Wideout Dez White came to Georgia Tech two years ago with a
combination of size and speed that every coach dreams about. As
a freshman he returned kickoffs, taking one 95 yards for a
touchdown, but it wasn't long before the Yellow Jackets
discovered that White had an Achilles' heel: his hands. When
quarterback Joe Hamilton threw him the ball, White often dropped
it. If Tom Cruise were 6'1" and could run a sub 4.5 40, then
Eyes Wide Shut could have been about White's freshman year. "In
practice I would get thrown in with the first team," White says.
"Joe would tell me, 'You've got to pick it up. This ain't being
run at high school speed. This ain't second-team speed.' That
motivated me to get my act right."
Last season White proved that he has the makings of a quality
receiver. Against Virginia he had six receptions for 243 yards
and three touchdowns. In the fourth game of the season, against
Clemson, however, he had a relapse of the dropsies. Five
catchable balls went off or through White's hands. Eight weeks
later in the Gator Bowl he caught second-half touchdown passes
of 44 and 55 yards and shared the MVP award with Hamilton in the
Yellow Jackets' 35-28 victory over Notre Dame. "There are not
many times that you win 10 games, beat Georgia, win your
conference championship and beat Notre Dame on January 1,"
offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen says. "That team will go
down in history."
In the year after the year of the quarterback, Hamilton and
Chris Redman of Louisville are the most prominent senior
signal-callers in the nation. To boost Hamilton's profile,
Georgia Tech sent CD-ROMs to Heisman voters that show Hamilton
at his best. While the CD offers no hint of his singing talent,
it shows that he knows how to dance. Hamilton's ability to make
defenders miss is a vital part of the Yellow Jackets' offense,
which moved the ball from every formation except the single wing
a year ago. That ability to confuse opponents may be lost now
that tailback Charlie Rogers is gone. Rogers could run, catch
and block. The obligation to fill as many of those roles as
possible falls to 5'10", 199-pound sophomore Joe Burns. He
showed promise last season when he rushed for 474 yards and five
touchdowns after he was inserted into the lineup at midseason
because of injuries.
The big question for the Yellow Jackets is defense. Ted Roof, a
former Georgia Tech linebacker and team captain, is the school's
third defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Last year the
Yellow Jackets stopped nobody (397.6 yards, 24.3 points per
game) but compensated by returning seven fumbles for touchdowns,
an NCAA record.
One thing seems certain: Hamilton will be better than ever. The
onus is going to be on the defense and the special teams to
match his brilliance. If they come close, this Georgia Tech team
may go down in history as well.
COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG JONES/ALLSPORT Catching on White, the co-MVP in the Gator Bowl, can be an unstoppable force if he just learns to hang on to the ball.
1998 record: 10-2 (7-1, tied for 1st in ACC)
Final ranking: No. 9 AP, No. 11 coaches' poll
1998 Averages Scoring Rushing Passing Total
Yards Yards Yards
OFFENSE 35.5 183.7 205.0 388.7
DEFENSE 24.3 167.5 230.0 397.5
Schedule strength: 54th of 114
Sept. 11 at Florida State
The Yellow Jackets have lost the last seven meetings between the
two schools by a combined score of 284-54.
Nov. 27 vs. Georgia
Last year Georgia Tech ended a seven-game losing streak to its
intrastate rivals. This year's team will make it two in a row.
The Bottom Line
Hamilton can carry the team only so far. If the defense can't
improve on last season's shaky performance, the Yellow Jackets
will be spending New Year's at home.