Thrown into the fire
True freshman QB Ball to start for Georgia Tech vs. BYU
Posted: Monday August 25, 2003 4:41PM; Updated: Monday August 25, 2003 4:41PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- For the first time in school history, Georgia Tech will have a true freshman starting at quarterback in the season opener.
Coach Chan Gailey made it official Monday, giving Reggie Ball the nod over returning starter A.J. Suggs. The Yellow Jackets open their season Thursday night at BYU.
"There are no utopia quarterbacks as true freshmen," Gailey said. "Your patience level has to be high, and I expressed that to him.
"But he came in and was very impressive."
Ball has taken the majority of snaps with the first team during practice in recent weeks, so the move was expected. He'll be the first true freshman to start any game at quarterback for Georgia Tech since 1980, when Stu Rogers took the field against Duke.
To help keep Ball focused on the opener, Gailey decided to keep him off-limits to reporters this week. But earlier in the preseason, the former Stephenson High School star made it clear he has confidence.
"If a defense wants to drop back into a zone, I'll take off and run with it. If they go man-to-man, I'll pick them apart," he said at the time. "I bring everything to the table.
"If they need me to be an option quarterback, I can be that. If they need me to be a dropback quarterback, I can be that. I'll keep the defense on their heels."
While acknowledging Ball's talent, Gailey still is prepared for a steep learning curve.
"They'll be some tough times, it won't be easy," Gailey said. "I don't want to use the word sheltered, but I'll try to make sure that he understands that we're going to help him get through those tough times."
Suggs started every game last season for Georgia Tech, but he got pulled early in a sloppy loss to Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic. He finished only 2-for-7 with two interceptions.
Damarius Bilbo replaced Suggs in that game and was the starter entering preseason drills, but Gailey surprisingly moved Bilbo to wide receiver. On the depth chart, Bilbo's listed as third-string at that position.
Last season, Suggs -- who transferred from Tennessee after losing the starting job there -- completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was intercepted 15 times.
"He handled it with class, just like he's handled everything with class," Gailey said of Suggs' reaction. "I think he probably had an inkling what was going to happen, and I tried to be totally honest with him."
The rest of the offensive unit is very experienced, which should make things a bit easier on Ball. Senior Jonathan Smith and fourth-year junior Nate Curry are the wide receivers, with senior John Paul Foschi at tight end.
The line features a senior and three juniors, and tailback P.J. Daniels, while only a sophomore, saw extensive action last season after Tony Hollings tore up his knee in the fourth game.
"The first time he was in the huddle, you can just tell by the way somebody carries himself that they're a little more mature that most kids," Foschi said. "You're going to have to be patient, though, there's going to be mistakes. Hopefully, we won't have to be, but definitely, I think that's part of the role."