In looking around the landscape of college football rarely will you ever see four juniors from the same team unexpectedly leave a school early and head to the NFL. The year to year expected replacement of players is something that every school accepts, understands, and prepares for as the normal four year turnover in their football program. However, coaching staffs are generally able to plan ahead and anticipate the early departures of a few players due to academic issues or other non-football related events; i.e. criminal allegations, failed drug tests, and the like by opening the recruiting doors a little wider in advance of what they know will be extra roster transitions.
Considering the overall dearth of talent on the roster; other than Jonathan Dwyer, and Demarius Thomas on offense, and Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett on defense when Coach Paul Johnson arrived in December, 2007 he was able to put together a very impressive first couple of seasons on the Flats by winning twenty games. While all of the aforementioned players left the Institute prematurely for the NFL with another year of eligibility still remaining, the impact of losing these four leaders had a much deeper impact on the program in the longer term. Is this the year the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets finally recover from that early mass departure of juniors to the NFL?
Given the reality that those four players made a career decision in their best interests by declaring early for the NFL draft only ten days after the 2010 Orange Bowl loss to Iowa, it wasn’t at all expected by the Georgia Tech coaching staff; maybe one or two but certainly not all four. There was no hint in pre-season camp that if any of these players had a successful junior season that they would be departing immediately for the NFL as they were all doing well academically, and there were no off the field issues that plague a number of other schools.
So as difficult as it is to replace standout players in any program, the real challenge is; how do you replace four leaders? The simple answer is that it’s quite a challenge. The expected transition of team leadership is a role that is developed internally by the players on the roster themselves as part of the learning process for achieving success on the field. That begins by establishing a work ethic for the entire team that is instilled with the older players who have been in the program for several years. Since that base of core players was clearly established with the two Morgan’s on defense, and Dwyer and Thomas on the offensive side of the ball, their sudden departure made for a rudderless ship inside the program.
The result this departure had on the future of Georgia Tech football was devastating since Coach Paul Johnson was only in his second season and still building this program from the ground up. Had junior QB Joshua Nesbitt not stayed in the program this would have caused an even bigger impact on the leadership for this team. After Joshua went down with a broken arm next season against the Hokies, that effectively ended the career for the primary leader this program had developed initially during the first two seasons under Coach Paul Johnson.
In turn, that injury created not only a QB void that prematurely threw Tevin Washington into the fray a year earlier than anticipated, but it also put him front and center as the new face of Yellow Jacket football for the remainder of the 2010 season by forcing him to become the team leader for this program moving forward. That is quite a heavy burden to place on a younger player in lieu of the natural progression of players evolving into leadership roles once graduating seniors leave the program as expected.
The only other BCS program that lost four juniors to the NFL in recent years is the 2005 USC Trojans who lost to Texas in the BCS National Title Game. Immediately after that game four juniors; RB-Lendale White, RB-Reggie Bush, S-Darnell Bing, and OG-Fred Matua, all declared early for the 2006 NFL draft. The Trojans were already losing several seniors from that team; QB-Matt Leinart, TE-Dominique Byrd, DE-Frostee Rucker, FB-David Kirtman, OG-Deuce Lutui, and DT-Lujan Ramsey who were all drafted. While USC lost those four juniors early to the NFL, they were in much better shape as Coach Pete Carroll already had enough time to build a solid foundation for the program after he was hired back in 2001. BTW, in his first season as the Trojans head coach he had a 6 and 6 record including a 10 to 7 loss to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Hopefully this will enable all of the Yellow Jackets fans to better understand what has transpired on the Flats the first few seasons under Coach Paul Johnson given an unexpected departure of the core leadership from this program on both sides of the football before a foundation for the future success of this team was ever able to take hold. Give the staff credit for being able to win games as they were trying to recover from these ill timed events while concurrently installing a new offense, 3/4 defense, and establishing recruiting relationships in order to bring this program up to the level of success everyone wants for Georgia Tech football.
No doubt Coach Paul Johnson is very happy to have an experienced senior QB in Tevin Washington returning to operate this triple option offense with more players on the squad suited for this team to succeed on the field. On the other side of the country no doubt Lane Kiffin is equally as happy with his senior QB Matt Barkley who decided to stay in school and finish out his college career instead of declaring early for the NFL draft. This is the normal sequence of transition that helps to build a successful program in allowing players to step up when it is their turn as opposed to being thrown into the deep end of the pool and learning by trial and error on the gridiron.
Now that Tevin Washington has survived a very difficult process, it would be quite helpful if everyone would just take a breath and let him show what he will be able to do with a surrounding cast of experienced linemen and backs this season. While everybody’s favorite player on any football team is always the back-up QB, my hunch is that Tevin Washington will silence those folks with a very successful senior season on the Flats. More importantly, he will be handing along his experience and knowledge to those younger upcoming QB’s by allowing them the necessary time to grow into the role as opposed to being thrown into the game unexpectedly as he was a few years ago on the road at Blacksburg. I’m looking forward to kickoff against those Hokies on September 3, 2012 and no doubt Tevin Washington is too. Go Jackets!