Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The mentality of an offensive lineman is special.
It's about being disciplined, being in control, giving of yourself for the greater good -- often unheralded -- and certainly is not for everyone.
It is for Jahaziel Lee.
That was obvious before the junior lineman from Ponchatoula, La., ever set foot Georgia Tech's campus. All you just had to do to see it in action was to watch him at Ponchatoula H.S. ... not on the gridiron, but on the basketball court.
"I was the guy that actually took the charges," said Lee, who played on the wing for the Green Wave. "I could get to the hole a little bit. When we went on defense, when guards tried to run in, I took the charges. I did a great job of that. I learned how to do it and I was pretty good at it. That was when I was much lighter. You're talking about 245 [pounds]."
Offensive lineman Jahaziel Lee is among nine returning starters on offense. The Louisiana native gives @AndyDemetra a #GTSpring18 update.
Spring Central: https://t.co/tBC5Aj8wKD pic.twitter.com/rmqsb2Cb0I
-- GeorgiaTech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) April 10, 2018
He's bigger now -- Lee estimates he's practicing comfortably at around 290, up from the 277 he played at last year -- and is happier than ever about switching sides of the contact. He's found it's better to give than to receive.
"It's a great feeling," he said, with a laugh. "I love contact. I love it."
His perspective on contact isn't all that's changed for the better for Lee at Georgia Tech. He's also loved switching sides of the ball, moving to offensive line from defensive line.
It was an adjustment for Lee, who had earned first-team all-district honors after compiling 78 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and five sacks as a senior in high school. Now it's all about keeping the Yellow Jackets' ball-carriers -- especially quarterback TaQuon Marshall -- from taking hits.
The Jackets' projected starter at left tackle, where recorded 11 starts as a true freshman and sophomore (including eight last season), Lee's formula for success combines lineman mentality with a big-time work ethic. The former is showing up now as a result of the latter, which showed up in full during the offseason.
"Getting better was just getting my speed up, getting quicker, getting faster, working on my steps, my pass-protection, working on my feet," Lee said. "I've done a better job at those things, limiting sacks and things like that and just working on one accord with my teammates, [left guard] Parker Braun, [center] Kenny Cooper, [right tackle] Will Bryan and those guys."
The goal is to continue to conduct the bread-and-butter of Paul Johnson's spread-option offense.
"Running the ball is a big part of our offense. We've been leading the ACC in rushing the last two years and we want to continue that and actually break the [single-season] record in rushing [yards]," he said. "That's our goal for this year with us having an experienced offensive line."
The offensive line has been on a mission the last two years. The Jackets improved their per-game rushing by 51.2 yards in 2017 (307.4) from its nadir in 2015, when Tech managed "just" 256.2 ypg. Two years ago, the base of Lee, Braun, and Cooper, got their feet wet together. They jumped in with both feet on Nov. 12, when all three started in the Yellow Jackets' 30-20 upset of No. 18 Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. Tech recorded 309 yards on the ground in that game, stunning the Hokies.
They continued to excel last year, as in the eight games that they started together, the Jackets ran for 2,507 yards (313.4 per game), had 21 "big plays" (plays of 20-or-more yards) and 23 touchdowns.
As a junior, Lee is expecting even greater things.
"We have built that chemistry up over the last two-and-a-half years, coming into this spring we've done a great job of communicating and being on one accord," he said. "Just being in the meeting rooms, watching film together, having conversations on what we need to do to improve this and that."
Practicing against the Jackets' new attacking 3-4 defensive scheme this spring is also making him and the unit better.
"It definitely has," he said. "It's helping us because we're going to see that defense a lot during the season against other teams like Miami, North Carolina and Pittsburgh.
"I think it's going to help [the offense] but also help [the defense]," he said. "They're going to be able to defend the cut-blocking, they're going to be able to defend the pass and things like that."
As a leader, he's also making a point of helping Tech's younger O-linemen.
"Any questions that they ask me, I try to help them out, let them know because there's going to come a point in time that maybe I get injured, they've got to step up and they've got to make something happen," he said. "They've got to be that next guy. This is what this time is for -- for those guys to get better and build upon that relationship and let the coaches know that they're going to be that guy."
While Lee tries to be an older brother on the O-line, he credits an actual family member, redshirt junior DB Christian Campbell for being his "older brother" in Atlanta. They're cousins, but It's a family tie Lee didn't even know existed until a couple of years ago, despite the fact that they were teammates at Ponchatoula H.S.
"I found out once [Campbell] got to college and I was on my way [to Georgia Tech] in my senior year of high school," Lee said. "I was like, `Are you serious?' It would have been nice to know that in high school because then we probably would have hung out more. But it is what it is. We've bonded now and that's all that matters."
Lee actually credits Campbell for advising him to attend Georgia Tech.
"He definitely did. He just told me, `This is a great university,'" he said. "I told him that I wanted to do some type of engineering because my dad owns his own construction company and I wanted to go into construction management. I was thinking more of academics. So when he told me all about all that, I was like, `Well, what a great way, to come to Georgia Tech, get into engineering and be an offensive lineman.'"
"I'd say I had a lot of influence on him coming here," Campbell admitted. "Initially, I believe he was going to go to UL-Lafayette and I just kind of talked some sense into him, to help him realize the opportunity he'd miss out on by not coming here."
Lee is not missing a thing and is taking full advantage of all Georgia Tech has to offer. That's especially true in the classroom, where he's also excelling.
"Academics are going great," he said. "I made the Dean's List last semester. I'm happy with that and I know my parents are definitely happy. I'm continuing to make progress and [want to ]continue to be on that list."
With the continuing positive work in the classroom -- including the prospects for a summer internship -- the thrill of getting to hang with Campbell, his new-found family, and his and the O-line's continued progress, it's little wonder Lee's enjoying both what he's seeing this spring and what's lying ahead.
"I'm playing much better, my footwork is much better, we have a lot more chemistry than last year so when we have our combo-blocks, it looks much nicer," he said. "I'm playing much lower and I've gained some good weight. I'm feeling good, I'm running good. Everything's good."