JESUP –The touchdown club in this southeast Georgia town was meeting at Sybil’s Family Restaurant on Monday night as usual when club president Jerry Martin made an announcement: Hometown hero Greyson Lambert had been named Georgia’s starting quarterback.
A standing ovation ensued.
Drexel Lambert, the quarterback’s father, was in attendance. And he was beaming.
“I told him he looked like he’d swallowed a mouthful of cayenne peppers because he was so red and shiny,” joked Jody Grooms, Wayne County’s head football coach.
The news of Lambert’s appointment has been received to varying degrees of warmth around Athens and the Southeast. Considering the mixture of positive and negative, generally the reaction has to be considered lukewarm overall. But the temperature here was white-hot, and it was still radiating on Tuesday.
Back at Sybil’s at lunchtime were four individuals who are absolutely beside themselves about the Lambert development. Rick Peel, Bob Morgan, Bobby (“No Relation”) Lamb and Joe Ierardi are regulars at this restaurant and at this corner table. They’re fervent supporters of the Wayne County Touchdown Club and also rabid Georgia Bulldogs’ fans. Likewise, they’re extremely close to Greyson Lambert and his family.
So you’ll have to forgive them if they may harbor just a tad bit of bias in the high-profile competition that has been going on in Athens the past few weeks.
“It’s just excitement. Everybody’s ecstatic,” Morgan, a 1981 UGA grad who has been the radio voice of the Wayne County Yellow Jackets for 30 years, said of Lambert’s recent designation. “The fact that he’s over there and his first practice is August 4 and now he’s the starting quarterback, that’s pretty amazing.”
Morgan and his three amigos were also at Sybil’s Monday night and joined in the standing ovation when the announcement about Greyson was made.
But Drexel Lambert didn’t celebrate like the rest of room. Of course, he was proud of his son and as excited about the prospects. But he’s also cautious, and shared his concerns with the room.
“He said he appreciated everybody’s support and that he’d talked to (Greyson) and congratulated him,” Morgan said. “But he also commented that he told him, ‘you’ve got the job today, but now it’s on you to keep the job.’”
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Lamberts – Greyson included — declined to be interviewed for this story. Drexel, who talked off the record for a few minutes and provided some background, said he didn’t want to be part of the story “out of respect for the whole process” at UGA.
They have, as most know, been through these quarterback competitions before. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Lambert first entered into a position battle at Virginia as a redshirt freshman and won the starting job as a sophomore. But then the 2014 team captain turned around and lost it to Matt Johns this past spring.
So Drexel Lambert did not care to be seen as celebrating something that could be only temporary, nor does the family want to be any kind of distraction to their son or to the Georgia Bulldogs’ efforts to field a championship team.
“It’s early in the process and we’d like to take a pass,” Drexel said.
The Lamberts are an upstanding and well-respected family in this community. Drexel is an engineer who works as a manager for Georgia Pacific down in Brunswick. The mother, Melony, is a stay-at-home mom who spends most of her time doting on and caring for 9-year-old Adason.
And Adason is not only the apple of her parents’ eye, but also of big brother Greyson. Despite the fact that he is 12 years her elder and rather big time in his station of life, around here he’s considered Adason’s biggest fan and often can be found at baton twirling competitions.
“He’ll sit in those stands and listen to marching music all day long,” said Teresa Mosely, a bookkeeper at Wayne County High whose daughter twirls with Adason. “Now that’s a good brother!”
Lambert has been a local legend in this rural town of 10,000 since he was playing little league football for the Mites in Wayne County Parks and Recreation. Lamb, a banker at Prime South, remembers when a friend scouted Lambert’s team before a game and came back to excitedly tell the other coaches, “they have an 11-year-old at quarterback who changes plays at the line of scrimmage!”
Football intelligence — in addition to an exceptionally tall and angular frame and live throwing arm — is what Grooms believes set Lambert apart from Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta in Georgia’s competition.
“I think he can stand tall in the pocket, know where he needs to go with the ball and deliver it,” Grooms said. “The kid is fearless in the pocket. He took some licks at Virginia, and here. Experience is invaluable at that position, and we’re talking good and bad experiences. I’m not surprised.”
That said, Grooms added that Lambert “winning the job was probably the easiest part of the deal. He’s going to have to be consistent to hold onto it.”
Consistency was a word that kept coming from Mark Richt and Brian Schottenheimer with regard to the criteria for naming a starting quarterback. In the end, they said Lambert won the job based on “cumulative performance.”
Some translate that to mean Lambert was the best among three bad choices. That’s based on the fact he was unable to secure the starting job at Virginia, where he started nine games last season, finishing with 11 interceptions and 10 touchdowns overall.
As one might expect, that won’t fly here. Grooms pointed out that the talent around Lambert was markedly inferior to what he’ll be surrounded with at Georgia. He cited a statistic being shared by ESPN this week ranking Virginia’s running backs 52nd among all Power 5 teams, while they rank the Bulldogs’ second. Same with the offensive line, where Lambert will go from playing behind one of the worst in the ACC to one of the best in SEC.
“And I think one thing Georgia fans don’t realize is how tough this kid is,” said Ierardi, a ’94 UGA grad and CEO of Wayne Memorial Hospital. “We just believe because we’ve seen it, we know the family, and we’ve seen schools fly their jets in here to see him.”
Alabama’s Nick Saban’s once flew in here to see Lambert in high school. Once Lambert let it be known that he intended to transfer, he entertained offers from Florida, Arkansas and Colorado State. So he was a wanted man.
But once Georgia made it clear it wanted Lambert, none of the others had a chance.
“This is something Greyson has been preparing for since he was 2,” Grooms said. “He always wanted to play at the University of Georgia. This town, we’re Yellow Jackets on Friday, but we’re just about all Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. And with Coach Richt there and what Georgia does and what Georgia has, we just believe this is a perfect fit for Greyson. I can’t tell you how excited this community is.”