ATLANTA -- Vad Lee will get his first start at quarterback today when Georgia Tech opens its historic 100th season at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
He will likely be greeted by a loud ovation when he takes the field against Elon, cheered by many in the crowd who wished he had been handed the job a year ago.
Coach Paul Johnson's advice to the redshirt sophomore: Enjoy it while it lasts.
"The most popular guy is the backup quarterback, until they see him play and then it's the next guy," Johnson said.
"Vad has been in that position and he's been the golden child that everyone wants and can't wait to see him play.
"What I've tried to guard against for him is to not build up such a perception that there's no way he can get to it. That's not fair to him. That's not fair to anybody.
"As much as I had to admit it, he's probably not going to complete every pass,
he's not going to get every read right and there are going to be some things that go wrong. It's how he handles them."
In other words, your skin has to be pretty tough to be the starting quarterback for a big-time football program. Just ask Tevin Washington, who started two seasons and was somehow able to shut out all the static he heard from the outside. Despite constant calls from fans for Washington to be benched, he was able to tune out the shouts and keep doing what the job required - running the offense and making plays.
"It wouldn't be above and beyond the fans for him to miss two or three passes and get booed once in a while. Well, how do you handle that? You've got to be ready for it and you've got to be dialed in," Johnson said. "With our last quarterback, it didn't bother him. Nothing really bothered him. He was zoned in and he didn't care that nobody wanted him to play. He just went in and played. That's what you've got to do. You can't worry about what happens with the next guy."
Lee shared time with Washington last year. He played in 12 games and rushed for 544 yards and nine touchdowns, and completed 27-of-56 passes for 596 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 169 yards and one touchdown in the crazy 68-50 win over North Carolina.
But there's a difference in coming off the bench for the third series than it is to start a game and set the tone. Lee must be able to make that adjustment.
"The good news is he's got some charisma, he carries himself very well," Johnson said. "He carries himself as a leader and a very confident guy. He's got to be Vad. He's got to understand that at the end of the first quarter on Saturday everybody's not going to love you the same way they did before. If they do, that's great. But don't let it bother you. Set the standard for yourself and try to achieve it.
Now that Lee is the lead dog, he'll discover how others are pulling for his backup, Justin Thomas, an athletic and exciting talent. Thomas has been banged up lately, but is expected to play against Elon. Depending on the score, there may even be an opportunity to see No. 3 quarterback Tim Byerly.
"Justin is ready to play and so is Vad," Johnson said.
As much as the fans want to see Lee, they're also interested in getting eyes on the new defense produced by new coordinator Ted Roof. The former Georgia Tech great came in and installed a 4-3 defensive scheme in hopes of slowing the flood of points the team has allowed.
"They've had their good days and bad days just like the offense," Johnson said. "But we may not know exactly where we are until we play five games. Last year we thought we really good coming out of the first game and we saw how that worked out. So I don't think you make any conclusions until you play a little bit. We'd be hard pressed not to be better.
"I have no reason to doubt that we are better from what I've seen in practice. But you still have to do it on the field. And you're two or three injuries away from changing everything. The right two or three people get hurt, the whole thing changes. The big thing is just trying to stay healthy and keeping them out there."