Tech’s Thomas confident despite preseason doubters of Jackets
Those skimming the various preseason college football publications, picks and analysis will notice a theme of moderate to low expectations for the 2021 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Coming off back-to-back three-win seasons in their first two years under Geoff Collins, the Jackets are prognosticated to finish somewhere near the bottom of the ACC in almost all the magazines, power rankings or media outlets’ selections, and very few of the team’s individual players are named as All-Conference picks or Players to Watch. Guess how much weight that all carries for those on the Georgia Tech roster, specifically returning defensive starter and team leader Juanyeh Thomas? Apparently, not very much.
“The outside world may not believe in us, but we don’t care about that because our team is all we’ve got, and it’s really all we need at the end of the day,” said Thomas at the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte on Wednesday. “Just the way our team works…our talent, the way we work, everything we preach…Georgia Tech is a special place, and it’s only going to get more special (with time).”
Thomas, one of the Jackets’ starting safeties who will begin his fourth year On The Flats this Fall, was one of three players who made the trip to Charlotte for the preseason media event along with the head coach Collins. Also representing Georgia Tech was freshman quarterback Jeff Sims and redshirt-junior linebacker Ayinde (Ace) Eley. (Note: If each player’s year beside their name looks different, it’s because everyone was granted a free year of eligibility by the NCAA in 2020 due to Covid.)
Thomas, who is coming off a 2020 season in which he started all 10 games at safety and finished with 59 tackles and one interception, further emphasized his point by saying the only way to change the opinions of those looking at Georgia Tech and its players is to prove it on the field.
“People are sleeping on everybody (on our team),” said Thomas. “We know what we have. But at the end of the day it doesn’t even matter. We have to show what we are and what we feel like we should be when we step on the field. So this year should be a great year. This is the year to make some noise. We’ve just got to win so everybody can get the accolades and can be noticed.”
Thomas also had three passes defended, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a half a tackle-for-loss in the Covid-shortened 2020 season as he was one of the Jackets’ most consisted players on the defensive side of the ball.
The same as the rest of the teams around the country, the 2020 campaign was a lot different for Georgia Tech, dealing with Covid issues along with empty to half-empty stadiums all season. The Jackets had their Spring Practice cut extremely short in 2020 due to the pandemic but should enter preseason camp in 2021 a little further ahead following a full Spring schedule this year. Thomas said that will be a big help going into the season.
“I think (having a full Spring) is going to factor in well,” said Thomas. “People don’t realize how important Spring is. Spring really sets you up for the season. To have a full Spring is going to help us in a huge way and show us what we need to work on before the season. It’s good to have a full Spring and see how the whole team works.”
Thomas added that getting stadiums filled back up with fans this Fall gives a little extra buzz, and he said he hopes to never see things look the way they were in 2020.
“Just the thought of having fans back in the stadium, that excites us all,” said Thomas. “You know, most all teams go off the fans. Just to have things back to normal, it’s a blessing, and I’m just happy to be here. Our team is happy to be in the position we’re in. (Last year) was totally different, and I really hope we don’t ever go back to that.”
Thomas will be one of the elder statesmen in the locker room this year for the Jackets with lots of young talent expected to see a substantial amount of snaps as Collins enters Year 3 of his makeover of the Georgia Tech roster. He will look to lead both verbally and through example as a guy with more experience than many of his teammates. With that being said, Thomas said he knows now more than ever that you have to take advantage of every opportunity given on and off the field because they go by very quickly.
“When I first stepped into college, I really didn’t know what I was getting into as far as school, ball and the schedule,” said Thomas. “But as I got older I started to realize you’ve just got to be good at time management. Time management is something I’ve got to be better at. Now, I take everything seriously. I take the classroom as serious as playing. When you start to take things serious like literally you’re not going to get another chance, everything’s big…So I just treat it like that.”
One of the big things Collins has prioritized in improving the current roster, recruiting and in bringing in transfers to the Georgia Tech program is speed. Thomas is one of the fastest players on the team, which serves him well in his role at the back end of the Jackets’ defense. But even the ever-confident Thomas said he couldn’t take credit for being the fastest guy on his side of the ball, and on the offensive side there is no question who the fastest Jacket is.
“Who is the fastest guy on defense? I’m going to be humble,” remarked Thomas to a question from the media on Wednesday. “The fastest guy on defense I would probably say is Tobias Oliver. Tobias has played quarterback, receiver and now plays cornerback so I would say him. Fastest guy on offense? Come on. Jahmyr Gibbs. (Jahmyr’s) the only person I know that can run full speed and still make cuts…running full speed. For him to be able to switch gears and stuff, that’s huge.”
With ACC Kickoff now in the books, Thomas, Collins and the Jackets will start preseason practice in the next few weeks to begin preparation for the 2021 season opener on Sept. 4 when they host Northern Illinois at Bobby Dodd Stadium at 7:30 p.m.