ATLANTA -- Just 12 months have passed since Jaybo Shaw, Nick Claytor and the rest of the Georgia Tech football team undertook its first season with coach Paul Johnson at the helm.
Yet after the Yellow Jackets' first day of fall camp on Monday in Atlanta, Shaw and Claytor say the difference feels like light years.
"We were out here yelling, communicating, having fun. Last year -- I know especially for myself -- we were out here trying not to make a mistake," said Shaw, a Flowery Branch High grad entering his sophomore season in Atlanta. "Now it feels like we're out here having fun, trying to make a play instead of not trying to make a mistake."
Claytor, a redshirt sophomore and Gainesville High grad, says a full year of training under Johnson's triple-option offense has turned what was once a chore into second nature.
"The exchange between quarterback and center... everything is just going a lot smoother. There aren't any fumbles on pitches," said the 6-foot-6, 286-pound offensive lineman. "The first team is pretty much running on all cylinders."
As Tech fans saw last season, when that happens, the Yellow Jackets' attack can be pretty hard to stop. During 2008, Tech averaged 24.4 points per game (sixth-best in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and 372.5 yards per game (No. 1 in the ACC).
Now the goal for Shaw and Claytor is to help those numbers improve even further as Tech looks to better last year's 9-4 mark that ended a seven-game losing streak to arch-rival Georgia.
Each northeast Georgia standout played key roles in '08, as Claytor started the last five games of the season in place of injured starting tackles David Brown and Andrew Gardner -- though he did miss the spring after having a bulging disc in his back surgically repaired.
Shaw, meanwhile, played quarterback in seven games as a true freshman, starting against Duke on Oct. 4 and leading the Jackets to a 27-0 win while passing for 230 yards (a record for a Tech freshman in his first start) -- earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors in the process.
As the '09 season dawns, Claytor is working his way back into playing shape with the first-team offense, while Shaw is leading the No. 2 offense and battling for playing time behind starter Josh Nesbitt.
It's the exact same position Shaw found himself in last season, as he went up against the older Nesbitt, a junior. Yet it's a situation that the former Falcon says he doesn't mind.
"Anytime you strap on a helmet, you want to have a starting position, so every day I'll be shooting for that starting position," Shaw said. "If I don't get it, I'll be in the same position I was last year -- and when they call on me and it's my turn to go, I'll do what I can to help the team win. I'm just really excited about the season, whether I am number two or number one, just doing what I can to help the team, whether it's on the field or off."
According to Claytor, the Yellow Jackets would feel comfortable with either signal caller leading the way.
"He's keeping improving. He's Jaybo Shaw -- he's a really good quarterback," Claytor said. "Josh [Nesbitt] is the number one right now, but it's good to know that if anything happens to Josh, we've got [Jaybo]."
And Shaw is continuing to improve his game, gaining more knowledge of Johnson's triple-option attack and adding more weight to his 6-foot frame to absorb the punishment that an option quarterback often absorbs.
"It's a huge difference, being in the weight room for a whole year, being around these guys for a whole year. I've learned so much more of the offense by watching film and doing 7-on-7 throughout the year, so you can tell," Shaw said. "I looked a lot more comfortable and felt a lot more comfortable today."
He also looks a lot bigger than last year, now weighing in at 198 pounds versus last year's playing weight of 182.
"I feel great," Shaw said. "I feel like this is a good playing weight for me. This is the fastest and strongest I've been."
Claytor meanwhile, says his back is improving every day, allowing him to get back into the groove.
"There's a little drop off from missing spring, but it's coming back quickly," Claytor said. "It's a process, but I'm improving."
As the season approaches, Claytor says he and his teammates are just ready to get back on the field and erase the sour memories of their last game -- a 38-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.
"We're not high on our horse, because the last game we played -- the bowl game -- will humble anyone. So we're not coming in saying that we're the best team. We know that the only team that can best us is us, so we're going to work as hard as we can."
With players like Shaw and Claytor, that shouldn't be a problem.
"Like coach Johnson said, if we just take care of us in August and September, the rest of the season will take care of itself," Shaw said.