ATLANTA - The first word Jonathan Dwyer used to describe Tashard Choice as a mentor was a surprise:
Dwyer, Georgia Tech's freshman tailback, says he understands more about game plans and blocking schemes late in the season, in part due to tips from Choice.
"One thing I had to learn was just be patient and follow my blockers," Dwyer said, adding that "understanding everything ... is a lot easier than it was at the beginning of the season."
Dwyer credited Georgia Tech's coaches and "the mentorship of Choice and all the other guys who have been helping me out through this whole process."
Choice is intense, vocal, upbeat and tough in practice and games. He has played through hamstring and knee injuries while posting his second straight 1,000-yard season.
Tech players have said since the spring that Choice is a leader on the team. But what is the senior like as a mentor?
"It's comical," Dwyer said. "It's fun. It's a fun mentorship. He helps me out. He's my big brother. He helps me with anything I need, not just on the field. He gives me advice. On the field he tells me what I miss and what's going to happen."
Dwyer said Choice is "pretty much another coach, you could say."
"Choice is a funny guy," Dwyer said. "He always makes us laugh in meetings. He keeps everything upbeat and keeps it fun."
Choice confirmed he uses humor to help keep running backs meetings loose.
"It's all because we get along," he said. "I get along with everybody but I love football so I'm happy when I'm around here, so I laugh and joke all the time."
Choice said he has talked with Dwyer about improving 'little things' in the game.
"A lot of little things, but mainly footwork," Choice said. "He has a lot of talent, but to be a good running back you've got to do the little things to make the game so much easier. He has the ability. It's just taking time and getting the reps."
Coach Chan Gailey turned to sophomore Jamaal Evans as the starter when Choice missed one game following knee surgery, but Dwyer could be the favorite to succeed Choice as the team's starter next season.
Dwyer has rushed for seven touchdowns, only two behind Choice, to rank 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He rushed for 138 yards and three touchdowns in a runaway win over Samford on Sept. 8. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and even with Choice receiving the large majority of the carries, Dwyer ranks has 372 yards rushing to rank 15th in the ACC.
Safety Djay Jones said Dwyer has been a serious apprentice.
"He listens," Jones said. "That's one thing I can really tell. He listens. He rarely makes the same mistake twice. He's going to be a great player."
Choice said he "absolutely" wants to make sure he helps keep Tech's running game strong in 2008.
"Jonathan has a chance to learn things, and Jamaal," Choice said. "They can see how I changed from when I first came to Tech and how I run the ball now. It's because I wasn't smart enough to pick up little things and how easy it is to pick up yards when you know what's going on on the field."
Georgia Tech has averaged more than 45 points in three nonconference games against Notre Dame, Samford and Army, but it ranks 11th with its average of 19 points in its seven ACC games. North Carolina is 10th at 19.3 points per game, perhaps creating a favorable matchup for Tech's defense.
Georgia Tech shut out the Tar Heels 7-0 last season, and this could be another low-scoring game.
Tech's defense would love another shutout.
"Total domination. I think that's one thing this defense needs right now," Jones said. "We're out there making big plays and I feel like if we can pitch a shutout it would make us feel that much better, especially going into the UGA game."
Tech plays host to Georgia on Nov. 24.
In ACC games, Tech is fourth in the conference in yards (328.9) and points (21.1) allowed per game. The Yellow Jackets' top defensive game was a 13-3 win over Clemson on Sept. 29. Tech beat Miami 17-14, but the Yellow Jackets have allowed at least 24 points in each of their other five conference games.
"We need a shutout," Jones said. "We feel we will get a shutout sooner or later."
More on Choice
Choice is in great position to become the first Georgia Tech player to lead the ACC in rushing in back-to-back years, and the first player from any school since Virginia's Thomas Jones in 1998-99.
Choice is averaging 114.9 yards per game. Clemson's James Davis is second at 86.0.
The only other ACC players to lead the league in rushing two straight years: North Carolina's Ethan Horton (1983-84); Maryland Charlie Wysocki (1979-80); North Carolina's Mike Voight (1975-76); North Carolina's Don McCauley (1969-70) and Clemson's Buddy Gore (1966-67).
SideBar: North Carolina at Georgia Tech
When: Saturday, noon