Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu believes he can improve on his already impressive stats from last season (10 sacks, 69 tackles) as he moves from linebacker to DE for the first time in his college career.
ATLANTA — This summer contained few idle moments for Jeremiah Attaochu. There were strength and conditioning workouts with the team. There was training on a boxing speed bag. There were thrice-weekly individual workouts with Tech’s strength coaches to hone his form. And he had a summer internship.
Combined with a new position, a new position coach, a new scheme, a new defensive coordinator and the value of 36 career games and hundreds of snaps of experience, the Georgia Tech defensive end is prepared for his final season as a Yellow Jacket to be most impactful. Sunday at the ACC media days event, Attaochu spoke with anticipation and confidence about what he intends to do for the Jackets this fall.
His statistics “are going to be a lot better than they were last year,” he said. “I’ll give you that for sure, knowing what I know now.”
Last season, they were hardly poor — he had 10 sacks, tied for seventh-most in a single season in Tech history, with 69 tackles. He gobbled up eight of the sacks in the final six games of the season when he was both healed from a shoulder injury and benefiting from what he described as a deeper understanding of the game.
“Everything going into the last game of the season, it was just so fresh that I knew I was at a point where I had, not mastered the college game, but I understood how you can take film study and what you do during the week of practice and how you can implement it during the game,” Attaochu said.
A rapid development was just under way. After considering leaving for the NFL following the season, he embraced a change to defensive end from outside linebacker and a scheme change to an attack-minded 4-3 with new coordinator Ted Roof and defensive line coach Mike Pelton. In spring practice, Attaochu said he found himself as confused as a freshman and getting yelled at for the first time since his first year at Tech.
He spent the spring grasping the nuances of line play, like using leverage, his hands and explosiveness out of the three-point stance. Guard Will Jackson, also representing Tech at the ACC Football Kickoff, said he was switched to offensive tackle in the second week of spring practice and remembered thinking that Attaochu was just feeling his way around the end position as they competed against each other.
“But then by the spring game, I’d come out of my stance, it was like, where’d he go?” said Jackson, describing Attaochu’s quickness off the line. “I think he definitely, just in two weeks of spring ball, improved so much. I think he’s got a lot of upside playing defensive end in a 4-3.”
This summer, on top of strength and conditioning workouts with the team, he has trained on a speed bag to develop his hand quickness, the better to fend off the grasp of offensive tackles. Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, he has honed his technique coming out of a three-point stance. Attaochu, whose speed has been perhaps his greatest asset, believes he can burst off the line of scrimmage much more effectively than he has been.
“I have the physical ability to do it,” he said. “I haven’t been doing it the right way. I’ve been getting sacks, but I can get sacks in other ways aside from just running around the tackle or things like that.”
Attaochu also interned again at Barton Executive Search on Northside Parkway, an Atlanta-based executive search firm that has offered internships to a number of Tech athletes. Without a car, Attaochu hitched a ride to Barton’s offices with quarterback Vad Lee when he could.
Attaochu, who has added about seven pounds to get to 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, was put on preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player), Lombardi Award (top lineman/linebacker) and Butkus Award (top linebacker), the last despite not even playing the position anymore.
If Attaochu can meet his promise, he would likely be Tech’s most impactful defensive lineman since end Derrick Morgan was named ACC defensive player of the year in 2009 on the way to becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. He would provide Tech a playmaking force in the front seven that it has sorely needed ever since that year.
Said Attaochu, “I don’t really care (about individual awards). Personally, I look at where I was and where I am now. This year, I expect to get significantly better than I was last year.”