ATHENS – Isaiah Wilson always has been a man of few words. And when it comes to his play on Georgia’s offensive line this season, he has been a man of no words.
Technically, Georgia’s “no freshman interviews” policy doesn’t apply to him, being a redshirt freshman and all. Nevertheless, despite starting every game for the Bulldogs at right tackle this season, Wilson hasn’t been made available to talk, even upon request.
That’s probably just as well for Wilson. He has never been a big talker anyway, even when he was the biggest thing around growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. And when Wilson was finally in position to talk after the SEC Championship, he didn’t feel much like it.
Understandably, Wilson didn’t have much to say during postgame interviews following the Bulldogs’ 35-28 loss to Alabama. The 6-foot-7, 345-pound offensive lineman was a big part of staking Georgia to a two-score lead late in the third quarter in that game. A half-hour after that dramatic conclusion unfolded, Wilson was still a bit dumbfounded about what had just transpired.
“I just hope we get another shot at them,” Wilson said of Alabama. “If we do, I know we’ll play our hearts out and hopefully the outcome will be different.”
Georgia will surely get another shot the Crimson Tide; it just won’t be this season. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) were, of course, passed over for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They will instead face the No. 15-ranked Texas Longhorns (9-4) in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans (8:45 p.m.; TV/radio: ESPN/WSB 750-AM, 95.5 FM).
Wilson didn’t know that at the time he was being queried. The Bulldogs have been off for final exams since that fateful day in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But they’ll be back on the field this weekend. Several of Georgia’s seniors will go through graduation ceremonies on Friday, and the team will return to Woodruff Practice Fields for closed practices on Friday and Saturday.
UGA’s Sugar Bowl media day will be conducted on Monday, at which time we’ll hear from the players and coach Kirby Smart again.
Wilson likely won’t be available on Monday either, but he has already made quite a statement with his play on the field this season. A year after being deemed incapable of helping the Bulldogs even in a bit role as a true freshman, the former top 3 national recruit not only started every game his second season, but he played more than 95 percent of the snaps at right tackle.
To this, Wilson offered only a humble reply.
“I just try to get better every day,” he said. “So, when it’s the next practice, I just try to get better than I was the day before. You just keep going from there.”
That Wilson is an everyday starter is not a surprise. He was a consensus 5-star prospect and Top 5 nationally-ranked tackle coming out of Poly Prep Country Day School in New York. The bigger surprise was that it took some time.
But it took Wilson a while to get acclimated, both to the football and to the Southern heat. Showing up in Athens at more than 350 pounds, Wilson struggled with Georgia’s humidity in preseason camp his first season and spent a lot of time on the sideline being treating for heat exhaustion.
“I was gasping for air at times,” Wilson said last year before the Rose Bowl. “But I’ve adjusted to it well now.”
Getting acclimated to the heat gave Wilson the chance to concentrate on the fundamentals of being a good SEC offensive lineman. And he had a long way to go in that regard. Playing prep-school ball in New York, Wilson rarely encountered an opponent who contend with his massive size. Going against Georgia’s No. 1 defense as a redshirt helped him hone those skills.
“I’m better in every aspect,” he said.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart agrees.
“He’s grown. He’s getting better,” Smart said in November. “I thought last year he got frustrated early and just kept working, spent some time on the scout team, got better. He still is a work in progress, just like our team is.”
Wilson certainly has mastered the run-blocking aspect of his job. Georgia led the SEC in rushing this past season and managed 163 yards and a touchdown against Alabama’s formidable front.
Running back D’Andre Swift went over 1,000 yards this season in the last game and Elijah Holyfield needs just 44 yards in the bowl to do the same.
Like the rest of O-line, Wilson takes a lot of pride in Georgia’s ability to run the football against anybody it plays.
“I think it’s just a want-to for this offensive line,” he said. “We see our guys with the ball and we want to help them and push them further.
Where Wilson is trying to get better is in the area of pass protection. He has shown significant improvement there as well.
“He plays physical. He’s a big man,” Smart said. “He’s worked hard to get better. He’s held up against some tough guys in pass pro. I think he takes pride in that. … So he’ll keep working, and hopefully he’ll keep getting better.”
The progress is evident, and not just from Wilson. The Bulldogs will lose only one starter off this year’s offensive line in senior center Lamont Gaillard. The returnees, like Wilson, were mostly highly sought-after recruits.
By the end of this season, opposing coaches talked about being “swallowed up” by Georgia’s massive offensive line.
“It means a lot to hear them say our offensive line swallowed them up,” Wilson said, cracking a smile for just a moment. “I love my brothers on the offensive line. I’m happy that the offense is going well and that we’re physical and we’re all succeeding and playing well.”
We’ll certainly be hearing more from Wilson in the future.