ATLANTA – On the surface, it made for an awkward scene. There was Jake Fromm, sitting at the first locker on the left as soon as folks entered Georgia’s victorious locker room off the ground-floor concourse in the west end of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Bulldogs starting quarterback has not been available for interviews all season, per coach Kirby Smart’s policy for freshmen. But the SEC’s rules call for an open locker room after championship games and that all players are available to answer media questions, which supersedes any team rules.
So, Saturday, when the locker room doors were opened 10 minutes after Smart’s postgame speech, Fromm was mobbed by reporters sort of like he was by defensive linemen the first time he played against Auburn.
In the locker right next to Fromm sat Jacob Eason, the quarterback Fromm ultimately unseated as Georgia’s starter. Trying to mind his own business and read all the activity on his smartphone, Eason was swept up in the growing crush of reporters leaning in to hear Fromm talk football for the first time. It developed into such a scrum until Fromm and Eason literally pressed up against each other, back to back.
Eason grinned and lightly chuckled as the mob increased. But he never moved. While it looked awkward, it wasn’t awkward at all for these two young men.
At least that’s what both quarterbacks said in the wake of Georgia’s enormous accomplishment Saturday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs scored another victory on the Revenge Tour that has been their 2017 season, 28-7 over Auburn. And it was Fromm, not Eason, who had everything to do with making that happen.
“This is just an awesome experience just for anybody who’s affiliated with the University of Georgia,” said Fromm, who finished with 183 yards on 16-of-22 passing and 2 touchdowns. “I couldn’t be more happy to do this for my home state.”
Fromm replaced an injured Eason as the Bulldogs starting quarterback when Eason went down with a left knee injury in the first quarter of the first game of the season. All Fromm has done since is win 12 of the 13 games he played in and lead the Bulldogs to an SEC championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Eason, meanwhile, is well now. He has been since about the midpoint of the season, he said. He has even stopped wearing the protective brace on his once-damaged left knee. But while he came to UGA from Lake Stevens, Wash., with the dream of leading Georgia to SEC championships and national playoff berths, it was the year-younger kid sitting in the locker right next to him who was living it out.
“That’s just the way it worked out,” Eason said. “I’m a team player. I’m celebrating with the guys, too. I’m excited like everybody else. I’ve been working with these guys, doing the same thing Monday through Friday and every Saturday every week. I go out there to do my job and make sure this team is playing to its best potential. You know, it’s all about the team here. There’s no I in team. We’ve all heard that statement. I’m glad about what we accomplished [Saturday], and I’m glad I could be a part of it.”
And Eason has been a part of it. Fromm wanted to make that point as he sat awash in sweat and the adoration of the Georgia people.
Fromm insists there hasn’t been a moment of tension between him and Eason from the time he showed up from Warner Robins in January and until they stood together on the winner’s platform under a shower of confetti Saturday night in the Benz.
“Jacob’s been awesome. He’s been right there with me every step of the way,” Fromm said. “He’ll cut up and laugh with me, he’ll help me out on film, he’s always there on the sideline when I come off from a drive, telling me what kind of looks we saw. He’s been incredible, and I couldn’t thank him any more for everything he’s done for me.”
And Georgia couldn’t be more thankful for Fromm. Georgia may be in the situation it is in now, SEC champions and on the cusp of playing in the national semifinals for the first time in school history, had Eason not gotten hurt midway through the first quarter of the opener against Appalachian State. But we’ll never know. Eason will never know, and Fromm will never know.
The fact is, Fromm has simply been too good, too consistent, too steady, to ever consider going back to Eason. Eason got a whole season to start as a freshman last year, and the Bulldogs went 8-5.
While his came as a fluke, Fromm got the same opportunity this season, and the result has been Georgia won 12 games for the fourth time in school history and the first SEC title in 12 years.
“You know, it’s kind of crazy,” Fromm said with a shrug. “A lot of things came to me kind of fast. My coaches and teammates helped slow it all down for me and made it a lot easier for me. … You always dream for big things. I’m just thankful God put me in this situation and that he never makes anything too big for me.”
That is definitely the book on Fromm. While he doesn’t necessarily blow anybody away with any aspect of his game, throwing, running or thinking, he does it all well enough to keep the Bulldogs offense moving and the opponents behind on the scoreboard.
“I don’t think enough can be said about [Fromm],” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had Fromm committed to Alabama before flipping him to UGA when he took the job here. “He makes a lot of decisions to put these guys in the right play. He really runs the offense efficiently. He made some throws. … Sixteen of 22, that’s pretty good numbers for a freshman in an SEC championship.”
It is. It is good for any quarterback in a game with the stakes as high as they were on Saturday.
It has been a stunning ascension for Fromm. Asked where he was this time last year, the fairly recent graduate of Houston County High knew exactly.
“Sitting on the couch,” he said of his home in Warner Robins. “I’d just come in from hunting and was watching the [SEC] game on TV.”
A year later, he was lobbing aerial strikes to Javon Wims and Isaac Nauta and Terry Godwin. He even ran for 17 yards, though most of his gains got wiped out by sacks.
Fromm said the light came on for him during that monumental matchup at Notre Dame on Sept. 9. It has burned a little brighter for him every week since.
“After the Notre Dame game I felt like, ‘I’m settled, I’m here, I know what I’m doing,’ ” Fromm said. “But you know what? The guys around me make my job so much easier. Lamont [Gaillard] is a great center and does an awesome job. Nick [Chubb] and Sony [Michel] in the backfield; those guys are just awesome football players. I’m just thankful to be on the field with them.”
Nobody knows what the future holds. Georgia is expected to move into the top 4 of the CFP rankings on Sunday. If the Bulldogs end up at 4, they will face the No. 1 seed in the semifinals in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. If they creep up to 2 or 3, they will be headed to Pasadena, Calif., and the Rose Bowl.
What the Bulldogs do know is that they will have Fromm at the controls of the offense in the next game and they’ll have Eason as a ready-if-not-so-willing backup if anything should go awry, with the offense or Fromm’s health.
Both put Georgia in an advantageous position.
“Like Coach [Jim] Chaney preaches, you’re one play away, just like what happened to me,” Eason said. “That’s why you have to stay in the game plan, stay alert in practice, you’ve got to take every rep seriously. That moment, I doubt if it will come; I hope it doesn’t come. But if it does I’ll be ready.”
And so will Fromm. At this point we know the narrative that he came in with – that no situation is too big for him – is true. A devout Christian who uses his Twitter account almost exclusively to quote Scripture, Fromm only points skyward when asked to explain his journey to date.
“It was kind of written,” he said. “It’s like God had it written a long, long time ago. He had it all planned out for us. I’m just thankful it worked out like it did.”
Georgia is, too.
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