JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Until the Georgia Bulldogs come out and announce it or Faton Bauta physically trots out onto the field to take the first snap from center, no one can be certain that the redshirt junior quarterback will be making his first career start on Saturday against Florida. But Bauta’s high school coach, Jack Daniels, certainly believes that’s going to be the case. And he’s going to show up at EverBank Field to see it in person.
Daniels, Bauta’s coach at Dwyer High in West Palm Beach, Fla., said the quarterback intimated to him he’d be starting this week in a text message exchange this past Tuesday.
“He said ‘what’s up coach?’ And I said, ‘I hope you’re texting me to tell me you’re starting Saturday,’” Daniels recalled Friday afternoon. “He goes, ‘I don’t want anybody to know but there’s a good chance I might and I’ve got two tickets for you and I want you to come up.’”
So Daniels can’t say with absolute certainty that his guy will be starting for the Bulldogs when they play Florida on CBS Saturday, but he has long thought Bauta should be getting some playing time.
Bauta played quarterback for Daniels at Dwyer for just one year. Previously, Bauta had played running back and linebacker at a high school in New York. But his parents had a residence in West Palm and they approached Daniels about accepting a transfer.
“He wanted a shot at quarterback,” said Daniels, whose team won state championships in 2009 and 2013. “We had graduated Jacoby Brissett the year before. He came in and, to be honest with you, he wasn’t very impressive throwin the ball initially. But he worked and worked and by the time the end of the season came around, he was a totally different kid. He’s got a huge heart. In my 20 years of coaching at this high school, he’s the hardest-working kid I’ve ever coached. I’ve never seen anybody improve so dramatically in just one year.”
A comprehensive record of Bauta’s statistics that one season was unavailable. According to one news account, he had 1,006 yards on 56-of-112 passing and 13 touchdowns through 10 games. He also had 352 yards rushing and six TDs on a team-high 78 carries.
The Panthers run a traditional spread offense under Daniels.
“We did whatever the defense would give us,” Daniels said. “We threw it a lot. He threw for a bunch of touchdowns but he ran the ball a lot for us, too. I think they’ll run the offense they’ve been running. I think there will be some wrinkles but I don’t think they’ll be doing anything radically different. I think he can make all the throws just as well as (Greyson) Lambert and (Brice) Ramsey. He’ll be fine running what they have.”
Of course, while Bauta’s inherit skills are one thing, the unknown is how he might handle a moment as big as this one. The Bulldogs’ will be eliminated from the SEC race with a loss to the 11th-ranked Florida Gators and the sold-out game will be the CBS national game of the week as usual.
“I think if there’s anybody who can handle that moment and hasn’t been in that moment before, I think it’s Faton,” Daniels said. “There’s really something special about him that I hope everybody finds out about tomorrow. It’s about how his teammates will play for him, how he’ll never quit. I worry about him trying to do too much a little bit sometimes. But I think there’s a special quality he has that hardly anybody I’ve coached has had.
“Faton carried our football team on his back. I think he’s got some good players around him there at Georgia and he just needs to do what he can to help them win.”
Daniels is a Florida alum and comes from a long family line of Gators.
“But I’m cheering for the Bulldogs on Saturday,” he said.