ATHENS – When Greyson Lambert arrived at Georgia two months ago, Jake Ganus sought him out. Lambert’s head had to be swimming with information and advice, but Ganus felt like he knew exactly what Lambert was going through.
Lambert was a fresh arrival from Virginia, where he started nine games last year. Ganus was the leading tackler at UAB last year before coming to Georgia. So he knew a little bit about being thrust into a new situation.
“Man, you’re a Division I starting quarterback,” Ganus said he told Lambert. “I mean yeah you’re from a different conference and what-not, but you’ve played in big games, you’ve played against good defenses. Just do what you do, don’t be afraid to come in here and be a leader. I think he did that.”
In the pros it’s routine for players to leave one team and play for another the next year, or even change midseason. But it doesn’t happen often in college. And it was even more rare at Georgia, which hasn’t taken many transfers, period.
Now two of its key players, one on each side of the ball, are transfers who were playing in another program in 2014.
Lambert went from demoted quarterback at Virginia to the starter at Georgia, where he set the NCAA record for single-game completion percentage. Ganus went from lower-level UAB, which (temporarily) disbanded its program, to a Georgia starting inside linebacker, and led the team in tackles against South Carolina.
“Greyson came in and learned the plays quicker than some guys who had been here since spring,” senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “And Jake just competes, and he loves the game. So once you see those qualities you instantly accept them for the players that they are.”
Lambert wasn’t the first graduate transfer quarterback Georgia spoke to this year: Everett Golson, leaving Notre Dame after spring practice, visited Athens, though it’s not clear whether he ever received a formal scholarship offer from the Bulldogs. In any case Golson ended up at Florida State, where he is the starter and is off to a good start (584 passing yards, 6 TD, 0 INT).
Russell Wilson is college football’s most famous immediate transfer. After three years at N.C. State, a dispute over his playing baseball led him to Wisconsin, where he had a stupendous senior season, and his NFL career is well-chronicled. A handful of others have had success immediately, including quarterback Garrett Gilbert (SMU from Texas), tailback Charles Sims (West Virginia from Houston) and quarterback Tyler Murphy (Boston College from Florida).
One of the best players of the Mark Richt era at Georgia was a transfer: Jarvis Jones, a first-team All-American in his only two years playing for the Bulldogs. But Jones sat out a year after leaving Southern California.
In the cases of Ganus and Lambert, the Bulldogs were looking for depth. Georgia needed experience at inside linebacker, and another quarterback in case one of its three on scholarship left.
“Part of the attraction is that they were able to be immediately eligible,” Richt said.
If they could play and contribute it would be a bonus. The bonus is happening. Lambert’s short transition is the more astounding, considering the learning curve at his position. But he overcame it with his smarts – he graduated from Virginia in three-and-a-half years – and his approach upon arrival.
“Sometimes when somebody steps into that type of predicament they kind of tip-toe into it. But he kinda went in there full-force and ready for competition,” sophomore guard Isaiah Wynn said of Lambert. “He was up to the challenge.”
Ganus was aided by arriving well before spring practice, giving him time to learn the defense and make the adjustment to a higher level of football. He drew praise in the spring, and it carried into the summer.
“When I got here in the spring people probably thought: Oh he’s just a charity case,” Ganus said. “Who knew what they thought. But I didn’t listen to any of that. I just really focused on myself and becoming a better football player.”
Both Ganus and Lambert agreed that any adjustment concerns are offset by having game experience to lean on. That’s something freshmen don’t have. It may have been a big aid to Lambert in winning the quarterback competition in the preseason.
“I would say being able to play last year definitely helps when it comes to picking up on certain things,” Lambert said. “Also I went through two offenses at Virginia, so learning how to learn an offense was also kinda key. This one being my third one in three-and-a-half, four years. So I guess learning how to study an offense and pick up on things a little faster definitely helps too.”
It doesn’t mean Georgia is going to now regularly recruit graduate transfers. It will likely still go on a case-by-case basis, and whether there’s a need at the position. But so far Ganus and Lambert are doing everything to show it’s a situation that can work.
“When I got here, I set my goals and my standards high,” Ganus said. “I wanted to start. I wanted to lead the team in tackles and do all the things I did at UAB. Slowly, I feel like I’m accomplishing more and more of those goals. Really just through hard work.”