Three days. That’s how long Isaiah Wynn said it took freshman Andrew Thomas to grab a starting spot on the offensive line for Georgia.
From those three days, to over the course of the next few days of camp, Thomas was moved to various positions before finally settling in at right tackle, the position he now mans.
“During camp, when he came in he was, I believe, our second-string left tackle, and within three days, he was our left guard. Then he got moved to the right side,” Wynn said. “Just seeing that as a young freshman, especially just coming in and being on the offensive line, his ability to just play any position, that’s great right there.”
For Wynn, that was the moment he said he knew “that this kid was special.” It didn’t take long for Isaac Nauta to realize what an asset the 6-foot-5, 320 pound Thomas was either.
“I work with him every day so I noticed it all along but when I really noticed it was when I was watching film against Vanderbilt,” Nauta said. “He took a guy about 20 yards down field the whole way. I was like ‘Wow. He’s pretty special.’ ”
Special; guess that’s not a coincidence. But what makes this freshman so special?
According to coach Kirby Smart, it’s simple: his maturity.
“He’s mature beyond his years,” Smart said. “He’s very understanding of how important practice is, which allows him to play well.”
But it’s more than just maturity; according to Nauta, it’s Thomas’ quiet, professional mentality that separates him from the rest of the field.
“He is all about his business and doesn’t have a lot to say,” Nauta said. “He just goes to work.”
And even though Thomas is in his first year with Georgia, just six games into his college career, he’s put in the work to get there.
Thomas was a 4-star prospect at Pace Academy in Atlanta, according to the 247Sports composite but was rated a 5-star player by some outlets. ESPN.com ranked him as the No. 7 offensive tackle nationally and the No. 5 overall player in Georgia. But he didn’t get that way overnight; his time at Pace Academy was crucial in his development, according to Smart.
“Pace [Academy] prepared him for it. Coach [Chris] Slade over there does a tremendous job preparing guys because he’s done it at all levels,” Smart said. “I think Andrew was well prepared. Here’s a kid who came in very well groomed for what we were about to do and he’s handled it really well.”
Smart wasn’t the only one who had something to say about Thomas’ grooming, Nauta also commented on the way Thomas prepared for the transition from high school to the SEC. Having been there just last year, Nauta was impressed with Thomas’ quick start.
Thomas did his homework coming in but now that he is here, he has sought opportunities to continue the growth he made with Slade at Pace Academy just last season.
“It shows that he came into college working hard in the off season and getting his body right,” Nauta said. “He’s long and he’s quick, but experience is a big part of it and that is something he didn’t have. But he has done a good job coming in, learning from the older guys, getting quality reps in practice and putting it on the game field.”
So, if this guy has been going, going, going since high school, when will he hit the wall?
If he is as mature as his teammates and coach say, probably not anytime soon.
“I won’t say every freshman embraces it. Some you have to push them through it, and they hit that wall,” Smart said. “He hasn’t hit that wall. I think the best, most mature guys don’t.”
However, even with his player’s quiet maturity, Smart does not put Thomas in tough positions, saying that they “try to avoid that.” The run game helps, according to Smart, as does having help from a tight end such as Nauta. But even if this tag teaming might be a way to keep Thomas out of tough spots, it’s something that Nauta rather enjoys.
“He’s a good one to work with when you are double-teaming somebody,” Nauta said. “When you have a route, you know he is going to give you good protection.”
But whether Thomas is double-teaming with Nauta or standing alone, one-on-one on the right side, he earned his spot there and he’s not giving it up.
“He’s a freshman out there playing in what I think is the toughest conference in the country,” Smart said. “He’s holding up. He’s holding his own.”