It’s taken some time, but Georgia Tech defensive line coach Mike Pelton saw some clear signs of progress from defensive tackle Francis Kallon in spring practice.
Two of the most were a developed understanding of the defense and a deeper enjoyment in playing. Coaches are hopeful that it might mean that Kallon, one of the more unusual recruiting stories in the team’s recent history, can be a consistently productive member of the Yellow Jackets defense in his senior season.
“You won’t have a guy that works harder than he does,” Pelton said. “I saw him in the weight room and he works his butt off. Maybe this fall it can finally start coming together and put it all together for him.”
One of the biggest challenges for Kallon, Pelton said, has been his inability to retain the scheme from one season into the following spring and to the ensuing preseason camp.
“With Francis, ever since I’ve been here, no matter when you started, it was always like the first day,” Pelton said, “whether it was the first day of spring, whether it was the first day of fall, and that’s just been the story with him.”
Pelton attributes part of that to Kallon’s background in football. Kallon moved from London to Gwinnett County in the summer before his junior year, enrolling at Central Gwinnett High. The team’s spring practice that year was his first exposure to football, and the following season – his senior year – his first time actually playing in a game. His athletic ability and size drew scholarship offers before spring practice was over.
“He’s a guy that’s played football for five or six years now,” Pelton said. “My fifth and sixth year in football, I was a junior in high school. And so now I think it’s just the maturity element of it – he’s about to graduate, he’s been here, he’s been through four years with me now.”
The finality of the senior season and perhaps the recognition of a clear path to playing time often serve as motivation. And, apparently, the bank of game snaps and practice repetition has accumulated to the point where Kallon can make withdrawals.
“This was the first spring there was some recall,” Pelton said. “It was probably his most consistent spring with just coming in day in, day out, working and showing up in scrimmages and just the things you want to see,” Pelton said.
Pelton was particularly encouraged during one scrimmage, when he had already taken Kallon out and was intending to give younger tackles more playing time.
“Somebody went down and he said, ‘Hey, Coach, put me back in,’” Pelton said. “That was very impressive for me to hear him say that.”
It’s not exactly a mind-blowing concept for a player to want more practice time, but it’s perhaps evidence of how far Kallon has come. It’s possibly tied in with his increased retention enabling him to be a better player. Pelton said that he saw Kallon enjoying playing football more than he had previously.
“It’s not like, Hey, we’ve got to do this again,’” Pelton said. “It’s like, Hey, when can we do this again?’”
If Kallon, who had 15 tackles (none for loss) in eight games last season, could be a consistent force in the middle for the Jackets, collapsing pockets in pass rush and holding his ground in the run game, it would be a big lift. Tech’s other options at tackle look like Patrick Gamble, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brentavious Glanton. Gamble is dependable. Cerge-Henderson played in six games as a first-year freshman. Glanton redshirted last fall. A little more experience would be helpful.
Pelton is encouraged, but won’t go beyond that. It bears mention that in April 2015, Pelton said that Kallon was showing “a burning desire” to get better.
Kallon has one final season to put the pieces together. As Pelton put it, “we’ve got to show it on Saturdays. He’s got to be consistent. He can’t hit a wall.”