ATHENS – Andrew Thomas was getting on an elevator at Georgia’s football facility Saturday when a few media members, having just left Kirby Smart’s news conference, happened to get on too.
There was a little discussion about you in there, a reporter told Thomas, the freshman offensive lineman.
“About me?” Thomas said, seeming genuinely surprised.
Yup. Good things.
Thomas just nodded, and media members — whose stop was the next floor — left. No formal interviews, as Thomas is a freshman, but the exchange illustrates why Thomas is on the verge of something fairly unusual at Georgia: starting right away on the offensive line, especially at tackle.
Thomas came to Georgia from Pace Academy in Atlanta with some hype, but not as much as others. He quickly made up for it with his work ethic, which can be traced to a humility and other attributes not usually seen in 18-year-olds.
When Smart was asked during that news conference what Thomas has to be capable of to start at right tackle as a freshman, the normally loquacious coach’s answer was four words long.
“Maturity. He’s extremely mature,” Smart said.
This is by no means an indictment of the other freshmen on the offensive line. Isaiah Wilson, the other highly touted tackle prospect, is still very much in the mix, and he, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer have all worked hard, to hear teammates and coaches tell it.
But Thomas has the best chance to earn a starting spot, either at right tackle or left guard. And if he did so in Georgia’s season opener, that would put the Pace Academy product in rarified company.
John Theus was the last freshman to start at tackle, in the 2012 season opener. Prior to that the last one had been Trinton Sturdivant, at left tackle in 2007. (Theus started at right tackle.)
Clint Boling started 11 games at right guard as a freshman in 2007. Cordy Glenn started 10 games at left guard as a freshman in 2008. And Ben Jones started 10 games at center that same year, in 2008.
Since then Theus was the only freshman to start the majority of the season on Georgia’s offensive line.
Thomas wouldn’t be the first prospect who came to school as a respected, 4-star prospect who immediately stood out even higher because of intangibles.
“He’s a quiet guy. I didn’t even really notice him once we were here,” Georgia senior outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “But once we got on the field I could definitely tell that he was going to be a great guy, a great freshman that we were going to look to to get some actual playing time. He’s good, he’s physical, he’s smart. That’s the thing. He’s smart in the pass rush game. And he seems to pick up the plays pretty well.”
Carter has been going up against Thomas (listed at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds) during practices and scrimmages. He’s seen what the coaches like about him.
“He can move with his size. That’s the great thing about him. He can change direction pretty fast,” Carter said. “So I was just impressed that he came in as ready as he is.”