Tony Zenon, a former Deerfield star and Herald Player of the Year, was one of Georgia Tech’s bright spots in the spring and enters the fall as the starting A-back. (Herald File Photo)
MACON — Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson isn’t hiding his thoughts about former Deerfield-Windsor School standout Tony Zenon.
Johnson said that after Zenon put together an impressive spring, he expects big things from the redshirted senior.
“Right now, he’d be a guy to get in the mix at A-back and play a lot,” Johnson said on Tuesday at the 13th annual Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.
“Tony had a great spring. He actually ended the spring as a starter. This is his last year, and he’s working on going out in style. He’s hoping to have a big year.”
Zenon has played sparingly in his career with the Jackets. Last season, he played in 11 games and made one start. He finished with 14 rushes for 35 yards and caught a pass for six yards.
His best season was in 2012 when he played in 14 games and finished with 193 yards rushing on 31 carries and scored a touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 195 yards.
Zenon, who boasts blazing speed, has also returned kickoffs and punts in his career at Tech.
“He’s been more consistent this spring, gotten better at fundamental things and improved on his blocking,” Johnson said. “He’s always been an explosive guy. But he became way more consistent this spring.”
Zenon was The Herald’s John Reynolds Player of the Year in 2009 after rushing for 2,264 yards and 27 touchdowns his senior season at Deerfield.
SOFT SIDE: After guiding Georgia Southern to a Division I-AA national runner-up finish in 1998, then back-to-back national titles in 1999 and 2000, Johnson said the university will always be a special place for him.
Johnson was also the offensive coordinator for the Eagles under longtime coach Erk Russell when Georgia Southern won back-to-back titles in 1985 and ’86.
Georgia Southern, making its debut as an NCAA FBS school and competing in the Sun Belt Conference this year, will visit the Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 13.
“I hadn’t thought a whole lot about it,” Johnson said about playing Georgia Southern for the first time. “I had a tremendous time there at Georgia Southern and in Statesboro. It will always be a special place, and I’ll always have a soft spot for them. But I won’t on Sept. 13.”
NICE SET UP: Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, a former football and baseball standout at Tattnall Square Academy, said he likes the way the Jackets’ schedule shakes up this season.
During a few previous seasons like in 2012 when Georgia Tech opened with a conference game against Virginia Tech, the Jackets won’t open their ACC slate until they make a visit to Virginia Tech on Sept. 20.
Tech’s first three games are against Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern.
“We have an opportunity to have a great start to the season,” Smelter said. “We have three good teams to start the season and then the rest of our schedule, even greater teams. We’re definitely not taking anybody lightly. We’ve just got to prepare and be ready.”
Add senior safety Isaiah Johnson to the list of those who likes the Jackets’ schedule, especially the way it begins.
“It gives you a chance to see what kind of team you have and to be able to correct the mistakes, for bigger games or conference games,” Johnson said. “But at the end of the day, we’ve had the whole offseason to prepare for the first game. So it really doesn’t matter.”