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(Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)
Georgia wide receiver Javon Wims catches a touchdown pass over Tennessee defensive back Shaq Wiggins for a 7-0 lead during the first quarter of the Bulldogs' 41-0 win over Tennessee in Knoxville on Sept. 30th.

Jacksonville homecoming rewarding stop on long journey for Georgia’s Javon Wims

ATHENS – One of the rewarding things about doing those Next Generation profiles on Georgia signees each year is getting to see where these guys come from before they get where they want to go.

Javon Wims has now gotten to where he wanted to go. Not his ultimate destination, mind you, but he’s a long way from where he was.

When I first met Wims to write his profile two years ago, I interviewed him sitting on the metal stairs on the back side of his two-story dormitory at Hinds Community College in Raymond, Miss. When I talked to him Tuesday, it was in the Larry Munson Trophy Room of Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. He was speaking to me as a senior and the Bulldogs’ leading receiver.

It’s still midseason and Georgia is 7-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country and is still very much in acquisition mode. So Wims was not necessarily in a very reflective mood.

But the 6-foot-5, 220-pound receiver didn’t mind pausing for just a second to look back at how far he’s come.

“I think my progression overall as a player, I think I’ve made a tremendous leap,” said Wims, not realizing the perfect pun as he is the Bulldogs’ best jump-ball receiver. “I came in with a lot of raw talent. I’ve just been taking a lot of coaching, paying attention to detail, restructuring my game and using the strengths of my body to do different things. I think I made a tremendous leap even as a student of the game as well.”

Wims will get no argument from anyone about that. A three-game starter and 12-game participant as a junior a year ago, Wims has emerged as an everyday starter as a senior and a go-to target this season. He has started all seven games for the Bulldogs and leads the team with 18 receptions for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Wims also has distinguished himself as the best downfield blocker on the team. As Georgia players have sprung loose for at least a half-dozen plays of 50 or more yards this season, it has often been the long-and-tall Wims who provided the obstacle for a desperate defensive back trying to save face.

“He continues to improve,” coach Kirby Smart said of Wims. “He was a guy who had not played football every year consecutively, so we thought he had some growth potential as far as getting better. I think he’s improved. I think he continues to improve with his physicality and blocking. He catches the ball really well. He’s a big target and he gets open. He’s definitely an asset for us.”

But, above all, it has been Wims’ ability to get vertical and out-leap coverage, opposing defenders on critical possessions, that has proved his most important asset. He’s a natural at it, having excelled at a high level in basketball before finally bagging that game in favor of this one.

“I treat the ball when it’s in the air like it’s a box-out, like it’s a rebound,” said Wims, who played basketball almost exclusively until his final year in high school. “That’s the way I attack it.”

I spelled out in great detail in my Next Generation profile how Wims had been all about basketball until his father, Roy Wims, convinced him that football would be a better route with his exceptional speed to go with that special body type. And Wims followed that advice, but without instant success.

At Jacksonville’s Ed White High, where he was re-introduced to football, he was stuck mostly blocking in a Wing-T formation for an unsuccessful program. Then, after failing to land the coveted FBS scholarship offer he longed for, Wims left a Division III program dissatisfied and disillusioned after a serious ankle injury in his first season.

Wims took a year to reset, rejuvenated his career and his recruitment at Hinds, then found himself at the center of a recruiting tug-of-war between Georgia, South Carolina and Miami. In the end, he stuck with a late commitment to the Bulldogs even through a coaching transition.

“I had seen the vision that Coach Smart saw,” Wims said of sticking with UGA during that tumultuous period. “You know, he told me that it’s going to take time, but there’s a plan. There’s a plan for our team success and there’s a plan for your individual success. So, I had seen the plan and right now we’re still trying to execute the plan.”

That plan is looking better all the time. Primarily a running team, both last year and this one, the Bulldogs are slowly starting to open up the offense to including more passing. As it is, Georgia isn’t throwing the ball a lot under freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, but it is throwing it with great efficiency – and to great effect. Fromm’s efficiency rating of 170.4 is highest among SEC starting quarterbacks, and his 9.6 yards per attempt is ranked No. 5 in the nation.

The Bulldogs broke free for a season-high 326 yards through the air in the 53-28 win over Missouri last Saturday. Wims led the way with 5 catches for 95 yards.

“That wasn’t a confidence boost,” Wims said. “We go out there and practice like that every week. So nobody in the receiver room or on the offense was surprised. It’s just in previous games our offensive line and backs were so dominant we didn’t have to pass the ball. But as soon as it’s presented that we need to pass the ball, we feel good about going out there and making plays.”

That’s aspect of Georgia’s offense likely will be needed again in its next outing. The Bulldogs are off this weekend, but then will face rival Florida in their always-important, nationally televised tilt in Jacksonville, Fla., on Oct. 28.

The Gators (3-3, 3-2 SEC) are struggling overall this season, but still playing good defense. They’ve allowed nearly 80 fewer yards rushing per game (143.8) than the Bulldogs’ most recent opponent, Missouri (222.8).

Having dependable go-to receivers such as Wims and Terry Godwin has enhanced that area for the Bulldogs.

“He’s got great, strong hands,” Smart said of Wims. “He snatches the ball out of the air. He’s a former basketball player. He does a tremendous job attacking the ball, which is part of being a great wideout.”

Returning to Jacksonville as a college senior will be a nice full-circle moment for Wims. He will get to show all the folks who knew him there how far he has come and how much he now means to his team.

Not that it will be a source of motivation for him.

“When this time of year came around, going to school at Ed White, you’d start seeing a lot of people come to school wearing red, wearing Florida colors,” Wims said. “But I never went to that game until I went to it last year.”

You can bet Javon Wims will be right in the middle of it for the Bulldogs this time around.