ATHENS — Isaac Nauta comes to Georgia with the five-star label. He spent the past year at an elite athletic school. He has enrolled early at Georgia, and is already gelling with the five-star quarterback.
Nobody may be more ready to play right away. And yet it should still be an open question whether he will.
Oh, Nauta won’t redshirt. Or at least there doesn’t appear to be any chance of that. But it would be a surprise — a shock, actually — if Nauta actually starts in Georgia’s opener against North Carolina, unless the Bulldogs open up in a double-tight end formation.
And even then …
Here’s the barrier for Nauta: Jeb Blazevich. Here’s the other one: Jackson Harris. Throw in Jordan Davis, who started to play more last season, and even Charlie Woerner, a four-star recruit who could play tight end, and it’s not automatic that Nauta will make an immediate impact at Georgia.
“Whenever we go to eat we’re always sitting together,” Nauta said of the talented tight end group. “(Assistant) coach Beamer and all of us have a little group chat. So we’re always talking. Jeb and Jackson, those guys are great. Jordan Davis too. They’ve all reached out to me from the beginning. We all have great relationships and are excited to work with each other.”
The advantage that Nauta may carry into 2016, if Jacob Eason wins the job, is their relationship. The two five-stars spent a lot of time talking to each other during the recruiting process, with Eason urging Nauta to sign with Georgia. And as two members of the six-man early enrollee class, they’ve bonded on campus and thrown together, working on their timing and chemistry.
“We’re gonna continue to keep on doing that,” Nauta said last week. “But right now it’s learning the formations, start installing a few plays.”
Nauta took a circuitous route to Athens. He spent his first three years at Buford High School, then transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It was a chance for Nauta to essentially get a head start, as the elite boarding school offered nutrition classes, mental conditioning, vision testing — and yes, athletic training and actual football. The team played 11 games against national competition, but Nauta said practices were just as good preparation.
“Every practice was like a college practice,” he said. “Just because every time I’d line up I’d be going up against guys like Shavar Manuel (a defensive tackle who signed with Florida State) and top-tier high recruits. That was really attractive because I knew I could only get better.”
Now Nauta is at Georgia, where he has the skills and size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) to instantly help an offense that clearly needs it.
But first, it’s a matter of getting on the field — and then getting the ball. Last year Georgia’s tight ends, as deep as they were, accounted for just 28 of the team’s 199 catches (14 percent), and just 12.7 percent of the team’s receiving yards.
Blazevich, who went from 18 catches as a freshman to 15 as a sophomore, returns. So does Harris, who had four catches, and Davis, who had one. Now the unit adds Nauta and possibly Woerner. The tight ends coach may have changed, but the spot remains the deepest on the team.
Now it’s just a matter of using it.