ATLANTA - Long before the players reported for preseason practice last weekend, expectations for Georgia Tech football team were considerably higher than just a year ago.
Six days of practice, a No. 15 national ranking in the recently-released USA Today coaches poll and multiple Yellow Jackets being named to national award watch lists have done nothing to lessen those expectations.
But as the Jackets gathered Saturday for their annual fan and media day, dubbed "The Great Yellow Jacket Encounter," at Bobby Dodd Stadium, most of the players - and especially coach Paul Johnson - preferred to put those expectations in perspective.
"You know, I think the expectations are more for everybody outside the program - the fan base and people like that," Johnson said. "As a football team and a coach, you always have high expectations. ... Nobody goes into fall camp hoping they can win five games.
"So I don't know that that's any different for the players than it's ever been. I think the difference comes from the fan base and from everybody talking about them. They have to learn how to handle that a little bit."
Expectations and enthusiasm both seemed to be high judging from the long lines for autographs and photos at each of the player booth during the fan festivities.
Last year's 9-4 record, which included breaking long losing streaks to in-state rival Georgia and ACC rival Florida State, has Jacket fans excited about the upcoming season. Tech opens Sept. 5 at home against Jacksonville State.
Yet despite that excitement, there is a sense among the players they still have their doubters outside the Tech program.
"I think (the expectations are) the same for us," said junior running back Jonathan Dwyer, who is on the preseason watch list for this year's Walter Camp and Doak Walker awards, and is even considered a Heisman Trophy candidate. "We have a target on our backs, but I don't think we did the best that we could last year. We messed up on some games we should've won. I think we can still surprise some this upcoming season."
That may be particularly true for the spread-option offense, which returns Dwyer - last year's ACC Offensive Player of the Year and this year's preseason pick - and eight other starters from a unit that led the ACC in total offense and ranked fourth in the nation in rushing last year in Johnson's debut.
There was plenty of talk around last month's ACC media days - particularly from certain players from opposing teams - that defenses will "figure out" Tech's offense this season.
In response, junior quarterback Josh Nesbitt pointed out that not only will the Jackets have a better grasp of the offense in their second season running it, they've also developed a few new wrinkles to it, though he stopped short of specific.
"Just come and watch the show," quipped Nesbitt, who led Tech with 1,501 yards of total offense last season and is on the preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.
Former Comet burning bright
This season figures to be a special one for redshirt junior and South Gwinnett graduate Zach Krish.
After three seasons as a walk-on, the 6-foot-5, 285-pounder's hard work was rewarded with a scholarship following spring practice.
And after seeing action in four games last season, he figures to play a larger role this season as he entered preseason practice at No. 2 on the depth chart at one of the offensive guard positions.
It may also be his last season. Despite still having another year of eligibility, Krish is set to graduate with a degree in civil engineering next spring with an eye towards going to law school.
"This is basically my senior season," Krish said. "That's how I'm looking at it. That's how I'm trying to play."
Jarry trying to fit in
Another former Gwinnett high school star, Tyler Jarry, can appreciate the path Krish has taken.
A two-time former Daily Post first-team All-County selection at North Gwinnett, the 5-11, 175-pound freshman turned down a scholarship offer from Portland State to walk-on at Tech.
And while the Jackets' depth at the A-back position may prompt Jarry to redshirt this season, he has opened a few eyes in early practices.
"It's been a lot of work," Jarry said. "This is definitely some of the best competition you're ever going to find. I just want to come in and try to compete."