ATHENS – This hasn’t exactly gone as Lamont Gaillard planned when he first got to Athens. Not even close. And yet there’s still a good chance the story ends well.
A four-star recruit and an Under Armour All-American, Gaillard has played just two games in two years.
He came to Georgia as a defensive lineman. He’s now an offensive lineman.
And, by the way, he’s dropped 50 pounds.
But Gaillard’s career is now finally trending back up. He still has a chance to become a starter, and from all signs this spring, a pretty good one.
Gaillard’s emergence on Georgia’s offensive line was one of the surprises of spring practice. He entered March an afterthought, then was so impressive as the second-team center that he was moved up to starting right guard. That’s where he played on G-Day, when reports were positive.
“I thought I would earn my spot however I had to get it,” Gaillard said last week, two days before the spring game. “I’ve been working my butt off. So wherever I had to play, that was where I was going to play.”
Talk to Gaillard, and you hear nothing but positivity. That’s who he is as a person, he said, but after prodding admitted that his mother pushes him to keep on a happy face.
That might’ve been difficult for most of the past two years. Gaillard is a poster case of what can happen when a team experiences coaching changes.
Then-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and defensive line coach Chris Wilson liked Gaillard a lot, convincing him to commit as a defensive lineman out of Fayetteville, N.C. Gaillard said some other programs wanted him on offense, but he said he doesn’t remember which ones.
When Grantham and Wilson left after the 2013 season, Gaillard held firm to his commitment, even if the new defensive staff may have had a different evaluation of him. After redshirting in 2014, Gaillard was moved to offense before spring practice in 2015.
“It was a positive. Anything to help the team, then that was what I was going to do,” he said. “If I was going to be a better O-linemen, then I was going to be better O-linemen. If I was going to be a good D-linemen, then I was going to be a good D-linemen.”
But Gaillard was buried on the depth chart last year. That’s not too surprising, as he was adjusting back to the position. He played both ways in high school.
The biggest adjustment, however, was in the weight room. He was 345 pounds when he arrived at Georgia, and is now 295, something that didn’t happen through dieting.
“A lot of working out,” Gaillard said, shaking his head and exhaling. “I let it go when I was in high school.”
When this spring began, Georgia had another offensive line coach – Gaillard’s third position coach in as many years, none of whom actually recruited him to the team. But new offensive line coach Sam Pittman has apparently taken to Gaillard pretty quickly.
Gaillard began the spring as the second-string center, which was new to him. He admitted to some difficulty in snapping well consistently, but it still appears that Gaillard would be the top option if something happened to starting center Brandon Kublanow.
“The guy that’s been impressive and done a good job, we moved him over from D-line, he’s done a good job competing, and he’s working at center,” head coach Kirby Smart said about halfway through spring practice. “Well my question is if Kublanow’s gonna be the center, where can the guy help the most? (Gaillard) may end up being a guard. He may be the next best guard. But he’s never snapped. So we’re gonna give him as many snaps as we can, then cross train him, get him the ability to play at both positions.”
It also helps Gaillard having been a defensive linemen. Most college offensive linemen also played defense in high school, but few also have that experience at the college level, even if it was just in practice. Gaillard had a year going against Georgia’s first-team offensive line, including David Andrews, Kublanow and Greg Pyke.
There have been times this spring, Gaillard said, that he could tell what a D-lineman was about to do.
“It gives me an edge, because I know different things the defense would do, I know different things the offense would do,” Gaillard said. “It helps me a lot, to be honest.”
In the end, it may be that Gaillard’s early career stall at defensive line only proves to be a short-term hit. He enters this season with three years of eligibility, and plenty of time to live up to the recruiting billing.
“It’s taken awhile,” Gaillard said. “But anything I can do to get better, then that’s what I’m going to do.”