Georgia Tech defensive back D.J. White and quarterback Justin Thomas discuss the upcoming season for the Yellow Jackets and a variety of topics at the ACC Media Days Monday in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Check out what they had to say below. All quotes courtesy of ASAPSports.com.
Q. There’s a lot of emphasis every year put on your offense. To look at the defense and the secondary, what can you say about how you view the team and how you would describe the secondary going into this year?
D.J. WHITE: I would describe the secondary as being very experienced. We got a lot of guys that are coming back from last year who kind of know what’s going on. Whenever you know that, you’re able to communicate faster and play faster, which should lead us to being a better defense. That’s yet to be seen. But it’s a confidence builder, if I had to say.
Q. You played in 13 games as a sophomore. You started in every game as a junior. Obviously your game is ticking up a little bit. What do you like about your game and the prospects for this year?
D.J. WHITE: For me, I just always try to be that guy who makes plays. If I can make the play, get the ball back to the offense, gives our guys more chance to score more points and we win the game. Anything I can do to help the team, whether it be coming in and making a tackle, making a big pick, it doesn’t matter. You need anything you can get.
Q. You led the league in turnovers forced by a wide margin. Talk about coach’s philosophy and how you get so many balls on the ground, picked off out of the air.
D.J. WHITE: From a coaching standpoint, Coach Roof has been preaching the takeaway since day one, since the day he stepped on the campus at Georgia Tech. In practice we do what we call a takeaway drill. At the same time you have guys that are ball hawks. That’s something they have in them. That’s probably the key to that.
Q. How important is it to have so many returning guys on the defense, have that comfortable feeling with your teammates?
D.J. WHITE: Yeah, it’s very important. It’s very important. Typically when you have guys back there who are kind of new to it, you have more breakdowns, whether it be breakdowns in coverage, breakdowns in communication up front. That’s really what leads to most of the points that are scored, is breakdowns in communication. Having guys being back there that are comfortable, they don’t get ahead of themselves, it helps a lot knowing you can count on guys doing what they have to do.
Q. Georgia Tech has been to 18 straight bowls, won the Orange Bowl last year. I still don’t feel like you get the respect of a team like that. Do you feel the same way? Do you talk about that at all?
D.J. WHITE: We don’t. We don’t actually. We don’t actually. We don’t talk about it. Our biggest thing is just trying to be the best team we can be each year, really shoot for being the best, being at the top. That’s kind of our focus.
Q. To get to the ACC championship game is one thing, to win it is another. In closing that gap, what do you think is missing that you need to get to to get to that point?
D.J. WHITE: I think the biggest thing is just understanding that when you play top teams, like a Florida State, they’re not going to make the simple mistakes, they’re not going to beat themselves, so you can’t beat yourself. In order to give yourself a good chance, you have to really be on top of your game and mentally focused every game. Any one slip-up can mean the difference in the outcome.
Q. How important is Coach Johnson’s philosophy of, It’s just the next game, and not getting caught up in highs and lows during the season?
D.J. WHITE: It’s extremely important, especially when you play in a conference like the ACC where anybody can beat you any given Saturday. You start getting too high one game, the next game you’re not up enough. You get too low, the next team has more emotion, they’re going to beat you. Doesn’t matter who you play, you have to bring it each game consistently.
Q. Talk about the service trip you were on recently.
D.J. WHITE: A group of guys and girls and I went to the Dominican Republic for a service trip, went down there for a family in need, needed a house to be built. Seeing the circumstances, it really touched us to be able to help them out. Went down there, man, got a chance to soak it up, see how much community meant to those people. To see the looks on their face when the house was complete, it was a pretty cool experience.
Q. The more you get away from it, the more you think about what you learned. What have you learned about yourself?
D.J. WHITE: Being grateful for what you have, being content with what you have as far as finding joy in it. They didn’t have a lot materially. But they did have a lot as far as faith was concerned, as far as family. They cherished the simple things in life. For me that was a huge takeaway.
Q. You did have a really high third-down conversion rate. How do you do a better job this year of getting off the field on third down?
D.J. WHITE: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good question. That really was the main focus for us during the spring. You got to be intense all three downs. Sometimes you can be on the field and make two great plays, but you get to third down and you have a letdown, doesn’t mean anything. Finding it in ourselves to really be intense on that third down is going to be key.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, D.J. We’re joined by Justin Thomas on the podium. Questions for Justin.
Q. Justin, I want to talk about your quarterback coach. Tell me about Bryan and what he does with you guys, what you learn from him.
JUSTIN THOMAS: Coach Cook, he’s a great coach. He came in, started off, had a great impact on us. He’s somebody that you can learn from. He’s not a big rah-rah guy, but he actually teaches you. He lets you know the truth. He doesn’t sugarcoat nothing. You can have a great game, but he’ll bring you reality once the film session come. He doesn’t have a problem doing that. He’s a great coach overall. He teaches you a lot, not only on the field but also in life.
Q. You hear defensive coordinators and defensive players discuss how difficult it is to prepare for your offense. From your perspective, what makes it so tough to prepare for that option attack?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I guess just having the aspect that you can’t really just key on one thing, but you have to key on a variety of different things within our offense. You just can’t stop the run, we’ll throw the ball on you. That’s with every offense. But when we run the ball, you can’t just key on one person that’s going to run the ball. I think that one thing is probably the hardest part.
Q. With so much focus on the run when it comes to Georgia Tech, what can you say about some of those receivers, what you do to push yourself to be an all-around quarterback and not just a ground gainer?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Really just working in the off-season, especially last year. We worked as hard as we ever did. I worked as hard as I have since I’ve been there. Especially with Darren and Dre, those guys went on to hopefully have great careers in the NFL, got drafted. I think just working every day in practice, not just saying, We’re going to go out here and get through it. You actually have to go out there and work hard at it. Get game speed up, so that when you get to the game, it’s easier.
Q. How exciting is it with Coach Johnson knowing that he’s just calling the plays right out of his head? Do you get caught up with that, seeing what he’s seeing now since you’ve been in the system for three years?
JUSTIN THOMAS: Not really. I mean, it’s kind of natural now. You don’t see a play sheet on the sideline. Like you say right now, once we’re on the field, we’re on the same page. He calls a play, I understand why he’s calling it. He sees something in the defense. As long as we can stay on the same page, as we have been, I think it can keep us going in the right direction on the offensive side.
Q. Justin, early in Coach Johnson’s tenure, I think there were a lot of turnovers. Last year, you were among the leaders in the ACC in fewest turnovers. Talk about the key to your good execution last year. And then with many changes at both the A back and B back, will that be more difficult to have that kind of execution this year?
JUSTIN THOMAS: I think just harping on it every day. You know, even if we went through a practice and we didn’t have any turnovers, they still tell us, Don’t be comfortable with the ball. In practice, the scout team is always stripping out the ball. Even if the play is over with, the guy is running to the huddle, the guys strip the ball when they’re relaxed. Just putting that mindset in the guys, always keeping them aware of the ball. Also having the experience with guys that have been there four to five years also help, too.
Q. This year?
JUSTIN THOMAS: This year we have to go out there. We’ve been working on it, doing all that. I don’t think it should be a problem either.