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FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Newton grads hope to figure into Georgia Tech football success
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Newton Rams products Josh Tukes, left, and Jaquan Henderson want to make as immediate an impact on the Jackets' team as possible. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News

In a competitive ACC Coastal Division, the 2016 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team found themselves at an even 4-4 in conference play, but were able to go undefeated in non-conference play, including big wins against hated rival Georgia and Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl.

Coming Back for More

As the 2017 season looms, the young Yellow Jackets team will return seven starters on offense, nine on defense and both specialists. They also return defensive coordinator Ted Roof in his fifth season running a base 4-3 defense, and head coach Paul Johnson in his tenth season controlling a triple option offense that racked up 258 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry a game in 2016. Promising speedster Marcus Marshall transferred, but leading rusher Dedrick Mills returns.

New Man Under Center

However, the team’s biggest departure is former Orange Bowl MVP and veteran quarterback Justin Thomas. According to Paul Johnson, the QB position currently belongs to Matthew Jordan, but also stated that it’s “his job to lose,” citing other guys are in the mix like Jay Jones, Lucas Johnson, and Chase Martenson. Jones and Johnson were fairly impressive during the spring game, but Jordan benefits from the experience of backing up Thomas. He’ll also benefit from a fairly stout offensive line.

Familiar Faces in New Places

With the 47th ranked recruiting class in the nation, the Yellow Jackets will bring in one four-star prospect in linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling and 21 three-star guys, including former Newton Rams standout Jaquan Henderson who will reunite with his high school teammate Josh Tukes. Henderson said, before leaving for Atlanta, that it was his ambition to find the field from day one. Meanwhile, Tukes, a 6-foot-6 defensive end, spurned several basketball scholarship offers in order to accept preferred walk-on status at Georgia Tech. It’s no coincidence that some of Tech’s biggest 2017 signings came on the defensive side of the ball. The numbers last year were adequate, but Roof is looking for more push at the point of attack and pass rush pursuit.

Breaking In the New Digs

Tech will kick-off their season against the Tennessee Volunteers in Atlanta, in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 4in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game, in which a victory over a top SEC East school could spell momentum for the Jackets early on. Other key games include a road visit to Memorial Stadium to face their ACC rival and defending national champion Clemson Tigers, as well as other rivalry games against Virginia Tech and, of course, the Bulldogs. Tech has not beaten the Bulldogs in consecutive seasons since 1999-2000 and will be looking repeat that feat in 2017 at Bobby Dodd.