Deon Hill may have been a leading candidate for a starting position, but the Georgia Tech A-back pictured himself as an underdog.
“I wanted to work to (get the starting job),” Hill said. “I didn’t want anything given to me. I wanted to show and prove that I could.”
Hill has shown and proved. He and Robert Godhigh will be the starting A-backs when the Yellow Jackets open the season Saturday afternoon against Elon. It will be Hill’s first career start.
“I can’t wait,” Hill said. “Big opportunity. This is what I came to school for.”
No fewer than four Jackets will make their first career starts Saturday — Hill, quarterback Vad Lee, wide receiver Micheal Summers and either DeAndre Smelter or Corey Dennis at the other wide receiver spot.
Summers’ game plan is free of extravagance: “Staying consistent and just doing my job because that’s all I can really worry about is my job.”
He has won the job with, among other things, a willingness to get dirty.
“He’s still a redshirt freshman, but Micheal’s got good speed,” coach Paul Johnson said. “He’s not afraid to be physical.”
Summers is making the transition from playing running back at Statesboro High. He has learned to play in space, run routes and become accustomed to a defining element of playing wide receiver at Tech — blocking.
“I feel like now I’m ready to play in a game,” said Summers, who, as a redshirt freshman, not only will make his first start, but will play in his first collegiate game.
Summers helped himself by staying healthy in the spring, when the Jackets were short on wide receivers, giving himself plenty of time to be coached.
“I feel like mentally I’ve been getting better day by day from spring into fall camp,” Summers said.
He should be on the field plenty Saturday. Because receivers Darren Waller and Travin Henry will be held out of the game for violating team rules, Tech will have three scholarship receivers available — Summers, Dennis and Smelter.
Consistency is what won Hill the job to take the spot opened by the graduation of Orwin Smith, who was also Hill’s high school teammate in Phenix City, Ala. As it is the virtue constantly preached by A-backs coach Lamar Owens, Hill made consistency his objective. Hill said he has watched veterans such as Godhigh and center Jay Finch to absorb their example. He has focused on catching everything thrown to him, executing every assignment and giving full effort each play.
“I just continued to try to make plays, continued to block, continued to do the small things that (Owens) likes to see,” Hill said.
Waiting for his time behind Roddy Jones, Smith and Godhigh, Hill hasn’t had significant playing time at A-back — he has seven carries and four receptions in his 27-game career. But he won a competition at probably the team’s deepest position, one that requires perhaps the most versatility.
“When you take in the fact of blocking, receiving, running with the ball, assignments, adjustments, all that stuff, I think he’s probably separated himself a little bit,” Johnson said.
Fellow A-backs Dennis Andrews, B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days and Tony Zenon will vie for playing time behind Hill and Godhigh. Johnson said he’ll use the A-backs to shuttle plays in from the sideline, so each will have opportunities to prove himself and earn more time.
But Hill will have the first crack when he takes the field with Tech’s 10 other offensive starters for the first drive of the game, shortly after noon Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I’m not too sure about (what that moment will be like),” he said. “I’m just ready for it.”