ATHENS — When baseball players who have played for multiple teams are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, they’re asked to declare what team they’ll represent in their respective exhibits. Jake Ganus is not being asked to make any such declaration as he gets set to participate in Georgia’s Senior Night festivities on Saturday. But he does find himself somewhat conflicted.
“I definitely think I’ll walk away as a Bulldog,” said Ganus, a first-year transfer who played his first three seasons at UAB. “But I’ll always be a Blazer at the same time. I played three years there, put in a lot of hard work, sweat, tears. And then Georgia welcomed me in with open arms and this has been by far the best year of my career. It’s been awesome.
“Hopefully I can go down as both. As of now I’m a Bulldog.”
UGA is certainly glad to claim him. The Bulldogs snatched up Ganus last December after the University of Alabama-Birmingham, or UAB, dissolved its football program.
Ganus came highly recommended. He was a captain, the team leader in tackles, was second-team all-conference and, as an inside linebacker, played a position of need for the Bulldogs. What was unknown, however, was how Ganus’ abilities in Conference USA might transfer to SEC ball.
Turns out, just fine.
Ganus has started all 10 games for Georgia at “Mike,” or middle, linebacker. He leads the team and is 17th in the league in tackles with 74.
“I remember hearing everything about Jake, then I saw him in person. I’m like, ‘hey, wait a minute, this is the guy that was leading UAB?’” Georgia senior and four-year starter Jordan Jenkins said. “Seeing him run around in preseason camp, I’m like, ‘OK, now I see why.’
“Jake Ganus is an example of how there’s really good players in every conference,” Jenkins continued. “You just have to look past the conference, past to conference name, to see that.”
It has been an eventful year indeed for Ganus. He’s coming off an 11-tackle performance in the Bulldogs’ 20-13 win over Auburn this past weekend. Including his 223 stops at UAB, he’s the No. 2 active player in the SEC in career tackles with 300. He has recorded two interceptions, including a game-preserving pick in the end zone against Vanderbilt. He’s currently a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is given annually to the top football scholar-athlete in the country.
It has been one of the most profound impacts for a first-year transfer in UGA history. To date, Jarvis Jones is probably the most successful example, but he had to sit out a year before making his mark.
Odell Thurman came back from a junior college ouster and lettered in 2003 and ’04. Safety Ben Smith came in from Northeast Oklahoma Junior College to start and record 73 tackles and later become an All-American. Defensive Jeff Sanchez showed up to start in 1982 and record nine interceptions.
But no one has packed more into one year. Ganus even got engaged to his fiancé Peyton Thomas with a surprise midfield proposal on the “G” at Sanford Stadium at the end of the South Carolina in September.
“It means a lot,” he said of getting recognized with the rest of Georgia’s seniors on Saturday. “This is a place that took me in and gave me a home last year when I didn’t have one. I’ve put a lot of work into this program; not as much as the others, but it still means a lot. So I’m looking forward to it.”
There are benefits beyond the degree he’ll eventually receive in management from UGA. The 6-foot-2, 233-pound Ganus not only earned a starting job with the Bulldogs but also proved to be a standout player on this level. That, in turn, has not escaped the notice of NFL scouts, who attend Georgia’s practices and games weekly.
“I definitely think coming here and getting to work with my position coach (Mike Ekeler) taught me a lot,” Ganus said. “He really turned me into the linebacker I am. Obviously, I do have dreams for going in to the NFL. I definitely think this season has greatly improved that chance. So I’m grateful to be here.”
Ganus hasn’t yet received an invitation to any of the college all-star games, but he hopes to – and expects to. And regardless of what happens with the next level, he is happy and content with his experience at this one.
Even though it’s been a blur.
“Haven’t been able to reflect much; not much time for that,” he said. “Hopefully after the season I’ll be able to. It’s just been so fast, everything’s been so fast. I feel like I just got here the other day, but here we are at the end of the season. So time does fly.”