Countdown to Kickoff: 88 Days
The “100 Days to Kickoff” series continues this week with a look at a few players who will be crucial to the team’s success in 2017. This particular feature began a few years ago and was inspired by the NCAA Football video game series, in which each team would have one or two “impact players” on offense and defense based on talent, production, and big-play ability. In that same vein, this series of articles will look at players who are both talented and likely to put up big numbers this fall.
S A.J. Gray
AJ Gray came to Georgia Tech as a solidly ranked three star recruit from Sandersville, GA. He had a massive high school resume, including Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Georgia, but committed very early to Georgia Tech and sent few signals of doubt which likely lowered his recruiting rankings. He spent plenty of time on the field as a true freshman in 2015 backing up Desmond Smith at the free safety slot. But with the graduation of Smith, it looked like Gray was going to stake his place on the team in 2016.
He not only made his place on the field, he established himself as a young leader on this defense. He ended last season with 72 tackles and a forced fumble. He was solid in coverage and remained a solid tackler, which has been a problem with Tech defensive backs since, well, as long as I can remember. He has fantastic athleticism and has shown a great ability to learn the game and the system over the last two seasons. He came in with high expectations and met them so far. So what’s next for him? He has the talent to continue his ascent into one of the ACC’s best defensive backs.
The secondary as a whole was somewhat disappointing in 2016, but at least part of that was due to a pass rush that was between minimal and non-existent. Now, the secondary returns all five starters, plus the primary backups. The defense has lost senior leaders in PJ Davis and Pat Gamble, so now they look to the backfield for leadership. Gray and his partner across the field, Corey Griffin, are going to need to take a step a forward this season as the defense as a whole needs to improve. A.J. Gray was a monster in high school, he has succeeded as a player at Georgia Tech as a true freshmen and sophomore. I am not betting against A.J. Gray taking the next step and becoming an All-Conference level player. Are you?