When it comes to Georgia Tech’s true freshmen and who might play and who won’t, you won’t get a lot out of coach Paul Johnson.
“I think there’s going to be some guys that play. I don’t know how many yet but there’s definitely going to be some,” he says cryptically.
Asked if there were certain positions where that was more likely than others, he grins mischievously. “Just where they look like they’re better than the other guys,” Johnson says. “If they can help us in the two-deep they’re going to play. We’re not going to use them just to mop up but we’re going to have to have some play.”
Izaan Cross appears to be such a player. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end from Flowery Branch has been wowing coaches with his quickness and effort in the Yellow Jackets’ camp. Already he has gotten work with the No. 1 defense and he appears entrenched at No. 2 on the depth chart.
I sat down with Cross for a quick Q&A after Tuesday afternoon’s steaming hot practice — the second of the day on the second day of two-a-days — to find out how it’s going and to learn a little more about him. I found him to be an articulate young man, quick to laugh and eager to please.
Q: I’m sure you heard a lot about preseason camp before you got here. What do you think of it so far?
A: “It’s hot out here. [Laughs] It’s tough. It’s about what I expected. My high school camps were hard so I knew college level was going to be a lot harder. It is a lot harder. As of right now I have to prove myself. In high school everybody knew I was going to be the starting the defensive end. So that’s a lot different.”
Q: It always amazes me how much weight you big guys can lose from one practice to the next. Have you had any wild fluctuations?
A: “The most I lost was [Monday]. I lost nine pounds in our first two-a-day. Nine pounds! I got it back after a nice little dinner at the AA (athletic association), though. [Laughs]”
Q: I see you’re getting some work with the ones and seem to be in the playing rotation on the D-line. You feel like you’re doing pretty well?
A: “I do. I’ve rotated with the ones a couple of times. I’ve been No. 2 as of the depth chart right now, but that’s temporary and subject to change any day. But I do think I’m doing pretty well. I really do. Ultimately it’s the coaches’ decision whether I play or not.”
Q: What are some of the biggest differences playing on the line here as opposed to high school?
A: “You’ve got to be a lot more technically sound here. In high school you could use pure athleticism to get past offensive linemen. And for once, all the offensive linemen are actually bigger than me. I’d never experienced that before. I’d actually gone against some 150-pound linemen in high school. There’s just a lot more to it. Dropping into coverages, some plays you’ve got to pick up the quarterback, other plays you’ve got to pick up the running back, sometimes you’ve got to take the pitch, other times you’ve got to cut the field. There’s a whole lot of resposinbility. That’s the biggest adjustment, trying to learn the playbook.”
Q: The coaches’ personalities are a little different out here on the field than they were when you were being recruited, aren’t they?
A: “Coach [Jeff] Monken, he’s an offensive coach and the main coach that recruited me and he has always been nice to me. But a lot of coaches came to my house and I haven’t seen the same lovey-dovey guys that came to meet my parents [laughs]. But it’s understandable. They’re just trying to teach us.”
Q: How has it been having Giff Smith as your position coach?
A: “Coach Giff, you could always tell what kind of person he is. When he’s on the field he’s all about this, this and this; he’s all about business. But when he’s off the field he’s a jokester.”
Q: How would you describe Georgia Tech’s recruiting style?
A: “Coach Giff was especially straight forward. Him and Coach Monken told me they were losing players and there was going to be opportunity. They said they had nothing to promise but an opportunity and that’s why I’m out here.”
Q: I read where you had like 29 or 30 scholarship offers your senior year. Why Tech?
A: “The main thing is it was close to home. Funny, though, it’s close to home but I haven’t been able to go home. But Coach Giff has put a lot of players in the league and he has a great reputation as a defensive coach. I have a couple of friends from school here (Jaybo Shaw, Daniel Drummond). So it was not much of a transition to go from Flowery Branch to here.”