ATLANTA — As Georgia Tech was wrapping up its practice, Izaan Cross found himself in unfamiliar territory: on the sidelines.
While the rest of his teammates got all the reps, Cross watched intently, studying everything his defensive peers were doing. And he didn’t mind at all.
“I know there’s a lot I need to learn so I’m not taking it too hard right now,” said Cross, a freshman defensive end from Flowery Branch. “I think I’ll be OK once I know what I need to be doing.”
Not participating in the best part of practice is just one of the several adjustments that Cross, and fellow Flowery Branch graduate Daniel Drummond have to go through during their first season playing for the Yellow Jackets. They need to study the extensive playbook, participate in demanding practices and weightlifting sessions and attend meetings. Oh, how they have to attend meetings.
“There are a lot of meetings,” said Drummond, who will play B-Back for Georgia Tech this year. “That’s the hardest thing to get used to. It’s not like high school.”
His roommate concurs.
“The meetings have been crazy,” Cross said. “You get called out of bed and put on the spot and I’m not used to that.”
Luckily for Cross and Drummond, their good friend Jaybo Shaw is just a year removed from being in their shoes.
“I’m kind of trying to take them under my wing, but of course I’m still trying to learn myself,” Shaw said. “Izaan and Daniel are my good friends because we go back to The Branch, so I’ve told them if they ever need anything, they know where I’m at.”
The majority of the time, they can find their Branch brother either in the film room or on the field honing his quarterbacking skills. As a freshman last year, Shaw briefly displayed what he was capable of, accounting for 521 yards of offense and five touchdowns in seven games, and this year he’s ready to contribute more.
“Of course I have more personal goals of what I’d like to get done,” he said. “But I’m just trying to be the best quarterback that I can be, whatever it may be, and help the team.”
According to Shaw, the experience he had last year will only help achieve those goals.
“I think that’s experience that benefits me every day,” he said. “Being able to know the game speed on a Saturday afternoon or Thursday night has helped me tons and I look forward to getting some more.”
When Shaw does get more experience, he’ll have a familiar face providing protection in Gainesville High graduate Nick Claytor, who said he likes to have a good time at the expense of the guys from Flowery Branch.
“I always mess with Jaybo every chance I get, and Cross is a D-end, so I see him all the time and I love messing with him,” Claytor said. “Plus Cross went to Buford too, so I hate him double.
“It’s nothing negative, it’s just jokes,” added the 6-foot-6 Claytor. “Like every time something bad happens to Jaybo, I always say, ‘Yeah, that’s what you get for ruining my senior year.’ Cross hasn’t been here long enough, but he’s gonna get it too.”
All joking aside, Claytor can agree with Shaw when it comes to the amount of talent that is coming from Northeast Georgia, specifically in Hall County.
“It goes back to what kind of program Flowery Branch has and what my dad and the coaches have done at Flowery Branch,” Shaw said of the fact that two former Falcons are now at Tech. “I think it’s real special for myself and the Flowery Branch community.”
“It’s real up there and it’s getting better and better,” Claytor added. “I heard Gainesville has a slew of kids going D-I and you can’t get mad at that. North Georgia football is on the rise and that’s a good thing.”
Georgia Tech football is also on the rise, and the players are ready to improve on last year’s 9-4 record.
“We got high expectations and we’re holding ourselves to a high standard and we’re going to achieve them,” Claytor said.
In order to do so, Shaw said it’s going to take hard work and a fast start.
“We’re gonna have to bring our A game right out of the gate,” Shaw said, referring to Tech’s first four games against Jacksonville State, Clemson, Miami and North Carolina. “We have a tough schedule and if we take care of business, it could put us in the right position.”