Ben Jones’ Georgia career may be over, but the former Bulldogs center still has something to offer those just entering the program.
Jones addressed this year’s freshmen in Athens a few weeks ago, some 25 total including walk-ons, he said.
“Just gave them a little word to the wise, what to expect their freshman year and how to handle it,” said Jones, invited to speak by former Georgia strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger, now the program’s director of player welfare.
Most of Georgia’s freshmen—including five-star offensive lineman recruit John Theus — will have their first practice as Bulldogs this afternoon. Tailback Keith Marshall and quarterback Faton Bauta enrolled early and already practiced this spring.
The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Theus, from Jacksonville, has a chance to earn immediate playing time.
Georgia coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have said that a freshman could win a starting job on the offensive line. Theus is the player expected to be in position.
“I think even we as a coaching staff are going to be thrilled to see what he can do,” Richt said of a player projected to play tackle. “Theus is just one of those guys that has a very good chance to play as a freshman and possibly even start.”
What can Theus expect trying to crack the lineup as a rookie?
“It’s going to be intense,” said Trinton Strudivant, who started every game at left tackle as a freshman in 2007 and was the Bulldogs’ first true freshman to start at that position in an opener since 1989. “The advice that I would have for him is to work hard and stay motivated. It’s going to be difficult. You’re going to have your up days, you’re going to have your down days. You’ve got to find somebody to motivate you, your mom, your family, brothers, sisters and just keep chipping at it.”
John Theus’ won’t have to look far for family support. His brother, Nathan, is a redshirt freshman long snapper for the Bulldogs.
“I think he’s understanding it,” said Jones, now with the NFL’s Houston Texans. “He has an older brother here who’s been through that last year. I think that’s really going to help him get a jump start on his career.”
Jones played every game his freshman season, breaking into the starting lineup in the fourth game at Arizona State and finished his career with 49 starts, third most for an offensive lineman in program history.
“If you’re a freshman, you come in, you’ve just got to help out anywhere,” Jones said. “He’s trying to learn all positions so wherever there is a spot for him to fill, he’s going to step in and play.”
Going from big-time recruit to freshman in the SEC can be a steep climb.
Marlon Brown was considered one of the nation’s top receivers in 2009, but he had just two catches in eight games as a freshman.
“I just told him to stay humble,” Brown said. “Just stay humble and work hard.”
Dallas Lee, who heads into camp as a first-team guard, redshirted as a freshman, played three games in 2010 and started seven in 2011 before suffering a broken right leg against Florida.
“That’s a big gap going from high school to the SEC,” Lee said. “That’s a tall challenge.”
Georgia could use help from Theus immediately after losing three starters.
“I’m definitely hoping that he contributes, comes into camp ready to battle for a job,” Lee said. “That will be what’s best for the team.”
Said Jones: “If he’s ready to play, the coaches are going to play him. He’s definitely got the tools. It’s just him learning the playbook and getting comfortable.”