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Tech coach Johnson visits Zenon in Albany; offer on hold

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- As Deerfield-Windsor star running back and 2009 John Reynolds Player of the Year Tony Zenon walked his school's hallways Wednesday, there was one question on every one of his classmates' minds.

"Everybody just kept saying," Zenon began, " 'Tony -- what's going with (Georgia) Tech? Are you going? Did they offer you yet?' "

Zenon, meanwhile, only wishes he knew the answer.

The reason for the excitement among his fellow Knights on Wednesday, however, certainly was warranted as it came on the heels of an early morning visit from Georgia Tech head honcho himself, Paul Johnson. Johnson, according to Zenon, arrived at the school around 9:30 a.m., accompanied by the Yellow Jackets' Southwest Georgia recruiting coordinator, Todd Spencer, and recently promoted A-backs coach Lamar Owens, and spoke with Zenon, his parents and DWS head football coach Allen Lowe for about an hour.

Johnson, however, left Albany without making Zenon an official offer -- for now, anyway.

"Basically (coach Johnson) was real open and honest with me. He told me they really wanted me but that they only have two scholarships left and right now they have two (gray shirt) commitments they have to honor first, then they'll know if they can offer me or not," Zenon said. "I appreciated him being straightforward and coming to see me, but it really doesn't change anything for me. Georgia Tech is still my dream -- always has been -- and if it works out, then it works out. And if it doesn't, then that's OK, too. It just wasn't meant to be."

Zenon added that he'd never heard of a gray shirt commitment before Wednesday but understands and respects Johnson's desire to be a man of his word to those two players. A gray shirt commitment is where a recruited player signs a letter of intent in February, but doesn't report in the fall with his teammates. He delays entry to college and basically gets an extra year of practice. That NCAA five-year clock doesn't start ticking until the player enrolls as a full-time student, so gray-shirting is really a delayed version of red-shirting.

"What I did find out is that neither of those two guys are running backs," said Zenon, who helped lead Deerfield to the GISA Class AAA title in 2008 and a runner-up finish last fall, rushing for 2,268 yards as a senior and accounting for 27 touchdowns. "And that was important to me because I wouldn't want to go there if they were trying to bring in a top running back that I was going to have to compete with (for playing time)."

With National Signing Day still two weeks away, Zenon -- who also received a visit Tuesday from Georgia Southern -- says he will proceed as planned. That includes taking an official visit this weekend to Marshall, followed by an official visit to Georgia Tech next weekend.

Of course, Zenon makes no secret of the fact he hopes the official visit to Atlanta in 10 days will end with him enrolling in classes, meeting his new teammates and finding a place to live in Georgia's capital city.

"Georgia Tech, for me, isn't just about football. I want to major in architecture and engineering, and there's no school I can think of that would look better on a resume' (for that major) then Georgia Tech," he said. "The NFL is never guaranteed and education comes first, so that's a (driving force) in my decision as well."

And Lowe, for one, hopes Zenon will be able to have his cake and eat it, too.

"Coach Johnson is a class act, and he's not going to keep Tony waiting," said Lowe, who currently has another player, former quarterback Paul Reese, on Georgia Tech's squad. "First and foremost, it was a great compliment to Tony for coach Johnson to come all the way here and tell him -- face-to-face -- where things stood. And I think coming away from the meeting, Tony understands that coach likes his athleticism, his speed and the fact that he's not just a running back, but can also catch the football.

"But right now, (Tony getting an offer) simply just depends on numbers."

Another attractive feature of Tech for Zenon, who first met Johnson during a summer camp last year, is the fact that the Knights -- unlike many prep football programs -- run the same type of Wing-T offense that the Yellow Jackets have become famous for since Johnson took over two years ago.

And that only means Zenon's transition to learning such a seemingly complex, multi-dimensional offense likely would be seamless.

"Coach Johnson knows I know the offense and he basically told me that was important to him, and he wants a running back who can catch out of the backfield -- which I can do," said Zenon, who caught 11 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns last season for the Knights -- a feat in itself considering DWS throws the ball very little during the course of a game. "I also got the feeling from him that right now, they don't have that type of versatility on the team (at my position)."

Zenon said he and his family came in with a list of questions that they also wanted to ask Johnson, one of which was how many scholarship running backs the team currently has -- and whether or not Tony would get a chance to play now, or later.

"He told me they had six, but one was moving to (fullback), so that leaves five," Zenon said. "So that was good to hear because while I have a lot of reasons I want to go to Tech, I certainly want an opportunity to play."

Zenon added that Johnson is aware of Georgia Southern's interest, as well as Marshall's, and told him that he didn't want to stand in Zenon's way if he chose either of those schools.

"I know that if I commit (to Marshall or Georgia Southern) that -- if a scholarship came open at Tech -- I could always de-commit," said Zenon, who has been assured by Marshall coaches that he will, in fact, play right away upon arrival. "But I don't even want to think about that right now. I just hope it can all work itself out without it coming to that."

Zenon will be attending his visit to Marshall alone -- "That flight is, like, $900, so I told my family .. 'Uh, I'll letcha know how it went,' " he laughed -- then will return to Albany and get ready for his visit to Atlanta.

But if the visit to Georgia Tech ends up being all for naught and the Yellow Jackets don't offer Zenon a scholarship, he says life will go on.

"People kept asking me (Wednesday) if I was excited or disappointed about my meeting (with coach Johnson)," Zenon began, "and I just told them, 'Look, I didn't know what he was coming to Albany for and I didn't have any expectations either way. If he was going to offer me, he would've done it a long time ago.'

"But I will say this: If my phone rings at any point in the next two weeks and it's Georgia Tech, I'll be a happy man."