets. The women will have entries in the singles and doubles tournaments. Freshman Paige Hourigan will play in the singles draw and will team with Kendal Woodard in the doubles tournament.

The men, ranked No. 55 will play No. 20 Columbia in Oxford, Miss. The winner will play Saturday against the Ole Miss-Alabama State winner to advance to the national tournament starting May 14, also at Baylor.

It’s Tech’s 11th NCAA appearance with coach Kenny Thorne, 15th overall and first since 2011.

Regardless of the outcome, freshman Christopher Eubanks will play in the NCAA singles championship beginning May 20 at Baylor. Eubanks has beaten four players in the top 40 of the ITA rankings.


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