New Editions (3):
* Previous All-ACC 1st Team Selection
Simply put, Georgia Tech is loaded up and down the Running Back positions. There is not a lack of talent or numbers. In fact, it appears that one of the Fullbacks from last season, Kyle Pupello, will move to Linebacker to help out at that position while helping alleviating some of the new logjam at Fullback. Actually though the logjam starts at Tailback. Because of it, along with an injury to Johnathan Jackson that will keep him out of spring and the move of Pupello to LB, Ajenavi Eziemefe will get a shot at Fullback. This would appear to be a very smart move for the coaching staff. It will give the 3 Tailbacks behind PJ more reps in spring, gives ACE a better chance at significant playing time and challenge the Senior starter, Jimmy Dixon, to keep improving or else losing playing time himself. The deep RB unit should be a great challenge for the young LB corp to handle during this year's spring secession.
In addition to returning first team All-ACC RB Daniels, GT returns a redshirted big-time prospect in Grant, an improving Chris Woods, and don't forget Michael Sampson, who becomes the only academic causality from last season to return to the football field for Tech. Before his school issues forced him out last season, he was actually ahead of Daniels on the depth chart. Gone from the depth chart are Jermaine Hatch, a little used Senior RB who was never the same player after multiple knee surgeries, and Brian Johnson, a big FB who transferred during the past season after failing to make a significant impact at his position.
The one that got away:
Losing out on this super local product to Notre Dame stings, even though we had a solid backup plan. GT had a better shot at landing Darius than most folks knew. The inside word is that we were close to landing a commitment from Walker before the Humanitarian Bowl. You might be able to "blame" this loss on PJ Daniels. His great play throughout the season led to him being named the best TB in the conference but it was his 300 yard performance against Tulsa that opened some eyes on the recruiting trail while at the same time possibly closing some doors. The former walk-on turned star, you see, also has 2 years of eligibility remaining and that might have scared off Walker.
There were some other nice options we looked at that also didn't come through for us. Sampson Taylor may have also been affected by the trickle down effect of Darius Walker's decision to go to Notre Dame. He was expected to sign there but they decided to pull back his offer when Walker committed and Taylor ended up at Texas A&M. Parrish Fisher was another solid looking prospect GT went after but he signed with the team that was at the top of his list all along, Kansas State.
Before the beginning of the 2003 football season it would appear that Georgia Tech would have a real need for Running Backs in the upcoming recruiting class. Grant was a highly touted freshman who had some less than stellar early practices. The number one back out of spring, Michael Sampson, had failed out, leaving GT with a former walk-on as the starter. Chris Woods was a transfer and a complete mystery. And Hatch was formerly a player that looked like the future at the positions but injuries were never going to allow him to follow through on his athletic promise. But throughout the season everything changed. Daniels became arguably the best back in the conference. Grant started looking like the player he was advertised to be in later practices. There were whispers that Sampson might be back by next spring and Chris Woods proved to be a guy that could handle come carries when needed as well as being adept at catching out of the backfield. So GT went from a team with a lot of question marks at RB to a team with several options going into the next season. GT could now afford to take a chance and put all of its eggs in one basket and go for the home run by getting just 1 stud Tailback type. But if we came up empty we would need a backup plan and could still take a chance and offer a player that was more risky in terms of being someone with great physical attributes that didn't need to contribute right away.
At Fullback, GT really just needed to add another body. That position is so difficult to predict who'll excel, it is tough to be too picky about whom we would land at that spot. You just have to hope that the coaches have enough bodies at the position and coach them well once they arrive.
Who GT signed:
The big catch of the RB group was Drew Gause. I mentioned that GT could take a chance on a player who had great potential but wouldn't necessarily be counted on to contribute right away. Well Gause turned out to be the risky player we took a chance on but for a different reason. Drew is built and has the body and speed to contribute immediately however what made him a risk is the fact that there's a good possibility that he'll be drafted by Major League Baseball. If it turns out that he stays with college football then we may have picked up a true steal…baseball pun intended. As a senior Drew rushed for over 1,100 yards and had 31 touchdowns. And being a five-tool prospect in baseball, you know you're getting a fine athlete. The only hiccup in Drew's recruitment to GT is that he had to wait on Darius Walker to make a decision first. GT coaches told him that they liked him plus Walker and wanted to give the local kid the shot to commit first. As soon as Walker announced to Notre Dame, GT offered Drew and it was a done deal.
Mike Cox is the dark horse in this recruiting class to be a real star. GT liked him from the beginning and Mike committed to us early in the process. One thing he liked about Tech is that we were going to give him the chance to be a Tailback or one-back versus other teams that liked him exclusively as a Fullback. Chances are he'll eventually be a Fullback but it is also possible that he could be a successful "big back" much like Jerome Bettis or Mike Alstott and carry the ball in many short yardage situations. And speaking of Alstott, Purdue stayed on Cox throughout the recruiting process but offered him too late. They even promised to let him wear Mike Alstott's old number if he would sign with them. GT also had to fight off offers from future ACC foe Boston College and other schools as well. Even though Cox is built like a typical Fullback if you watch film on him you notice that he has deceptive speed and seems like a guy that could be more than just a blocker and occasional ball carrier. Something else you'll notice about Mike is that he has really soft hands for a big guy and that should play out well on this team where our coaches often like to through out of the backfield.
Finally there is Justin Guadagni. Justin is a true Fullback prospect even though he's not quite as big as Cox. But like Cox, he is from the state of Pennsylvania. Justin is more of a sleeper because no one really got to see what he could do in his senior season. He tore his ACL in only his second game and had reconstructive surgery on it in early October. Because of that it is not likely you'll get to see much of Guadagni on the field as a true freshman. He'll likely redshirt and rehab his knee to full strength before trying to compete for a Fullback spot or even try to contribute on special teams. Justin also had early offers from Indiana and Purdue. So Purdue lost out to GT on two possible Fullback prospects this season.
Recruiting Grade: B-
This Running Back recruiting class doesn't necessarily make you stand up and say wow but it could end up being quite a nice group over time. Since we don't have immediate needs at either RB spots, we had the luxury of signing a class like this that is a little risky but with high potential. Gause certainly has the make-up for a future starting back. If he sticks with football he will no doubt be a solid contributor down the road and possibly a starter. Guadagni had some nice early offers but his injury makes him a sleeper that we probably won't look to for some time now. Cox is the one that picked up more and more interest from other teams as the season progressed so he's one whose value may have been underestimated early on by fans. This is not a group you would assign an A to because of some uncertainty. Will Gause go to college? Will Cox be a FB or TB? Will Guadagni fully recover from his injury and be a solid player? But also I feel that this group merits staying out of C range because of the athletic potential and possibility to have future starters at two positions. I feel that others may not grade them the same way because it is not a group that you will likely see early contributions from. With our current depth, this RB class will pay dividends down the road a little more than some are willing to wait. But in my opinion this group consisted of nice building blocks for the future.