Seminole County sits tucked in the southwest corner of Georgia, bordering two other states, and featuring the rural, hard-scrabble living for many of its residents. Forty-five percent of those 18 or under, according to the most recent U.S. census, live under the poverty line.
“In south Georgia, you grow up a different way,” said Bacarri Rambo, who grew up in Donalsonville, the tiny county seat. “There’s really no silver spoons. Some people have good jobs, but you struggle. Some nights you go home and something happens and the light is turned off. It’s always a struggle in South Georgia.”
The way out, as it is in many similar areas around the country, is sports. But most of those that make it out of Seminole County, like Rambo, also retain a fierce loyalty to their hometown. They also tend to have an eye out for who could follow them out.
Jordan Harris was in middle school when Rambo, at that point in the midst of a prolific (and eventful) Georgia football career, first noticed him. Well, Rambo already knew Harris, who grew up with Rambo’s younger brother, Danny, as well as one of Rambo’s nephews. In the towns of Donalsonville and Iron City, the respective hometowns of Rambo and Harris, everyone tended to know everybody, and athletes especially gravitated to each other.
But it was during a trip home that Rambo saw that little Jordan might be special. Their versions of how it started diverge: Harris remembers Rambo watching him play a middle school basketball game.
“I had maybe 36 that game,” Harris said. “We just stayed in touch ever since.”
Rambo recalls it being a football game.
“Jordan was a good football player, actually,” Rambo said. “I thought he was going to be a great receiver before basketball.”
Either way, a mentorship had begun. The two are seven years apart in age and have always been at different stages of life, but that meant Rambo could pass along advice from personal experience – the positive and the negative.
“Bacarri’s like my big brother,” Harris said.
Rambo, a safety for the Miami Dolphins, just finished his fourth season in the NFL. He was drafted by Washington in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, played there two seasons, then played in Buffalo, and was signed as a free agent during this season by the Dolphins, who ended up starting him for six games.
Harris, who plays shooting guard and small forward, is the only freshman in Georgia’s starting lineup. He’s been the surprise of the team, his 15 steals second on the team, and ranking third in assists and fifth in scoring. His defense and ability to play within himself got him into the starting lineup 10 games ago, and he’s chipped in with some key baskets as Georgia has gone 7-3 with him in the starting lineup.
Rambo, busy with the NFL, has kept tabs from afar.
“I feel like once he gets older the more he’ll start to score more,” Rambo said this week from South Florida. “But now he’s a freshman, so you know how that goes, you’re going to do what coaches ask. You limit the shots. But I feel like he’s going to be the next great thing at Georgia on the court.”
Rambo had his big moments on the football field at Georgia. He was a first-team All-American as a junior, leading the SEC in interceptions, and is tied with Jake Scott for the school record for interceptions. Over four seasons, Rambo started 36 games, including two SEC championship games.
There were also a couple off-field stumbles, two separate suspensions for marijuana, but he was always known as a good teammate. (Rambo, with that south Georgia bluntness, said he’s grown up in the NFL, is “cutting out a lot of my old ways, and habits and stuff, and just becoming a man.” He’s been married since 2014 to Madison Meyers, a former Georgia soccer player.)
He can pass on his advice on his experience, on and off the field, to Harris.
“He knows he can call me for anything, any advice, to just talk, or any situation that he’s dealing with he can just call me,” Rambo said.
Rambo’s main advice, according to Harris: “Staying focused. There’s a lot of distractions out here. But he basically just told me to stay on top of my schoolwork, make sure I’m staying in the gym working. And staying grounded and working.”
The two athletes have plenty in common off the field. The same hometown. The same high school. Now that same university. That same characteristic bluntness that comes with being from south Georgia.
The sport they ended up choosing for their path became different. But the other connections carry the day, and their relationship.
“Jordan is a special guy,” Rambo said. “Just being around him you can feel the energy. He just brings a positive vibe around to him. He’s just a great guy, and Georgia is lucky to have him.”