By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA - Tashard Choice knows he'll be marked man this season, especially with Calvin Johnson now playing in the NFL.
That's OK. Choice loves the attention.
The senior running back is the undisputed star of the Georgia Tech offense, coming off a year in which he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing with 1,473 yards. With no obvious candidates to steal away the spotlight, Choice is determined to put up even better numbers in his college finale.
"I'm really just enjoying my senior season," Choice said, who's been getting advice from former Georgia Tech stars such as Johnson and Joe Hamilton. "They all miss the college experience, miss being around the fellows. I really want to enjoy it. I'm not taking anything for granted."
Choice is one of the team's most vocal players - in a good way, according to coach Chan Gailey.
"It's not trash talk," the coach said. "It's encouraging, fired-up talk. There's a big difference in those two."
If Choice keeps improving, he'll likely put himself in the mix for All-America honors and maybe even get mentioned as a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Those sort of goals make him run even harder.
"I think he enjoys it," Gailey said. "That's right up his alley. If he didn't have it, I don't think it would crush him. He is strong enough to handle whatever comes. But liking it? Oh yeah, he likes it."
Choice knows he'll need a lot of help from his teammates - especially an experienced offensive line - in order to attract the national spotlight.
"You really understand that in college football, it's more of a team effort for you to reach those goals," he said. "If I had a chance to do those things, I would be ecstatic. That's something you work for, something you want to do: be an All-American, be a Heisman candidate. But you also understand what comes with it. It's a responsibility."
He is likely to draw extra attention from opposing defenses, beginning with Saturday's opener at Notre Dame. The Yellow Jackets are breaking in a new starting quarterback (Taylor Bennett) and have only one returning wideout with double-figure catches (James Johnson).
That said, Choice isn't concerned. He points out that Georgia Tech had an erratic passing game last season, even with Calvin Johnson on the receiving end.
"We've always been able to run the football since I've been here," Choice said. "That's still going to be ground zero for us."