ATHENS — Georgia knew it was getting a jewel of a football prospect when it landed offensive lineman Andrew Thomas out of Pace Academy in 2017. That was further validated when Thomas started every game at right tackle as a true freshman on the way to an SEC Championship and College Football Playoff run. Now we’re finding out that Georgia has even more than that in this exceptional young man from Lithonia.
That was underscored this past Friday just in the notion that coach Kirby Smart chose Thomas out of 85 scholarship players to speak for the Bulldogs at the Sanford Stadium West End dedication. Then the 6-foot-5, 320-pound sophomore stood before 200 or so donors and fans and delivered without pause a no-frills message that did his coach and his parents proud.
As a finance major in the Terry College of Business, you already knew Thomas was smart. But after inserting a Herschel Walker reference into his speech, I’m starting to think politics might be in this young man’s future.
“Thank you to everyone who contributed and for making this first-class facility a reality,” Thomas said in his closing remarks. “Like you, I love Athens, I love Georgia. And as the great Herschel Walker said, ‘I don’t think there’s a better opportunity than getting a chance to become a Georgia Bulldog.'”
Not surprisingly, that drew a rousing ovation.
Smart followed Thomas at the dais, and bragged on his star pupil for a while before turning his attention to the $63 million building that was the day’s focus.
“When President Morehead reached out to me and asked what player should we have come speak at the ceremony, it was very easy for me to decide who to represent our team,” Smart said. “I think when Andrew speaks people listen, because he’s not a guy who speaks all the time. … Here’s a young man who had an opportunity to go anywhere in the country that he wanted to. Two of the things that mattered most to him were winning a championship and getting a great business degree. Where better to go than the University of Georgia and the Terry College of Business to do those studies and win a championship. And he’s doing it within a 60-mile radius of his family, which is able to come to all of his games.
“I commend Andrew. He has set a great example for our team. You can rest assured that our offensive line is going to be under great leadership with Andrew’s eye on them.”
Such remarks are usually reserved for a senior who is getting ready to graduate. But Thomas has proved to be a player beyond his years for the Bulldogs. And with 15 starts already under his belt, it feels like he is a senior.
Thomas beat out a host of candidates to earn the starting job at right tackle as a true freshman last season. He held it for all 15 games, earning some notice along the way. Thomas earned freshman All-SEC and All-America honors.
This year, Thomas was asked to make the rather notable switch over to left tackle. Never has there been less chatter or concern about at new starter at such a critical position. We’ll find out more about that transition after Georgia plays South Carolina this Saturday and faces more SEC foes through the season. But Thomas didn’t draw one minus grade in 38 snaps against Austin Peay.
Thomas’ secret to success, like him, is decidedly understated.
“I just try to approach practice the same every day, work hard and try to be ready,” he said during an interview Monday.
Just the fact that Thomas was there Monday at Georgia’s weekly news conference was a testament to his place on this team. Under Smart, the Bulldogs are represented at such events only by members of the team’s leadership committee. That membership is usually limited to seniors and select juniors playing significant roles on the team.
Thomas is only a second-year player, but few jobs are more significant than the one he currently occupies as Georgia’s starting left tackle. He has a tough act to follow. Isaiah Wynn was the last to handle that responsibility and not only did he earn All-SEC honors doing it, he also became a first-round draft pick for the New England Patriots.
Thomas is not ready to discuss personal goals beyond the next one that is front of him. Currently that is to protect Jake Fromm’s blindside against South Carolina in a pivotal Eastern Division matchup this Saturday in Columbia.
“There are still some areas we can improve in,” Thomas said. “We need to get to our linebackers faster, things like that. It is a different level of competition this weekend. They are an SEC team. Their front seven is very physical and athletic. We just have to play our best to be able to beat them.”
Regardless of what happens in that game or others for the Bulldogs this season, they know they have in Thomas a player who embodies all that they’re trying to sell about being a UGA student-athlete.
I asked Thomas how it felt to be designated by Smart to speak at last Friday’s fashionable affair.
“It was definitely an honor to do that,” Thomas said. “I was pleased that he was asked to present a player and he chose me. I was pretty honored to do that.”
Was he nervous about speaking to such a large group with the university president, athletic director and head coach looking on?
“Not really,” Thomas said. “I’ve done it before, so I’m getting kind of used to it.”
We should all get used to seeing Andrew Thomas out front for the Bulldogs.