ATLANTA -- It's hard to imagine where the Georgia Tech passing attack would be if DeAndre Smelter hadn't made the decision to play football this season.
Smelter had been playing baseball for the Yellow Jackets for two seasons when he opted last spring to play football for the first time since his days at Tattnall Square Academy. Originally the decision drew no reaction; Smelter played at a small private school in Macon, and two years away from the game was sure to add some rust. Few knew if he would make any impact.
"I remember doing interviews in fall camp and saying he's our X-factor," quarterback Vad Lee said. "Nobody knew anything about him."
They know about him now. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior has become the go-to guy in the school's passing game. Georgia Tech has completed 59 passes for 1,076 yards. Of those, Smelter has 19 receptions (32 percent) and 312 yards (28.9 percent).
"I'm not surprised," Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "He's a really good athlete and, like I've said before, I think he's going to get better the more he plays."
Smelter caught three passes for 64 yards in last week's game against Pitt. One was perhaps the most important reception Tech has this year, a 42-yarder from Lee in a third-and-17 situation. Smelter ran a post corner route and outjumped two defenders to catch the ball. Two plays later the Yellow Jackets scored the insurance touchdown and won the game.
"That last catch summed up everything, how hard we've been working all summer," Lee said. "It was just one-on-one and go get it. I just put it up there and he made the rest happen. It was pretty satisfying to know DeAndre had come down with the ball."
Afterwards Smelter was bemoaning his one miss on the previous possession. Smelter wasn't going to make an excuse, but Johnson pointed out that the defender on that play had been holding.
Smelter has started to earn a reputation as being Lee's favorite target.
"Coach calls a lot of plays to his side, for him to make a play," Lee said.
No wonder. When the ball gets near Smelter he's very reliable. And when it comes time to move the chains and keep the drive alive, Smelter is money.
"I feel like me and Vad have definitely developed a chemistry," Smelter said.
Each of his three catches resulted in first downs last week. He had a 7-yard reception on a third-and-5 in the first period and Tech went on to score a touchdown. He had a 15-yard reception on second-and-15 that dug the Jackets out of a hole on the next possession, although that drive later ended with a turnover.
"He's growing up every week and as a quarterback, I expect that from him," Lee said. "He's a great athlete and he can do that."
And there's still plenty of improvement that can be made, simply by getting more reps.
"He's got all of the ability to become a really good route runner," Johnson said. "I'm not sure that he is right now; he's more on his athletic ability. When he becomes a really good route runner, he's going to become a handful. You've seen him go up and get the ball. He's a gifted guy. He's got a lot of ability."