ATHENS — I wanted to talk to Trent Thompson. I couldn’t get in touch with him, but I was able to reach Davin Bellamy.
If you’ve kept up with these two Georgia football players, you’ll find that as no surprise. Bellamy, a fifth-year senior, always has been visible and outspoken. Thompson always has been very quiet and shies away from the limelight.
Both of these Bulldogs dealt with similar situations on Saturday. That is, they were waiting — with a significant degree of fanfare — for calls from professional teams during the NFL draft. The calls never came.
Bellamy was the guest of honor at a watch party in the swank clubhouse of a Buckhead apartment complex. That’s kind of how he rolls. I’m not 100 percent sure what Thompson did but, having gotten to know him and his tight-knit family down there in Albany back when I profiled him for a Next Generation piece in 2015, I’d guess he was with them somewhere. Probably at Good Times restaurant right there on South Slappey Boulevard.
In any case, these guys and their loved ones were dealing with some profound disappointment on Saturday. Both were shocked to not get drafted. And honestly, I’m pretty surprised myself.
Each of these fellows played a prominent role on Georgia’s 2017 defense. In case you need to be reminded, that defense was pretty doggone good and had a lot to do with the Bulldogs winning the SEC championship and advancing to the National Championship Game of the College Football Playoffs.
And they weren’t the only ones. There were six members of that esteemed unit who were in position to be drafted but weren’t. With the exception of Thompson, who came out early as a junior, they all were intimate parts of the esteemed leadership coalition that coach Kirby Smart so often credited for the Bulldogs’ success in 2017.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Bellamy, back in Athens on Sunday night but still reeling from the events of the weekend. “It definitely stressed me out. Everybody was disappointed. It was a big shock. But everybody knows that I shouldn’t be in this situation.”
To be clear, Bellamy’s “situation” isn’t awful. He ended up with pretty much his pick of free-agent offers and went with the Houston Texans, which he’s very excited and encouraged about. And so did Thompson, who probably will benefit from following his teammate Nick Chubb up to Cleveland to try out with the Browns.
But that’s the thing. They’ll be trying out. There are no guarantees. They’ll have to accept a two-year deal and then hope to make these rosters and be able to negotiate another deal down the road and prove their real worth.
For Bellamy, he’ll soon earn his degree in communication studies and have that to fall back on. I’m not 100 percent sure on Thompson, who lists his major as fashion merchandising. You’ll recall that he had to withdraw from classes in February 2017 because of a medical episode that sidelined him for spring practice. I’d imagine there are allowances for that with regard to the NCAA’s minimum class hours eligibility standard. But, as a junior, there’s no option for him to return to school as a scholarship athlete like there is for basketball (provided one doesn’t hire an agent).
There’s discussion now that such a thing should be an option for Thompson and people such as him in football to do that. He was one of a record 106 underclassmen who entered the draft this year and also one of a record 37 of that number to not get drafted. What’s more, Thompson is the first No. 1 overall recruiting prospect (according to the 247Sports composite rankings, which go back to 2002) to go undrafted. Florida’s Ronald Powell, who went in the fifth round in 2014, is the next lowest.
That’s unfair, folks say. Thompson and others in similar situations should be able to return to college and play for their schools. But that’s not realistic. Imagine the roster-management nightmare it would create for college coaches. Coach Kirby Smart is already having to “grayshirt” (meaning withhold from enrolling until the next calendar year) one of his 2018 signees in defensive lineman Tramel Walthour, and at a position of need, no less.
Besides, free will is one of the great things about this world and our country in particular. In the end, Thompson and Bellamy will be fine, albeit more than a little chapped and motivated at the moment. But many a great career in all kinds of endeavors has been built on the foundation of anger and frustration.
“I really think I’m going to go in there and shock some people this year,” Bellamy said of joining the Texans, who already have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney playing his position. “I think I’m going to play earlier than people expect.”
As for his teammate Thompson, Bellamy said, “We’ve talked and he feels the same way, too. He wants to go in there and prove people wrong. I was surprised about Trent. I was surprised a lot of our guys didn’t get picked in this draft. But for Trent, I just think it was time, honestly. I think he was ready to go. He had family obligations and he was so beat-up.
“That’s the question I had to ask myself last year: Can I last another year without getting paid? And Trent is far more beat-up than me — two shoulders, the knees. But he’s a warrior. He’s still practicing every day, banged up with all his braces on. I think it was a good idea for him to go on and get some value out of his body.”
Besides, the NFL is weird. Let’s face it, it really is. I do believe they missed on a bunch of these kids. This wasn’t your standard, everyday crop of Bulldogs, who have been populating the NFL en masse for a long time.
At of this writing, late Monday morning after the draft this past weekend, safety Dominick Sanders — who owns UGA records for career interceptions and return yards — doesn’t even have a free-agent deal. Big John Atkins, who landed with the Patriots via free agency, started 26 games in the middle of Georgia’s defense and gets a lot of credit from No. 8 selection Roquan Smith for keeping him freed up to make dozens of tackles each week last season. Defensive back Aaron Davis played in every game but one during his college career, including 45 starts. He’s going to the Giants via free agency.
Then you have a guy such as Javon Wims, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound wideout who led the SEC champions in receptions and receiving yards and made every kind of circus catch imaginable. He didn’t get picked until the seventh round, when the Bears took him with the 224th pick.
“I was glad I got drafted, especially going to Chicago with Roquan,” said Wims, celebrating with family in Jacksonville on Sunday night. “I was surprised there weren’t more of us. We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of talent. They didn’t get the opportunity to get drafted, but I’m glad they all ended up on teams.”
No, this was not an ordinary bunch of Bulldogs. And they were passed over for some very interesting choices. Players who played in lower leagues for smaller schools edged them out because of impressive 40 times, number of bench presses or bone structure.
“Who were those guys playing against every week?” Bellamy asked rhetorically. “I’m probably the only player that played against the top four tackles in the draft. Nobody else in the draft can say that, I don’t think. But I’m not going to be down about it anymore. I think right now I’ve got a great situation. Nothing happens by mistake.
“This is going to make me very hungry. This is going to make me take every rep very seriously, make me do everything times 10. I’m still going to try to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.”
That’s the right spirit. But the reality is it’s a tough place to get to from where Bellamy is starting.