ATHENS — Nakobe Dean is looking forward to Saturday’s G-Day Game. The freshman linebacker from Mississippi always looks forward to football. It’s the most relaxed and stress-free part of his existence.
Academics are a different story.
It’s not that he struggles academically. Dean quite famously is an honors student who had his pick of college destinations whether or not he was rated the No. 1 inside linebacker in America. It’s that Dean is an academic perfectionist. That can be problematic when one graduates from high school early and chooses to major in engineering while also earning snaps with the No. 1 defense for a Top 5 football team. The combination therein tends drive up the stress factor just a bit.
“The biggest issue he’s got right now is he is stressed beyond all measure with the academics,” said Brad Boyette, Dean’s coach at Horn Lake High School in Mississippi. “He’s got a B in a class and he’s never made a B before.”
Well, that last statement is not entirely true. Dean has, in fact, made a B before. It came in a seventh-grade typing class. Otherwise, it’s been straight A’s all the way through.
Dean came to Georgia with the same intention, to make all A’s all the way through college. But this goal-oriented student-athlete already is experiencing some push-back on that front.
First of all, he chose arguably the most rigorous major available at UGA, or any university, for that matter. Secondly, this would-be high school senior is transitioning through that while also experiencing his first college spring practice with a what’s expected to be a Top 5 team. Meanwhile, Dean’s doing all that while also trying figure out how quickest to get from Ag Hill to Driftmier Hall with 10 minutes to spare between classes.
But Dean is not one one to shrug off challenges. That, Boyette said, is what that B grade represents to his former pupil. And that’s something Dean simply doesn’t shy away from.
This has created some more than a little uneasiness for Georgia’s young linebacker. For Dean, there is but a thin red line between challenge and obsession. Boyette said one of UGA’s academic advisers recently met with Georgia linebackers coach Glenn Schumann to discuss the situation.
“They said they had a professor who was getting two or three emails a week from (Dean), sometimes at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Boyette said with a laugh. “He’s asking if he can do this and wondering about doing that, worrying the guy to death. They told the professor, ‘Ah, that’s just Nakobe. He just wants to do good work.'”
Dean definitely is doing good work on the football field. For him, Georgia football has been a relative crip course.
Though the Bulldogs already are well represented at the inside linebacker position, Dean has managed to show enough and earn enough trust to get occasional reps with the No. 1 defense. Not that’s not an insignificant development considering Georgia effectively has returning starters back in Tae Crowder and Monty Rice and experienced backups in Channing Tindall, Quay Walker and several others.
But between Dean’s quickness, which has been compared to Roquan Smith, and his ability to absorb the playbook, the coaches have wanted to give Dean some looks with the 1s for comparison’s sake. According to Boyette, they’ve liked what they have seen. It’s to the point now that any notion of a redshirt, a stretch though it might’ve been anyway, has all but been eliminated even before G-Day.
Dean’s reaction to competition is another one of the interesting traits of his psyche. Boyette spoke of a conversation he had with Dean during the height of his recruitment back in Horn Lake, Miss., last year. He said Dean asked him why so many of the coaches coming through kept telling him they didn’t have any depth at linebacker.
“I said, ‘well, they’re telling you that you’d have the opportunity to come in and play right away without a lot of competition,” Boyette recounted.
“He said, ‘Coach, that’s the opposite of what I’m looking for. I want to go to a place where there’s an All-American at my position. I want to learn from that guy and practice every day until I can beat him out.”
Kirby Smart must’ve thought he’d died and gone to heaven.
— Brad Boyette (@BradBoyette1) April 13, 2019
Boyette made the 7-hour drive from Horn Lake to Athens last Saturday and brought along with his wife Lee and teen-aged children Asa and Gabi. They came so they could watch Dean practice and spend a little time with him afterward. They hoped to ease Dean’s anxiety to whatever extent possible.
“We just wanted to show him a little love and support from home,” Boyette said. “Despite all the expectations, his and other people’s, he’s still a kid away from home. He’s always trying to be just short of Superman, but being away from home and all that transition he’s going through, I know that’s tough on him.”
After watching the Bulldogs scrimmage at Sanford Stadium last Saturday, the Boyettes took Dean downtown for dinner at Five Bar. Then they went back to his dorm room and just hung out and talked for a good long while.
“It was nice,” Boyette said. “My wife told him, ‘Nakobe, sometimes in college you’re going to run into professors who just aren’t going to give an A to anybody, no matter how hard they work and how much they know. Just relax and do your best. And B’s are OK sometimes.'”
Dean is having to make adjustments on the football field as well. Boyette said the most eye-catching thing about what he witnessed at Georgia’s scrimmage last Saturday was the size of the offensive line and “the physicality” they played with.
“That just jumped out at me, how talented they are there,” Boyette said. “The SEC is a physical league, but it looks to me like they can out-physical anybody.”
Dean can vouch for that. Listed at 6-foot, 220 pounds on Georgia’s roster, he often has to tangle with the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen, who average 6-5, 330. Like Smith did so well, Dean utilizes his quickness and agility to avoid locking up with the behemoths as much as possible.
Sometimes, though, hand-to-hand combat is inevitable.
“He had two real good collisions Saturday where he had to fit up on an offensive lineman,” Boyette said. “One, he got the better end of the deal; the other one didn’t work out so well for him. Out there with Georgia, he looks like a runt sometimes. But he plays with such leverage and he’s so explosive, I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”
Boyette said he expects Dean to similarly overcome his academic challenges, such as they are. So serious did Dean take his academics as a recruiting prospect that he refused to take official visits in the fall because it would disrupt his academic routine. As soon as he can establish somewhat of a regimen on that front, Boyette believes things should smooth out considerably.
In the meantime, Dean can get away from it all on the football field. The hope is that might benefit both him and the Bulldogs.
“His escape right now is when he’s on the practice field,” Boyette said. “The rest of his day is just so spoken for, as far as time and assignments and studying and treatment. … He said practice is the only time during the day he feels relaxed and is not worried about three other things he ought to be doing.”
Once Dean gets it all figured out, look out.