ATHENS – By now, Jake Ganus has stopped being angry. Time took care of some of it, along with a change of circumstance. And this week came film study, and some unexpected extra meaning.
Ganus was with his Georgia football team, watching film of Vanderbilt, this week’s opponent. They were watching tape of the Commodores’ loss to Western Kentucky, and Ganus smiled as he saw two old friends:
Jontavius Morris and TJ McCollum, two key defensive players for Western Kentucky, and two of Ganus’ former teammates at UAB, the program that was suddenly and controversially shut down after last season. Morris had five tackles and McCollum had a team-high eight in their team’s upset of Vanderbilt.
“I got to talk to them after the game, and they were all excited,” Ganus said “And they got to watch me.”
Ganus got the start at inside linebacker in Georgia’s season opener. That cemented it: Ganus is officially more than a nice spring story. The senior is a real contributor for this year’s Georgia team, and his spot on the roster wasn’t an act of charity.
“We thought we needed some maturity at that position,” coach Mark Richt said of the inside linebackers. “But you know when you watched the tape (of Ganus), the guy’s the leading tackler, he played on special teams, and you meet him and realize he’s just a really sharp guy, you figured he would pick things up quickly, and if nothing else be a great addition to our defense, but (also) do some things on special teams.”
There are plenty of other UAB refugees contributing so far. Jordan Howard, the running back at Indiana, had 145 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a win over Southern Illinois.
Bobby Baker, a safety at Georgia State, had two interceptions and three fumble recoveries, earning Sun Belt defensive player of the week.
As for Ganus, his starting spot is by no means assured, as potential starter Reggie Carter returns this week, and freshmen Roquan Smith and Natrez Patrick are getting more comfortable. But Ganus, who led UAB in tackles the past two seasons, has already proven to be more than just a flash-in-the-pan spring sensation.
“I think I’ve come a long way,” Ganus said. “If you look at film from the spring, I’m a completely different player. I came in. I was more of the playmaker kind of player. I didn’t really have much technique at linebacker, I was new to the position.”
That’s because Ganus actually was a safety his first two years at UAB, before moving to inside linebacker as a junior.
“A lot of stuff I was just trying to figure out on the go. I was able to make some good plays,” Ganus said of his junior year, when he had 70 tackles and six sacks, along with 16.5 tackles-for-loss.
When he got to Georgia, inside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler worked with him on his technique: Staying low in his stance, always playing over bent knees, keeping his feet set.
“All these little things that great linebackers do is really what I focused on,” Ganus said. “This fall camp I really started to see that in film and in practice. And that’s when I felt like I was starting to actually become a player.”
It also helped to be around SEC-caliber players, going against offensive players in practice, and competing with defensive ones for playing time. He agreed it’s made him a better player than if he had stayed at UAB, assured of a starting spot.
“I think so, because going against Greg Pyke and Kublanow and those kind of guys every single day, you have to figure out a way to get off blocks and make tackles, or else you’re not gonna go up against them,” Ganus said. “You’ll get bumped down (the depth chart). So I had to figure it out real quick.”
Now it’s a matter of holding onto that spot. Considering where he’s come from, it’s a good problem to have.