Sentell: Bright future for nation’s No. 1 guard was sparked by his first practice

Pace Academy sophomore Jamaree Salyer is already rated as the nation's No. 1 guard for 2018.

Jamaree Salyer has the highest ceiling of any prospect I saw at the Atlanta regional camp for Nike’s “The Opening” on Sunday. He’s a sophomore with much to learn, but what the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder already has is special.

When the major UGA target repped against elite juniors and seniors, the Nike camp counselors were exuberant.

His low base. That punch. The way he locks guys out and smothers his blocks. Watch him pump up his peers. That fire he plays with. The nation’s No. top guard for 2018 as rated by 247sports had it all on display.

How will the 15-year-old erase defensive linemen when he’s a senior? That’s an imposing thought. That’s why the kid with size-15 feet was named the top offensive lineman at the camp.

His Pace Academy coach sees it. Chris Slade shined at Virginia and played nine seasons in the NFL. He sees a future playing on Sundays for the young man, but his past is just as important.

Salyer was named the top offensive lineman at the Nike Atlanta regional on March 30, 2016 at Buford High School. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

What’s that phrase? You can’t really know where a budding phenom is heading until checking out where he’s been? It applies here. Salyer’s first moments where he began to consider himself a football player is what really makes him uncommon.

“I will always remember my very first football practice like it was yesterday,” he said. “I was practicing with my stepfather actually.”

It wasn’t a practice. They just went out to a field. His stepfather Kenneth Campbell showed Salyer a stance and started working on his steps. Salyer actually didn’t want to be out there. He was a baseball kid who played first base. That spot on the diamond meant he didn’t get too dirty.

“Then he said ‘Well let me see you take a couple of laps’ and so I started running,” Salyer said.

Campbell then went to the car. Salyer saw that and asked where was he going. The answer was to run laps for about 20 minutes and he’d be back to get him.

“I promise you I was out there about an hour and thirty minutes,” Salyer said. “Just running laps around that field.”

Salyer never stopped. He was crying but kept at it. When his stepfather returned, he asked why he left him alone for so long.

“He said when you make it in the league, it is just you,” Salyer said. “He said ‘Don’t ever give up on yourself, even when nobody is watching,’ and that helped me get myself together as a person. That’s how I train and play and how I work. Schoolwork or anything. I always take instruction personally and always remember that day. You don’t quit something until somebody says you are done. Don’t quit on people. Especially don’t quit on those people who matter to you.”

How does he feel about UGA? Salyer described Kirby Smart labeled him a conversationalist. He also said he was very witty. 

“I had a Cowboys hat on my visit and Kirby talked about how he knew Jerry Jones and Dallas Cowboy football real well,” Salyer said. “He was looking forward to meeting my family and told me how hard it was to get into Georgia now and to keep my grades up.”

He said Smart stressed the new culture that is being built at UGA. The staff will go very hard recruiting the 2017 and 2018 classes.  

“Kirby and that new thing they got going at Georgia are worth taking a long look at,” Salyer said. “They do a great job recruiting me. I like Georgia a lot.”

He likes the home-state vibe and the ability to stay close to home be near his family. That will be a big pull in Georgia’s favor. He also said Alabama, Florida State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Tennessee also will get a good look. He also recently visited Alabama and Notre Dame. That trip to see the Fighting Irish was this past Saturday.  

“Notre Dame impressed me in different ways than I thought it would,” he said. “Everyone knows they are big on the academics, but I was surprised by a few things I saw on that trip that I wasn’t really expecting to see. They help you out a lot. They want you to be successful and they challenge you.”

A spring break trip to see Florida, Florida State and Miami is also planned.

Don’t expect an early commitment. He said Georgia and Clemson have been recruiting him the hardest over the last few months.

“I listen to Coach (Dabo) Swinney with that,” Salyer said. “Not to be a favorite toward Clemson or anything. But he said to make sure you take care of all your options and don’t have any doubt where you want to go because committing and de-committing and recommitting is the worst thing you can do to a coach, to yourself in general and your family. I just want to check my options thoroughly and commit when the time is right. When I have what I need to commit I’ll most likely stick with it unless something drastic happens with that school.”

His Pace teammate Andrew Thomas is the top-rated offensive tackle in Georgia for 2017. They’ve been playing together since they were in middle school. Salyer stopped shy of saying they were a package deal but said it would be hard to picture the two of them at separate schools.

“I just want to see where Andrew goes because we are kind of experiencing all of this together,” Salyer said. “We’re going on our trips together. It will be interesting to see where he goes and I will probably make my decision based on what he learns through what he does.”

The kid who did all that currently carries a 3.5 grade-point average and wants to make “only As and Bs to make sure his mom stays proud” of him in the classroom, too.

“I care about my mom’s and my grandmother’s opinion,” Salyer said. “Those people are very important and influential in my life. I want to make them happy with everything I do.”

Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.

Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

 

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