After starting his first game as a Yellow Jacket on Saturday, Georgia Tech freshman Jahaziel Lee fell in love with his new position on the offensive line.
A defensive end at Ponchatoula High School in Ponchatoula, La., Lee was recruited by coach Paul Johnson, who envisioned a position change for Lee. In January, Lee told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he always thought he would play defensive end, but Johnson persuaded him to take a chance on the offensive line and hinted that Lee might like it better.
Almost a year later, Lee couldn’t imagine playing in any other spot.
“I would never thought that I would love playing offensive line, but I love it, I really do,” Lee said. “It’s just kind of like playing defense, you get to smack somebody in the mouth, and then at the end of the day, you’re scoring touchdowns. It’s good to make a block and you see the running back hitting the hole for a touchdown and running down the field and celebrating going to sidelines.”
Lee performed well enough in his first start, against Georgia Southern, that in Johnson’s mind, Lee is the starter until another Jacket beats him out.
Quarterback Justin Thomas didn’t notice too much about the freshman tackle’s play Saturday, but Thomas insists that’s a good thing.
“(Lee) went out there, he did what he was supposed to do,” Thomas said. “He played with a lot of energy, you could see on film. As the game progressed, you saw him getting better. I think he’ll have a bright future, and that’s just one start out of many I think he’ll have.”
Even with the excitement of being Tech’s current starter at left tackle, Lee’s goal is to keep progressing every day as the Jackets’ approach the bye week. The most important improvement Lee will focus on for the Jackets’ next five games is knowing his assignments.
Lee wasn’t the only young lineman who earned a start against Southern. Next to Lee on Saturday was roommate and left guard Parker Braun.
Braun, also a freshman, made his second start. Although he has one more start under his belt than Lee, Braun watched his roommate during the offensive line film review on Sunday and was impressed.
“Watching the film, there’s a couple of missed assignments there, but everyone has a couple missed assignments in their first start, but he really fired off the ball and got a couple good knock downs,” Braun said. “He looked really good.”
To improve as a whole, Braun knows the offensive line must get stronger over time, but in the short term, Braun stressed the front five must gain more confidence on the field and copy Lee’s example of “firing off the ball” during each play.
Thomas believes the offensive line has improved continually during the season, even with two freshman on the left side against Southern. Against the Eagles, Thomas earned his highest quarterback rating of the season (225.0), throwing 7-for-11 for 171 yards and one touchdown and rushing for two touchdowns — one with a 58-yard run.
“(The offensive line) is playing with more confidence from playing the first game to the last one, even with the moving puzzle (pieces) that we have they’re still going in and just fitting right in place, doing what they’re supposed to do,” Thomas said. We just have to keep that going these last five weeks.”