Ankle surgery having precluded his participation in spring practice, Joshua Nesbitt had the chance to study Georgia Tech from the sideline. And what he saw, he said, was a team just as talented as last season’s ACC champs. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, a big ol’ fib.
Because the Jackets with Nesbitt on the sideline aren’t one-tenth as impressive as Tech is when he’s on the field. He’s not quite the best player in college football, but no one means more to a program than this quarterback does to his.
Paul Johnson’s stylized option-based spread starts with Nesbitt, and often it ends there. He has to make every read, every pitch, every throw. He also has to take 30 hits a game, and therein lies the issue. With backup Jaybo Shaw having transferred to Georgia Southern, Tech can’t afford to lose Nesbitt for a single snap. But even a man as conspicuously robust as this — he appears bigger than his listed 217 pounds — is going to feel some pain.
The good news: Nesbitt said last week he feels better than he has “since high school.” The bad: Every Tech opponent won’t be so concerned with defending the option this season as with simply smacking Nesbitt.
But here’s the thing: Nesbitt is capable of smacking back. He has a linebacker’s approach to playing quarterback. If you come hard at him, he’ll come harder at you. Apologies in advance for again using the I-word — “indomitable” — but with Nesbitt no other adjective is half as applicable.
Said Nesbitt, speaking of Tech: “We understand what it means to fight until the clock says zero.”
Much of this comes from Pugnacious Paul, the head coach. Nearly as much emanates from the quarterback he inherited on arrival, a young man after PJ’s fighting heart.
And these Jackets, picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division, figure to need all the orneriness they can muster. They lost four gifted juniors to the NFL, and their road schedule — trips to Kansas, North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia — is a fright. Or it would be, were Nesbitt the sort to get nettled.
“People are looking for us not to be the same team,” Nesbitt said. “We know we’ve got a bull’s eye on us. … We need to prove everybody wrong.”
Someone asked if Johnson imparts that very message to his players. “Only every time we talk,” Nesbitt said, and then he laughed.
Another source of some amusement: The two letters at the shank of his first name. He was born Joshua Leonard Nesbitt, but for 21 years he answered to Josh. He and his mother decided to ask Tech to list his name as Joshua for his senior season: “More businesslike,” he said.
Which isn’t to say everyone has gotten the memo. Heck, sometimes his mom even slips and forgets the “u” and the “a.” “It doesn’t faze me,” said Nesbitt, who isn’t easily fazed.
And what does Tech’s coach call his quarterback? “He can call me whatever he likes.”
We know Johnson has the utmost faith in his offense — he should; he designed the thing — but even a man as proud as PJ will acknowledge that an option cannot run itself. Somebody has to take the ball from center and send it the right way and absorb those hits, and there’s nobody on Tech’s campus who can do it the way Nesbitt does.
Still, the cult of Joshua hasn’t yet found national traction. We saw it again this week when the assembled ACC media voted him sixth in its preseason player-of-the-year balloting. Yeah, that’s part of being an option quarterback in 21st century football, but still … sixth!
Maybe his low standing had something to do with Nesbitt skipping the ACC’s media days in Greensboro. Both Tech and conference officials implored him to come, but he was adamant. He had to attend a family reunion in Miami. (And no, it wasn’t an agent-funded soiree.)
And there’s just another reason to like Joshua Nesbitt. In an age where hype knows no restraints — hello, LeBron James — the most valuable Jacket had better things to do than talk about himself. Talk about a throwback.