Donnie Davis, a 6-2, 185-pound redshirted sophomore from Burlington, N.C., is favored to start as quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Shawn Jones. And Lewis must cope with the loss of Jason McGill, expected to be an All-American candidate at split end, and second-team guard Yancy Sims. Both were dropped from the team in late June for "academic insufficiencies." Still, Lewis is eager to get started and improve upon the 5-6 record of his initial campaign.
One of your stated goals this year is for your football team to improve its mental toughness. What do you mean by that?
The biggest thing is the ability to handle setbacks. When you play a competitive sport like football, there are going to be setbacks, and good football teams learn to handle them - learn from them, then set them aside, re-focus, and go on.
I felt that when our '92 team suffered a serious setback - and I'm referring to the fourth-quarter lost to Florida State - we were unable to really put it behind us. It affected us and created some situations that caused us to lose another couple of games that we shouldn't have.
You saw this occurring in the final month of the season?
Yeah. As a team, we were never able to get a complete grip on it. And the reason for that is we saw an opportunity to be a really good football team slip away in the span of seven or eight minutes of a ball game. At that time, we were 4-1, a top-20 football team, and about to beat, in my opinion, the best football team in college football and to go 5-1. And from there, who knows what might have happened?
We saw all that slip away in that one game, and we were never able to say, "All right, let's just put this behind us and totally focus ourselves on what is ahead of us." All the things that we attempted to do [as coaches] did not seem to be effective, but that's not unusual in competition. There are a lot of people who struggle with setbacks.
One of your goals for the season is to be a sounder football team. What are you looking for?
The game of football is a game of fundamentals. There are very few secrets. It's a game in which whoever does the fundamentals best will usually put themselves in a position to win the game. And during the offseason, when we had a chance to sit back and take a critical look at our team on film, we realized we were not as good a football team fundamentally as I think we could be - and as I want to be. So we have really stressed that, in our work as coaches and in our on-the-field work during spring practice.
Were there specific areas in which the team broke down?
As a defensive team, we did not tackle well, and as an offensive team, we did not run the football the way we needed to. We did not block the line of scrimmage for the run and we did not run the football with the effectiveness we should. Then, at each position there were individual fundamental skills that broke down from time to time.
How much of what occurred last year had to do with it being your first year at Tech? Does it take a while for a coach to put his stamp on the team?
A coaching change is much like what you view in the business world as an acquisition and a merger. What happened 18 months ago is that Georgia Tech acquired me as its head football coach, and then we - meaning myself and the other coaches - went about a process of merging with the people in the program and the incoming freshman. And anytime you go through that kind of merger, you can have some difficult times because there's that need to get to know each other, get to know what is expected, get to know procedures and policies.
Having gone through our first year and then looking at what we did this year in our second spring practice, it's a totally different situation now. The players know us, they know what to expect from us, and we know them, and what to expect from them. You feel like you're so much more ahead of the game.
Could that have played a role in the team's mental toughness?
I don't know. I don't have the answer for that, but it certainly could have been a contributing factor.
Having coached here before, you came here aware of the potential of the Georgia Tech program. Now, 18 months later - having seen things first hand - how do you feel about the program?
I'm more excited now about the potential of this situation than when I took the job. Georgia Tech represents the things I believe in when it comes to intercollegiate athletics and to the student-athlete. It represents an institution that has stood for academic excellence since it opened its doors, and that's important. I believe it's important for students to be educated in a quality environment.
At the same time, the young people in our football program are blessed with some physical talents, and I think Georgia Tech gives them a positive opportunity to display those physical talents as well as the opportunity to win.
When you look at the combination of excellence in academics and excellence in athletics, there are very few campuses in this country that are in the same position as Georgia Tech.
This year's recruiting class was ranked 13th in the nation in one poll, and you had an absolutely outstanding year in Georgia, probably the best Tech has had since the mid-'70s. How did you recruit so well in Georgia?
Hard work and really focusing on the state of the Georgia. The state of Georgia is our focus in recruiting and always will be. Steve Shankweiler [Tech's offensive coordinator] handled the bulk of the in-state recruiting, and he's a Georgia native and former high school coach at Redan High School here in Atlanta. And during the 14 years he has been a college coach, he has always recruited the state of Georgia. I had recruited Georgia for the past 14 to 15 years, so we both had familiarity. We focused the effort and energy of the entire recruiting program on it.
Is this in-state emphasis a departure from previous practice?
I don't know what it was before, but it's the single most important part of our recruiting. It's the absolute hub of our recruiting. We will recruit every school and every athlete in the state that we think has a chance to come here and be successful. When you're a state institution, you should be strong in your home state.
Which freshmen could contribute immediately?
Until you get a player out on the field, you cannot project or predict performance. We will give them all an opportunity to prove themselves.
What should fans expect from your new quarterback, sophomore Donnie Davis [left]?
Donnie is a very exciting quarterback prospect. He has all the tools to be outstanding. What we all need to do, though, is to be patient with Donnie because it takes time to become a college quarterback. He's going to make mistakes, so we've all got to be patient, starting with me. But he's got a lot of talent and we're very excited about getting started with him.
At most other positions you are at least somewhat experienced. Are there any areas where you feel the team is thin and particularly vulnerable to injury?
There's a general concern throughout college football about the lack of depth of on the defensive line. We are concerned about the lack of depth at inside linebacker. The keys will be for us to stay healthy and have younger players coming in.
You signed four very celebrated defensive backs. Could they improve your depth in the secondary? Yes. They have speed. When a player has speed, he can help you.
The incoming freshman class as a whole is supposed to have good speed. Is that something you were specifically seeking?
It's one of the ingredients we felt we lacked across the board. When you play an FSU or Clemson, one of the first things you notice is your opponent's speed.
The first month of the season could be very demanding. After opening against Furman, you play Virginia at home, then Florida State and Clemson on the Road.
We're going to have to be at our best coming out. We're not going to have the opportunity of playing ourselves up to where we want to be. I hope our team is excited about accepting the challenge.
Sam Heys is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer.
|Al Burton||6-2||215||LB/FB||Stephens County, Ga.|
|Kenny Celaj||6-5||265||TE||Armonk, N.Y.|
|Jimmy Clements||6-3||200||DB||McEachern, Ga.|
|Bill Coury||6-2||185||QB||New Kensington, Pa.|
|Rich Frost||6-4||225||LB||Bradenton, Fla.|
|Jason Guilford||6-2||190||DB||Merritt Island, Fla.|
|Ralph Hughes||6-2||230||OLB||Montgomery, Ala.|
|Gary Joseph||6-1||203||DB||Hyattsville, Md.|
|Harvey Middleton||6-1||175||WR||Jamestown, S.C.|
|Nathan Perryman||5-9||170||RB||Columbia, S.C.|
|James Richards||6-3||225||LB||Calhoun, Ga.|
|Harie Robinson||6-0||175||WR||Cedar Shoals, Ga.|
|Ron Rogers||6-2||220||LB||Dublin, Ga.|
|Derrick Shepard||6-3||270||OL||Dayton, Ohio|
|Derrick Steagall||6-2||196||QB||Newnan, Ga.|
|Sean Wheaton||6-4||210||TE||Bronx, N.Y.|