True freshman ready to step in at RB for Tech

ATLANTA - Jonathan Dwyer became his high school team's starting tailback two games into his freshman year.

His wait at Georgia Tech is long by comparison.

Dwyer could start Saturday's game - the fourth of his Yellow Jacket career - if veteran star Tashard Choice's strained hamstring fails to improve. Choice suffered the injury in the third quarter of last week's loss to Boston College, and head coach Chan Gailey lists him as questionable to play Saturday against Virginia.

Gailey promises a "running back by committee" in Choice's absence, although Dwyer stands to get the bulk of the carries ahead of Rashaun Grant, who is valuable as an H-back in the Jackets' offense, and sophomore Jamaal Evans.

Dwyer played significantly in Georgia Tech's first three games: The blowouts over Notre Dame and Samford and in place of the injured Choice last week against Boston College. Evans did not play in the BC loss.

Even though he looks to be the feature back, Dwyer will prepare the same way as he has all season.

"I don't know if I'm going to start or how many carries I'll get - nothing is guaranteed," said Dwyer, who has 23 carries for 181 yards and five touchdowns. "I just have to be ready to play."

Dwyer knows no other way. He started his first game at Marietta's Kell High School, albeit at free safety. He moved to tailback before the end of the opener, though, when the first and second-stringers went down with injuries.

Dwyer started in the offensive backfield the next game and never relinquished the spot. He went on to break the Cobb County career rushing record with 5,565 yards and 71 touchdowns.

His college career is just as promising. He is the front-runner to succeed Choice, a senior, next season.

"Dwyer is a great running back," wide receiver Greg Smith said. "He's a freshman and he's only going to get better. He's young, and he's going to make mistakes, but you learn. The more he plays, the more snaps he gets, the better he's going to be."

Dwyer's youth and inexperience give his coaches and teammates reservations in two areas: Ball security and pass protection.

Dwyer has yet to lose a fumble in game action this season but did have problems holding on to the ball in preseason scrimmages. And he's still learning the blocking schemes in the passing game.

Choice voiced confidence in Dwyer and the other running backs, although he said the responsibilities change as the role increases.

"You have to understand the responsibilities you have as a star running back and what you're supposed to do in the game, what the coaches expect," Choice said. "It's totally different. Instead of getting plays here and there at certain times of the game, when you're a star running back you have to do it the whole game and set an example."

As for Choice, the situation is similar to what he went through four seasons ago at Oklahoma. He was the starter throughout preseason only to pull his hamstring days before the opener.

His backup, Adrian Peterson, took over as the starter. By the time Choice's hamstring healed, Peterson was a Heisman candidate. And Choice was considering a transfer to Georgia Tech.

But Choice isn't concerned about history repeating itself.

"No, it's totally different, a totally different scenario," Choice said. "Those guys play their tails off. Whatever it takes to win, that's all we care about right now."

SideBar: Georgia Tech at Virginia

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Charlottesville, Va.

TV/Radio: ESPNU/790-AM