ATHENS — Last season, Jake Ganus was playing on the opposite side of Saturday’s rivalry — geographically speaking.
“Living in that state, it’s intense,” Ganus said. “Anyone from there can attest to that. You know, the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is something else. People live and worship football over there, just like they do over here.”
Ganus was on the market after the University of Alabama at Birmingham abruptly cancelled its football program following the 2014-2015 season. He did not hear from either in-state SEC school. But within a matter of two-and-a-half weeks, the Blazers’ leading tackler transferred across state lines and became a Georgia Bulldog.
Nearly a year later, Ganus will face the football powerhouse from the state where he got his collegiate start.
“Yeah, I think it’s a special game. I think being from there makes it special,” said Ganus, who is set to start at inside linebacker. “I think I’m the only guy on the roster from Alabama, so that does make it a little special. But, like I say, it’s just the next game. They’re a great team and it’s going to be great challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Ganus quickly made Athens his new home. In addition to earning a starting job in preseason camp, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend in his new home stadium after his team-leading performance against South Carolina. She accepted.
The linebacker’s ties to Georgia aren’t new, though. He grew up in Alpharetta before moving to Birmingham for high school. Once he started playing at Chelsea High School, the recruiting process began, during which he foresaw himself being a Blazer and refrained from being a fan of the Crimson Tide or Tigers. His divided upbringing allowed him to have detachment from any personal collegiate fandom.
But it was evident that most of his UAB peers didn’t have the same impartiality.
“A lot of your students were Alabama or Auburn fans, so it was tough,” Ganus said. “But we had our fan base. I was neutral in that rivalry, so I was able to be a Blazer for a couple years.”
That said, he wouldn’t have minded hearing from the Alabama schools after his UAB career was cut short.
“I don’t know how it would’ve looked for them to pick up a UAB kid,” Ganus said. “I don’t know if that’s what they were thinking. But I couldn’t be happier that I’m here, so I don’t think about that.”
At Georgia, Ganus has an interception and 19 tackles so far this season. His contribution has been not only a product of his physical ability but his mental ability, as well.
“Jake has been a great guy since he’s gotten here,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said. “We always refer to him as the quarterback of the defense because he’s very smart.”
Said Richt: “(I’m) just impressed with how quickly he learned what to do. And how quickly he’s been in position to help other guys get lined up. He’s not afraid to communicate out there. He’s a very good football player.”
Fellow linebacker Jordan Jenkins attributed Ganus’s impact to his leadership capabilities.
“He’s always going to speak his mind and he’s not afraid to step on people’s toes,” Jenkins said.
But Jenkins, the most experienced Georgia linebacker, joked that Ganus hasn’t inched too close to his territory.
“Nah, he knows better,” Jenkins laughed. “But if I have messed up, he’s gotten on to me before, that’s just the respect we have for one another.”