HOOVER, Ala. — Andrew Thomas is miscast a lot of times. He was the 4-star who didn’t get fully healthy until late into his senior year of high school.
When he did, he was clearly one of the nation’s top offensive tackles. Flash forward two years and Thomas won on the UGA plane bound for Hoover. Picked to represent the program at SEC Media Days.
Thomas did not enroll early back in 2017. Yet he still started all 15 games of his freshman season. True freshmen in the SEC give themselves a chance to do that when they enroll early, but maybe not so much otherwise.
Georgia’s prized junior from Lithonia shed that label, too. He quickly claimed a starting role in fall camp and held it for all 15 games. That specific feat might not ever be matched again at UGA.
It will require a true freshman (on this roster especially) to start wire-to-wire for a team in the SEC Championship Game, plus a playoff semifinal and then reach the national title game.
Thomas is not the Bulldog most likely to drop interview sound byte gold at the same rate he levels his blocking assignments. He was at the SEC’s flagship media event because of what he represents. Not just what he has to say.
“He started every game that he’s been at the University of Georgia,” Kirby Smart said of Thomas in Hoover on Tuesday. “He’s a tremendous leader, person. Charismatic. Doesn’t say a whole lot all the time. That’s why it’s fun to bring him to this event. I told him today as we got off the plane: Andrew, you’re going to have to talk today. And I think he’s excited to do that.”
He spoke about what he sees that seems different about the 2019 Georgia football team.
“I think we had a shift in our leadership group,” Thomas said. “A lot of our guys who were younger when coach Smart first got here are older guys now. Everybody is starting to buy into the system and everything. This is the senior class that Coach Smart first recruited. Everybody is really bought into what is going on.”
Thomas plans to be more vocal. His play can no longer set just example. When he speaks, this team will listen.
“With the offensive line, I have to be more vocal when I see things that need to be addressed,” he said on Tuesday.
Andrew Thomas: Charging ahead into his junior year
The reality here is Thomas isn’t quite as much into his shell as most might think. He even told a slew of reporters on Tuesday that he will open up once he gets comfortable with everyone in the room.
It is far too simplistic to say he no plays like he should have been a 5-star. The more pertinent matter here is he plays like a future first-round draft pick.
Thomas was hit by waves of questions about mock drafts, draft speculation and how he keeps his focus on the upcoming season with all those options on the mind.
The rising junior from Pace Academy in Atlanta has said, did say and will continue to say all the perfunctory things there.
Perhaps the most interesting subject that came up on Tuesday during his media tour was what Thomas is playing right now. Not where he’ll play next fall.
That’s the piano.
“I’m still working on it,” Thomas said. “I feel like I got off from it a little bit and I am working on getting back on it.”
He’s working on a couple of John Legend songs in “Higher” and “All of Me” with that.
Correspondents that know his story well will know that he actually played percussion in his high school concert band in winter and spring shows.
“The keys and all from the drums are the same notes as the piano so I already understood a little bit of how that is and needs to be,” he said. “While I am in college I decided to buy one just to practice it.”
Thomas is working on learning the sheet music for a few of those John Legend hits right now. Not just working to be an Orlando Pace or a Tony Boselli or a Jonathan Ogden.
“I’d probably say I am a one-star piano player right now,” Thomas said. “I’m learning. It is just a hobby right now when I have free time right now.”
Does that translate to keeping Jake Fromm’s jersey clean at all?
“I guess it is the same as far as like you have to practice it a lot,” Thomas said. “It is a learned thing. Just like the offensive line. You can’t just go and do it. It is the same for the piano.”
How Andrew Thomas can be better in 2019
Thomas is now six feet, six inches tall. He said he weighed in earlier this week at 332 pounds. His body has changed a lot in Scott Sinclar’s program in Athens.
“Just my strength,” Thomas said. “I felt like I was pretty athletic in high school but my whole strength level has increased. My power cleans and my squat. My bench. I’m just a much stronger player now than I was then and that helps on the field.”
He’s working on his verse of “Do More” by focusing on his pass protection. How he can be better with his hands to defuse SEC edge rushers. He also stays off-campus and also finds himself in the weight room at the complex working on his core strength and keeping his weight down even when he’s not at the team facility.
It sounds weird to say it, but Thomas is now one of the more veteran guys on the team. There has already been a lot of football played since his top Georgia moment so far.
“I would say the Rose Bowl,” Thomas said. “Not when Sony [Michel] scored but when we drove down the drive before overtime and we scored on the ‘train’ play we always run. Well, not the ‘train’ play there but the toss sweep right when I went out and made a block and then after we scored. I saw the video and it was like I had so much emotion on that play. I would say that was one of my biggest moments.”
He looked back on why he was able to play so early in his career. Thomas began working on being ready to go when he arrived in Athens in January of his senior year. He couldn’t enroll early but he was already preparing himself to play when he got there.
“I think a big thing was my preparation before I got there,” Thomas said. “With coach [Kevin] Johnson and understanding technique before I got there.”
With that, he credited his Pace Academy offensive line coach. Kevin Johnson is one of the game’s best teachers when it comes to line play. He made sure that both Thomas and rising sophomore Jamaree Salyer were well-schooled in the technical aspects of their positions before they arrived in Athens.
“Once I got to camp it was just working hard and understanding that,” Thomas said. “If I wanted a spot, to go take it and having guys like Isaiah Wynn to teach me and help bring me up.”
Thomas was assigned to room with Wynn during his freshman year. Wynn was the senior who played LT who went on to be drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots.
Thomas became a fixture at right tackle, but also served as an apprentice that year under Wynn to slide over seamlessly to left tackle in 2018.
“That transition was very fast,” Thomas said. “I remember coming in just doing workouts and the next thing you know we are playing for the national championship. It was a fast adjustment and I was happy that I was ready for it.”
His big goal for 2019? Just stay healthy, he said. He hurt his ankle against South Carolina and that lingered for three or four games before finally getting better as the year went along.
He started in all 13 games he played last fall but did miss the Middle Tennessee State game after that setback in Columbia.