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Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
Georgia left tackle Andrew Thomas is a clear All-America candiate for the Bulldogs this season.

Andrew Thomas has grown into a “hometown hero” for the Georgia Bulldogs

EDITOR’S NOTE: This original Andrew Thomas profile story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia.  To access other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com. 

Andrew Thomas continues to catch the headlines. The junior left tackle is right in the midst of a few more this week with the news he was named to a pair of two preseason All-America teams.

The accolades are piling up for the Lithonia native these days. Those are well deserved.

Thomas was asked by Kirby Smart to represent the team this summer at SEC Media Days. That simply reflected his status and worth on the team since his first season back in 2017.

“He started every game that he’s been at the University of Georgia,” Smart said in Hoover. “He’s a tremendous leader, person. Charismatic. Doesn’t say a whole lot all the time. That’s why it’s fun to bring him to this event. I told him today as we got off the plane: Andrew, you’re going to have to talk today. And I think he’s excited to do that.”

Thomas started all 15 games of that magical season for Bulldog fans. That feat of starting 15 games for a team that went on to win the SEC championship, a national semifinal and then play in the national title game will likely never be duplicated by a true freshman again at Georgia.

The Pace Academy alumnus will also see his name continue to pepper the top 5 and top 10 picks on all the 2020 NFL mock draft boards for the foreseeable future.

Thomas is just that good. It was also interesting to see that Georgia coach Kirby Smart chose Thomas to be the Bulldog to represent the program when the West End Zone expansion ribbon-cutting took place.

That’s because Thomas has represented everything the Bulldogs hope to sign and enrich as a student-athlete matriculating to the program in his three-plus years at Georgia.

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Andrew Thomas has started 28 football games in his two seasons at the University of Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Andrew Thomas: His path from Pace Academy to Georgia 

It is very hard to believe how quickly things have progressed for the former Army All-American since Georgia began to seriously recruit him in January of 2016.

That was the first few months that Sam Pittman was on campus in Athens. Thomas certainly represents his first 500-foot home run for the program on the recruiting trail.

Here’s the crazy part: Thomas felt that he wasn’t really being recruited by UGA until Pittman arrived. That’s even though he was an outstanding lineman for a state championship team as a junior.

That changed fast when Pittman came to Athens. He was one of the first in-state targets that the program prioritized once they arrived.

There was a January visit in 2016 that changed things.

“It changed it a lot actually,” Thomas told DawgNation in February of 2016. “Because I didn’t talk to the old staff as much as the new staff just with them being here for this short of a time. So it seems like they are really interested in me.”

Georgia brought in a senior transfer from Rhode Island in Tyler Catalina. Catalina would eventually on to the NFL at guard, but at that time he was the closest thing the program had to a tackle on campus.

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It is hard to imagine what Andrew Thomas looked like back in April of 2016 compared to the man he is now. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

“They really need tackles,” Thomas said back then.

He actually grew up a Georgia fan. Thomas spoke then about what that pull might be for him as he was weighing out a decision.

“I guess everyone wants to be a hometown hero,” Thomas said. “So I mean it seems like [they want] me to be one. But I’ve always been a ‘Dawg fan and now especially meeting the new staff I think that will one of my schools I will be looking at in the future.”

Clemson was another big contender here. For a long time. Yet it did sound like the famed “93KDay” meant a seismic change in his recruiting journey.

It meant for a lot of current Bulldogs. Especially Thomas.

“It was just a overall great experience,” Thomas said. “If you would have seen the fans there, it was ridiculous. The fire marshall was like had to deny people from coming in. But it was just a great atmosphere. I loved going on the field. It made me want to like to want to put on the pads and play so I just had a good feel about that.”

It helped Georgia’s chances. A lot.

“I already liked Georgia a lot,” he said. “But it definitely moved them up a little bit farther.”

The anchor moments were in place for a decision. He would commit to the Bulldogs less than three months later out at the Opening at Nike headquarters in Oregon.

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Andrew Thomas is described by coach Kirby Smart as a “tremendous leader” for the Georgia program. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Why Andrew Thomas chose Georgia in the end

His recruiting day news story for DawgNation still looms large today. That was back on July 10, 2016.

He was rated as the nation’s No. 9 prospect at the time. He was still recovering him a shoulder injury he was mending from he suffered at The Opening regional in Atlanta.

That was a great week for the 2017 class. Thomas was the fourth prospect with a 4-star rating to choose the Bulldogs that week alone.

“The last times I have been up to visit Georgia there has always been Coach Sam Pittman [who] has always been saying ‘I am feeling really good today but I would be feeling even better if I got my left tackle’ whenever we hung out,” Thomas said that week.

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Andrew Thomas was a U.S. Army All-American coming out of high school in 2017. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

What made up his mind? His father, Andre Thomas, shared why the Bulldogs and Pitman stood out.

Thomas said his son was sold on Pittman from the first meeting. That was important as Thomas was not deemed a recruiting priority by the previous staff. He was getting recruited harder by Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame.

“He said that he loved him,” Thomas said. “He said he loved his personality and how he communicates with him.”

Andre Thomas felt his son had that “right feeling” from the jump with Pittman.

The junior All-American candidate chose five factors to drive his decision. Those were academics, fit, coaching staff, distance and playing time.

“Georgia had most of those qualities as the very top,” his father said. “They didn’t have the best out of all of those, but they had the most at the top compared to those other schools.”

The priorities there were the academics and coaching staff. Thomas said he was committed to letting his son make that decision. He never pushed him, but actually shared that he liked Notre Dame the most at first.

“But the main thing here is it was his decision,” Andre Thomas said. “He was the one that was going to have to go to school and play football for four years.”

Thomas and his family sat down every day and hashed out his decision about a month prior to his public commitment.

“We didn’t establish a second team for Andrew,” his father said. “There wasn’t another school which finished right behind. There was just Georgia.”

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Andrew Thomas (54) and Jamaree Salyer started together for three years on the left side of the line for Pace Academy, which contributed significantly to winning the Class AAA state championship in 2015. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

What Andrew Thomas now means for Georgia

It is quite the sight to scroll through the DawgNation photo archives for Thomas from back in 2016 and compare it to the man that now mans that left tackle spot in Athens.

Those moments seem like a ringing endorsement for Scott Sinclair’s weight training program and the suit of armor he has chiseled around the 6-foot-5, 320-pound junior.

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Andrew Thomas is one of the clear central figures of the Georgia program for this season. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Thomas is clearly one of the most important recruits of the Smart era. Perhaps even the most vital. Jake Fromm is essentially the only other signee since Smart arrived that has meant as much to the overall bottom line of wins and losses in the program.

Look for Georgia to try to run more gap schemes this year on offense. Those zone schemes have been a staple of the Bulldog rushing offense in the past. Thomas hinted at that at Media Days.

With all that, there is one clear goal. It is not to knock out the Alabama program that has kept the Bulldogs from even greater glories over his first two seasons.

“We want to win a national championship,” Thomas said. “So whoever is in the way, that’s who we want to beat.”

Pittman has made a big difference in his growth while in Athens. His high school line coach, Kevin Johnson, also shaped his technique and understanding of the game prior to his arrival in college football.

He has all the accolades, but it still means something to him to be playing for his home state.

“It is a dream come true,” Thomas told DawgNation this month. “Like being able to represent the ‘G.’ Representing my family is pretty cool.”

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Thomas is the prototype for the left tackle position at the University of Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Homegrown Talents: The DawgNation series so far