Former Deerfield star and 2010 Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon won't be the starting punt returner for Georgia Tech in its season opener Thursday, but likely will be one of a dozen Yellow Jackets freshmen seeing significant playing time this season.
ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson thought true freshmen Trey Braun and Jeff Greene might win starting jobs when summer practice ended last week.
Though both players fell short of their goals, Johnson believes the Yellow Jackets have resolved an important issue before Thursday's season opener against Western Carolina -- they have at least 12 freshmen ready to challenge for playing time. That makes Georgia Tech's roster deeper and stronger.
"If they're better in practice than the guys in front of them, then we play them," Johnson said.
To make a clean break from last year's 6-7 record, Johnson needed his young players to bring energy and challenge veterans for snaps in summer camp.
Among true freshmen, Braun pushed Ormoregie Uzzi at right guard. Greene did the same to Tyler Melton at receiver. Errin Joe and Shaquille Mason fought for starting jobs on the offensive line, and Jamal Golden tried to beat out Rod Sweeting at left cornerback.
Among redshirt freshmen, Catlin Alford is trying to beat out sophomore Ray Beno for the starting job at left tackle, a position that Phil Smith could reclaim after he serves a two-game suspension. Johnson expects quarterback Synjyn Days, B-back Charles Perkins and A-back Tony Zenon -- The Herald's 2010 John Reynolds Player of the Year who wowed coaches in preseason practice with his electric speed and ability to return punts -- to get some playing time behind the starters.
Although, another true freshman, Zach Laskey, won the job as punt returner over Zenon.
"It ought to be fun," Johnson said of watching the competition play out over the season.
Braun, who stands 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, was the only true freshman to enroll early at Georgia Tech this year. After graduating last winter from Leon High School in Tallahassee, Fla., he was expected to push for time on an offensive line that joins Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada-Las Vegas, and Southern Cal as the only FBS schools beginning the season with no senior starters.
"He's going to play," Johnson said. "We'll probably play with a couple of offensive linemen, so at some point on Thursday night he'll get in the game, I'm sure. Probably Shaq Mason well get in the game as well. We'll see how it goes and then evaluate, but we're counting on him playing this year."