Georgia Tech's Thomas 1 of ACC's breakout stars
Oct. 01, 2014
ATLANTA (AP) — Justin Thomas's will to win has helped Georgia Tech get off to an impressive start in what has been a memorable first month as the Yellow Jackets' starting quarterback.
Thomas, who has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, is one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's new names in starring roles.
Among the ACC's other breakout stars: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, another first-year starter who leads the nation in interceptions; Duke freshman running back Shaun Wilson, who had a school-record 245 yards rushing against Kansas; Florida State receiver Jesus Wilson and North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Behind Thomas, the Yellow Jackets are quietly still unbeaten.
He ranks second among FBS quarterbacks with his 110.8 yards rushing per game. That's impressive but not a huge surprise. Georgia Tech's spread option attack has produced big rushing numbers for other quarterbacks.
It's more notable when a Georgia Tech quarterback has seven touchdown passes so early in the season. No quarterback in Paul Johnson's first six years as coach had more than 11 for a full season.
Thomas, a sophomore, has made his mark with comeback wins.
He threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining to lift Georgia Tech to a 42-38 win over Georgia Southern. Thomas provided more clutch play by running for 165 yards and passing for 125 yards, including the tying touchdown pass, in a 27-24 comeback win at Virginia Tech. He also had an 80-yard touchdown run wiped out by a penalty against the Hokies.
Thomas said he is motivated by "the will to win, not wanting to fail."
"I know nobody wants to fail but it's the want-to, I guess," he said. "You've got to want to win and do anything possible to help the team to win."
Johnson said Thomas plays with poise for a first-year starter and continues to improve.
"The more success he has, the more confident he gets," Johnson said. "When he becomes confident and he plays more, he's going to be a handful. He's got the skill traits to be pretty good."
At Louisville, Holliman has made his mark on the other side of the ball.
He already has six interceptions, though he didn't break into the Cardinals' starting lineup until last week. He was a backup last season to all-conference safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.
Holliman had his second straight two-interception game last week at Florida International. He returned one for a touchdown.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said Holliman plays with confidence because he "has done a really nice job of studying, understanding what passing routes we're going to see."
Duke's Wilson is just a freshman who doesn't start, but leads the nation with his average of 12.08 yards per carry. He is only third in Duke's four-man rotation, but he flashed star potential with his school-record performance against Kansas in just his third college game.
His strategy for success is pretty simple.
"Get the ball, and if you see green, you've got to just go," he said.
Another Wilson is also having a breakout season: Jesus Wilson at Florida State, no relation to Shaun.
Jesus Wilson, a sophomore who had only three catches last year, already has 13 for 200 yards and three touchdowns as the Seminoles' complement to star senior Rashad Greene.
The diminutive Wilson (5-foot-9, 177 pounds) broke out with six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina State last week.
"He's always had athleticism," said coach Jimbo Fisher. "Now he's doing it and has confidence and he's done a great job. He really has a lot of ability, and he's a very smart young man."
Fisher also praised the Wolfpack's Brissett, who the coach said he tried to recruit.
Brissettt has found a home in North Carolina. The Florida transfer threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns in North Carolina State's 56-41 loss to No. 1 Florida State. His big day may not have surprised Wolfpack fans since he entered the season with high expectations, but it earned him national attention.
His mobility extended plays and frustrated Florida State's defense.
Through five games, Brissett has 13 TD passes and only one interception.
Impressive numbers, just like they have been for all the new names in starring roles.
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard from Raleigh, North Carolina; Kareem Copeland from Tallahassee, Florida; Hank Kurz Jr. from Charlottesville, Virginia; Peter Iacobelli from Clemson, South Carolina; Joedy McCreary from Durham, North Carolina; Gary B. Graves from Louisville, Kentucky and George Henry from Atlanta contributed to this report.