Photo by John Nakano

Feb. 3 was a crucial day for the Tech football program: 18 football players signed their national letters of intent to play on The Flats and join the Jackets. Despite a disappointing 3-9 season marked by injuries, poor play in the trenches and fundamental mistakes, Tech put together a solid class that filled many needs for the future. Head coach Paul Johnson was pleased with the class, especially with the defensive line recruits that will be joining the team.

“Every year is good for certain positions, and I think this year is probably a pretty good year for defensive linemen,” Johnson said at a press conference on Signing Day. “We were able to get some guys who wanted to come to Tech. [Jordan] Woods and [Brandon] Adams were pretty highly sought out players. Woods could have gone pretty much anywhere he wanted. I think we helped ourselves there.”

“I feel like we did a good job addressing the needs we had on our football team. We’re excited about this group and feel like they fit some needs. We hit our target number when we started. We wanted to get 18, and that’s where we ended up.”

Notable players from this year’s class are DE Jordan Woods, OL Parker Braun, DE Desmond Branch, BB Dedrick Mills and DT Brandon Adams. Woods, who is from Citra, Fla., is ranked as Tech’s top recruit this time around. Braun is the younger brother of former Tech football player Trey Braun, who started the last three years on Tech’s offensive line. Coaches raved about Braun’s hard work and intensity on the field.

Branch is a JUCO transfer from Nevada who is 6’3”, 270 pounds and physically capable to play immediately on Tech’s defensive line. Branch originally committed to New Mexico out of high school. He is the younger brother of NFL veteran and New England Patriots stalwart Alan Branch. Adams originally committed to Vanderbilt but flipped to Tech last month. The latter fits a position of need at defensive tackle and will have a chance to play immediately, especially on a front seven in need of a talent influx.

Of the 18 players Tech signed, nine are expected to play on the offensive end. Coach Johnson’s staff signed two signal-callers: Jay Jones from McCalla, Ala., and Lucas Johnson from San Diego, Calif. Johnson is the first player Tech has reeled in from the Golden State since 2008. Quarterbacks coach Bryan Cook praised both athletes for their versatility.

Tech also signed two talented running backs from their backyard: AB Xavier Gantt, who was Tech’s first commit in the class, and BB Dedrick Mills. Gantt attended powerhouse Buford High School and it is the second year in a row that a Buford player signed with Tech. Both Gantt and Mills are expected to redshirt.

After signing multiple wide receivers last year, Tech returned to the well to replenish its stable by inking multiple pass-catchers again this year. 6’5” WR Stephen Dolphus from Macon, Ga., was compared to former Tech standout and NFL draft pick Stephen Hill by Tech wide receiver coach Buzz Preston. Along with Dolphus, Jair Hawkins-Anderson from Northview High School and Jalen Camp from South Forsyth High School will be playing wide receiver as well.

This year’s class had three offensive line commitments. Kenny Cooper from Calhoun, Ga., and Jahaziel Lee from Ponchatoula, La., will be joining Braun in protecting quarterback Justin Thomas and opening holes in the run game. On the defensive side, Chris Martin from Loganville, Ga., will be joining Adams, Branch and Woods.

Last year’s class was marked by two linebackers who stepped in and played right away, a major asset for a defense that quietly enjoyed its most successful campaign in recent memory. This year, two linebackers signed: Jakob Brashear and Emmanuel Bridges. Brashear is from Dacula, Ga., and committed very early in the recruiting process. Bridges is from Newnan, Ga., and enrolled early and will be participating in spring training.

Safety Jarrett Cole and CB Ajani Kerr will be playing in the secondary. Cole attended Norcross High School and was very active in helping Tech recruit other players to join him, a recruiter in and of himself.

Kerr committed to Tech the day before signing day after a whirlwind final few weeks for him. He was originally a Kennesaw State commit before committing to Central Michigan and finally flipping to Tech after they offered him. Kerr is from Power Springs, Ga., and attended MacEachern, Ga.

Tech’s recruiting class was ranked No. 10 in the ACC by 247.com and No. 9 by espn.com. As he has time and time before, Johnson dismissed these rankings as nothing more than one of many metrics by which the team could measure its talent.

“Everybody uses their own metrics. I don’t pay any attention to them,” Johnson said. “I think the number that matters is at the end of the year what your record is. Last year ours wasn’t good, and the year before, it was pretty good. We got to get back to last year, and that’s the only number I care about.”

The incoming class of Jackets doesn’t carry many, if any, household names nor does it boast of five-star recruits or instant stars. It does, however, provide potential, youth and a fresh start to a season that cannot come soon enough.