Georgia Tech’s first day of practice didn’t reveal everything about the strength and conditioning work the team did over the summer.
“Sometimes when you start back, you’ve kind of got to play yourself back into football shape,” coach Paul Johnson said.
However, players across the board have raved about the team’s conditioning level after a summer with new strength and conditioning coach John Sisk. The hope for the Jackets is that it pays off both in improved practices and superior endurance in the fourth quarter.
“I think, as a team, that was an issue last year, as you saw at the end of games like Virginia and Utah, games where we should have just finished it out,” B-back David Sims said. “But we weren’t able to do it. I think that’s going to change this year.”
Tech started out the season 6-0 before crawling home with losses in five of its last seven games. Over those games, Tech was outscored 54-17 in the fourth quarter and in the overtime period of the Sun Bowl loss to Utah. The Jackets averaged 6.3 yards per play in the first three quarters of those final seven games and 3.4 after that. The defense’s average actually improved, from 6.6 yards per play in the first three quarters to 4.0 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
In fourth quarters last season, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy looked to defensive coordinator Al Groh for the signals and, he said, “sometimes, it gets real blurry. Boy, it gets pretty rough, but to be conditioned and have that mental focus, that’s what we’re going to camp to build on, so I think we’ll be ready.”
In July, Sisk flipped the mix of three lifting sessions and two conditioning workouts per week to three conditioning workouts and two lifting workouts in order to prepare the team for fall camp. The Jackets usually ran in the afternoon heat.
“Everybody knows that mentally, we can push through things,” guard Omoregie Uzzi said. “We know that mentally, we can do it. Half the battle is thinking you can do it.”
If the team’s fitness has indeed improved, it won’t only mean players will be able to play better at the end of games or long drives. A fitter player can practice longer and better, as well.
Friday’s practice, conducted without pads, didn’t provide enough opportunity for players to reveal the conditioning level to coaches. But they could see differences.
“Conditioning comes when you get the pads on and you play certain (number of) snaps in a row, but you saw enough to know they’ve done a good job working all summer to be able to get themselves ready to be in position to do that,” defensive line coach Andy McCollum said.