ATLANTA - Tevin Washington and David Sims finally feel like undisputed starters at Georgia Tech.
When the Yellow Jackets kick off the 2011 season Thursday night against Western Carolina, Washington and Sims will lead a backfield that's been overhauled by coach Paul Johnson.
Washington started the final four games at quarterback last year after Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm, but it wasn't until summer camp was ending and fall semester began that the former reserve felt like a big man on campus.
The same can be said of Sims, a former quarterback who accepted Johnson's challenge to switch positions and earn a starting job at running back.
"I'm excited," Sims said. "First game I get to start, and it's a Thursday night game, the first game of season.
It's what I dream for. It's what I live for."
Washington is pumped up, too.
"It's a lot different," Washington said. "When you're going into something and you know you're the guy, it's a lot different than when you had an uncertain feeling you were going to play or not going to play."
Despite leading the nation in rushing last year, Georgia Tech's triple-option attack turned sluggish as the season wore on.
Too many turnovers and blown assignments undermined a one-dimensional offense already plagued by one of the country's weakest passing attacks.
Washington believes those problems won't recur even though Thursday night's offensive line will have only 26 combined career starts.
"Some of the games we lost last year, we beat ourselves more than the other team beat us," he said. "This year our big focus is making sure we don't do anything to beat ourselves. Make sure we do everything to put ourselves in position to win the ballgame."
Sims, who spent his first two years at Georgia Tech as a third-string QB, is eager to prove himself at a new position.
Taking over the job that Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen used to become two of the nation's top rushers from 2008-10, Sims knows he has a great opportunity to bridge success as a B-back into an NFL career.
"When I first talked about switching, Jonathan and Anthony were like, 'You'll get hit every play,' and I'm thinking, 'Playing QB in this offense, you still get hit every play,' but it's a totally different thing," Sims said. "You never know if you're going have the ball and what the QB is going to do. Playing QB, maybe you don't appreciate and understand what those guys have to do."
Receiver Stephen Hill wants to prove that he's legitimate, too, after a flat sophomore season.
The Jackets' passing game was so tepid, ranking 119th, that Hill's 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns led the team in each category.
With the arrival of 6-foot-4, 200-pound freshman Jeff Greene, who pushed Tyler Melton for a starting job in camp, Hill knows his numbers were insufficient, and the scheme isn't entirely to blame.
Demaryius Thomas played effectively enough under Johnson two years ago that he became the NFL's No. 15 overall draft pick.
Hill spent extra time in the offseason adding muscle and quickness.
"It helped me a lot," Hill said. "I'm out there catching balls that I'm supposed to catch. Things that are away from my area, I can go get. It's just me working hard and staying focused. That's my biggest concern."
Greene's presence is healthy reminder, too.
"They're going to look at a tall, go-get-the-ball type of wide receiver," Hill said. "He can control his speed really well as young as he is. He's been making plays during camp and we're looking forward to him doing that on the field."
Even Washington knows his job isn't guaranteed. No. 2 quarterback Synjyn Days will take some snaps against Western Carolina, and the Yellow Jackets haven't ruled out that true freshman Vad Lee might not spend the season as a redshirt.
"He's certainly on our travel squad and will dress," Johnson said. "We're going to have to make that decision here pretty quickly. But he's done great. We're really excited about Vad."