ATLANTA — The last time Morgan Burnett stalked the sidelines at Bobby Dodd Stadium, he had traded in his gold helmet and white jersey for a white T-shirt, a baseball hat and a wide ear-to-ear grin.
Less than 24 hours prior, the former Georgia Tech safety answered one of the most important phone calls of his life, when he accepted the Green Bay Packers' offer to select him in the fourth round of the NFL draft.
Back on campus that following day, he saw his Yellow Jackets teammates in action for the last time. But what he and several hundred Georgia Tech fans witnessed that April morning — albeit, a quick, weather-shortened morning — was actually a first.
It was the first glimpse for the Yellow Jackets' faithful at their new-look secondary and the players comprising its completely revamped makeup.
With the next season now just three weeks away, Georgia Tech has made its final preparations in establishing a fluid transition between Burnett and the next household name to take over his acclaim.
"Right now, truthfully, everybody in the secondary is really working in trying to see who's competing the best and winning on every play," safety Cooper Taylor said about replacing Burnett. "I can't really give any names, but it wouldn't matter. Everyone is out there trying to compete and win a job."
Currently, Taylor is in a battle with junior Jerrard Tarrant for one safety position, while a three-man race has ensued for the other. That other spot was Burnett's old position. From it, he hauled in 14 career interceptions, good enough for a tie for second on Georgia Tech's all-time list.
And he did all of that with one season of eligibility remaining.
From an experience standpoint, senior Mario Edwards — a former Virginia Tech transfer who started the last five games for the Yellow Jackets in 2009 — would be the logical next-in-line for Burnett's old position.
But this preseason, he is battling with a pair of relative rookies.
Sophomore Jemea Thomas, a Fitzgerald product who was used mostly in special teams last season, is competing with Edwards, as well as true freshman Isaiah Johnson. Already unofficially dubbed "Baby Burnett," Johnson has drawn the most comparison physically to the former safety, and was even given his old No. 1 jersey.
"It just motivates me to go out and shine and to work harder, and to keep up the traditions of this jersey from the last couple of years, since the last player," Johnson said. "(I want) people to still look at No. 1 as being that good safety."
Head coach Paul Johnson has relayed similar sentiments, saying the young defensive back has an exorbitant amount of potential and should factor heavily in the unit for years to come.
But he isn't alone. Anchored by several big-name defensive back recruits, this latest freshman class should have a major impact on the Yellow Jackets' future, Edwards said.
"It's crazy. All of them can play," Edwards said. "I can see this last recruiting class and the one before really doing some special things at Georgia Tech.
"It's really good to know that you have somebody under you who you can teach and hone and they can progress and eventually help out this program to reach bigger standards than you already have."
Those young defensive backs include highly-touted cornerbacks Louis Young and Ryan Ayers, as well as safeties Johnson and Fred Holton.