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Georgia Tech dismisses leading rusher Dedrick Mills for violation of team rules

Georgia Tech has dismissed its leading rusher, sophomore Dedrick Mills, for a violation of athletic department rules, the school announced Friday.

Mills was named to the preseason All-ACC team after leading the Yellow Jackets with 771 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016.

Coach Paul Johnson did not specify what rule was broken, but stressed that it was different than two suspensions Mills served a year ago ---- totaling games -- for violating team rules.

"Last year he got suspended for a couple of football violations, football team rules,'' Johnson said. "This was a GTAA (Georgia Tech Athletic Association) rule. So it's set rules. When you break 'em, the punishment is pretty standard.''

The coach said it didn't involve a legal matter or a violation of NCAA rules/

"He's a good kid," Johnson said. "He loves to play football. He just made some poor choices.''

Johnson had expressed confidence his young back would avoid further off-field issues earlier this summer, and Mills suggested he'd moved on from his indiscretions.

"I'm not going to reminisce on the past," Mills told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution two weeks ago. "Of course that's always a goal to not get kicked off the field. You always want to be on the field. You never want to get taken off. ... I'm going to keep myself on the field this year."

Instead, he didn't even make it to the first game -- a prime-time matchup against the Volunteers on Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new $1.5 billion facility in downtown Atlanta.

"We're disappointed for him. We're disappointed for his teammates,'' Johnson said. "But we've got to move on. It's next man up. We've got to go on and get ready to play. It's really no different than if a guy had gotten injured out there and the next guy had to play.''

Johnson insisted that losing Mills would not change his expectations for a team coming off a nine-win season that included six victories in the final seven games.

Mills' 12 touchdowns were second among freshman running backs last season, and his 784 total yards were second only to Miami's Ahmmon Richards among ACC freshmen.

The Yellow Jackets won all three games Mills missed last season, with minimal drop-off in production. However, the remaining B-backs on Georgia Tech's current roster have combined for just 14 career carries, 13 of which came from senior Brady Swillin, who was just awarded a scholarship this week after four years as a walk-on. Third-year sophomore KirVonte Benson has been slowed by an injury during the preseason. Freshmen Jerry Howard and Jordan Ponchez-Mason, along with sophomore Quaide Weimerskirch, are also in the mix.

Weimerskirch has one carry for zero yards in his college career. None of the others have run the ball in a college game.

Former starter Marcus Marshall, who rushed for 624 yards last season, decided to transfer when it became apparent that Mills had supplanted him on top of the depth chart.

As it turned out, the Yellow Jackets won't have either of them this season. Nevertheless, Johnson said he's confident that someone will step up to fill the key spot, which handles most of the running plays up the middle that free up things on the outside.

"With a year under his belt in the system, I expected him to have a great year,'' Johnson said. "Now, I expect the other guy to have a great year, whether it's KirVonte or Quaide or Jerry or Mason. Whoever it is, whoever gets in there and plays, I expect them to have 1,000 yards. That's pretty much what that position is.''

Tennessee coach Butch Jones said it will still be difficult to stop such a unique offense, no matter who gets the bulk of the carries.

"They have a system obviously that's very challenging,'' Jones said. "We prepare the same way, and it doesn't affect our mindset or how we look at things.''

As for Mills, there was no immediate word on where he might end up. If he transfers to another NCAA top-division school, he'll have to sit out the season, or he could play right away for a Football Championship Subdivision team. Junior college is another possibility.

Johnson said he would likely grant Mills a full release to sign with any other school.

"I would try to help him if I can,'' the coach said. "For the most part, I can't think of anybody I would block. Maybe somebody we play this year, but other than that, probably not.''

Jacksonville State is the only FCS school on Georgia Tech's schedule this season.

"Hopefully it works out for him, he learns from it and he'll be very successful wherever he ends up.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.