ATLANTA (AP) The path is clear for Dedrick Mills to lead Georgia Tech's running attack in 2017.
Mills promises to walk a straight line in that path and avoid the problems which cut short his playing time this year.
The transfer of leading rusher Marcus Marshall to James Madison leaves Mills as the heavy favorite to start at the B-back position the two shared much of 2016. Mills is expected to start when he completes his sometimes rocky freshman season in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Kentucky on Dec. 31.
Mills missed three games while serving two suspensions for undisclosed violations of team rules. He still ran for 602 yards, only 22 fewer than Marshall, while easily leading the team with 11 rushing touchdowns.
Without the suspensions , a good season could have been great. He says there will be no problems next year.
''Oh, next season there will be none of that,'' Mills said Monday. ''It just pushed me for next season. I'll be there every game. I'm going hard, 100 percent.''
Mills (5-10, 217) was a perfect fit as the power back in coach Paul Johnson's spread-option offense. He scored the game-winning touchdown in Georgia Tech's season-opening win over Boston College in Dubin. He had three-touchdown games against Vanderbilt and Miami.
Johnson said Mills, from Ware County High School in Waycross, Georgia, ''got a jump on everybody'' by enrolling early for spring practice.
''He's a guy who loves to play the game,'' Johnson said. ''I wish that he'd played more games this year for whatever the circumstances were, but I think if he'll continue to work and continue to do the right things he's got a bright future. He can be really good.''
Georgia Tech (8-4) will need Mills to be really good next season. The Yellow Jackets' leader, quarterback Justin Thomas, will complete his career in the bowl game. The running backs, including Mills and Qua Searcy, who ran for the game-winning touchdown in the 28-27 win over Georgia to close the regular season, will need to fill the leadership void.
''With him leaving it's going to take out a lot,'' said Mills of Thomas. ''...Whoever plays quarterback next year is still going to have our faith, but I feel I've got to go twice as hard as I did this season.''
Georgia Tech also is losing assistant coach Bryan Cook, who coached the quarterbacks and B-backs and has been named Georgia Southern's offensive coordinator.
Cook said Marshall's transfer has led to more work for freshmen running backs Quaide Weimerskirch and KirVonte Benson in practice. Georgia Tech also will lose senior B-back Marcus Allen.
''Quaide and KirVonte have gotten more reps and hopefully they'll carry that forward,'' Cook said, adding he didn't know if the young backs will play in the bowl game.
''You can see a difference in those two now and where they were in August, no question,'' Cook said. ''So you'd like them to pick up in the spring where they're leaving off this week.''
NOTES: The team's last bowl practice at Georgia Tech will be on Wednesday. The team is scheduled to arrive in Jacksonville on Dec. 27. ... Johnson said two freshman quarterbacks, Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson, were impressive in a scrimmage on Saturday for players not expected to play in the bowl game. ''They both looked good, made some plays,'' Johnson said. ''They're both good athletes.''
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