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Georgia Tech has high expectations for upcoming football season
Yellow Jackets return QB Thomas from Orange Bowl victory
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (5) is tackled by Florida State defensive end DeMarcus Walker (44) during the first half of the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last season in Charlotte, N.C. - photo by Chuck Burton

ATLANTA — Defensive tackle Adam Gotsis is pleased Georgia Tech is drawing some respect in preseason polls and rankings. If the Yellow Jackets live up to their own expectations, more accolades are on the way.

Georgia Tech went 11-3 last season, including a win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and was ranked No. 8 in The Associated Press final poll. It begins this year as one of the favorites in the ACC’s Coastal division, and the Yellow Jackets are aiming high.

“Going into every season, we expect to be the best team in the nation,” said senior wide receiver Michael Summers, who likely will start after the Jackets lost seniors DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller to the NFL draft.

Georgia Tech held its first practice on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets worked out in helmets, jerseys, shorts and cleats for about two hours, and will add pads on Wednesday. Gotsis is the team’s only preseason All-ACC pick, and the big Australian likes the feel of the expectations hovering around the team.

“We’re pretty calm, cool and collected at the moment,” he said.

Fourth-year junior quarterback Justin Thomas is the biggest reason to feel good about Georgia Tech heading into a challenging schedule that includes road games against Notre Dame and Clemson and home dates with Florida State and Georgia.

Thomas rushed for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns last season while passing for 1,719 yards and 18 more scores.

“This team has to make their own identity,” he said. “Everybody’s just got to go out there and do their part and not look to last year. … You’ve still got to go out there and get your respect.”

The Jackets have eight starters back on a defense that had 29 takeaways and six scores.

That balanced out a unit that was 111th nationally in yards allowed per play (6.32) and 114th on third-down conversion rate allowed (46.1 percent).

Coach Paul Johnson and defensive coordinator Ted Roof are hoping for improvement and looking forward to the return of defensive linemen Jabari Hunt-Days and Kenderius Whitehead, who were academically ineligible.

“It’s good to get everybody back out together, the staff and players, get back into the grind,” Johnson said after practice. “Jabari is good to go. I’m happy for him. He’s worked hard.”

Georgia Tech’s defense, which has struggled for several years, might have to carry the team early on.

Thomas, backup quarterback Tim Byerly (204 yards, seven touchdowns) and wingback Broderick Snoddy (283, three) are the only returners from the team’s top 12 rushers, and Snoddy was recently cleared in his return from a broken leg.

He will be joined at wingback by walk-on Isaiah Willis, who rushed twice for 18 yards, redshirt freshmen Clinton Lynch and converted wide receiver Qua Searcy, and freshmen TaQuon Marshall, Nate Cottrell and Omahri Jarrett, plus walk-ons.

Johnson always answers questions about any perceived shortage at running back by saying Georgia Tech merely needs to plug the next runner into his unique spread, double-wing, option attack.

The Jackets have finished in the top six in the nation in rushing in each of his seven years as head coach.

Senior safety Jamal Golden thinks the offense will be fine.

“With coach Johnson’s offense, no matter who it is (running) it naturally moves the ball,” he said. “I feel like those guys know this is their time to step up and make plays. We expect to be better (on defense) because we need to be to be a good football team.”

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