ATHENS – Isaac Nauta lingered by the sideline, waiting, and that’s where Jacob Eason spotted him. Their eyes locked on each other, and though unable to hear each other, they both knew what to do.
“When we first got here, we would obviously work out with the team, but we would go off and do our own things too, trying to get better, trying to keep building that chemistry,” Nauta said later, describing his relationship with Eason. “That specifically was a play where we just kind of looked at each other, and I saw an open spot and ran to it and he threw it. I definitely say that’s a correlation to our chemistry.”
It was a great, symbiotic play in a day that ended painfully for Georgia’s football team: Eason scrambled out of the pocket, waited for Nauta to sneak past his defender, and the two connected for what turned out to be a 35-yard pass. The first-quarter play ended up overshadowed by Georgia falling to arch-rival Georgia Tech. But it was yet another example of a passing combination that should give Georgia plenty of hope going forward – and was pretty good this year.
Nauta and Eason hooked up 27 times this season for 353 yards, leaving Nauta third on the team in both categories. His three receiving touchdowns was behind only receiver Isaiah McKenzie.
Part of that is Eason and Nauta – both five-star recruits – who have gotten along well from the start. They’re roommates and close friends, who’ve known each other through recruiting and then enrolling early at Georgia. But part of that chemistry also had to develop.
“When we came in we were kind of the lone freshmen,” Nauta said this week. “Right away we had to gel. We had to learn where to go, even on campus. What to do around the football facility. That definitely bought into our camaraderie early on, and we just continued to grow.”
It hasn’t been a very good awards season for Georgia. But Nauta received one of the rare postseason honors: The SEC all-freshman team.
Nauta acknowledged that was one of his goals, but that the team’s five-loss season tempered that a bit. Head coach Kirby Smart also cautioned that Nauta, and other freshmen who’ve had good seasons, need to remember history.
“Because what you see in college football is when you arrive, you go down,” Smart said. “And when you keep trying to achieve and you stay humble and you keep working to what got you there, the same thing Isaac talked about – being deflated, and realizing that I’m in a world of speed and agility and everybody’s as good as me – that they have to feel that way every year. They have to stay with that same hunger to keep getting better.”
Nauta said he’s self-evaluated and knows he can get better. One of those areas is blocking. Everyone knew that as an athletic tight end he was a mismatch as a receiver, and he showed that. But run and pass blocking and matching up with SEC edge rushers didn’t go as smoothly.
“I came in and I got humbled pretty quickly,” Nauta said, grinning ruefully. “I blocked a lot of good players this year: Derek Barnett (of Tennessee), Carl Lawson (of Auburn), Marlon Davidson (also of Auburn) who’s another freshman I’ve got stack up with. I was excited. I did some good things this year, I did some bad things. But the good thing about being a freshman is you can learn from it, and you’ve got a couple years to grow and get better.”