Herrera makes early impact at inside linebacker

Amarlo Herrera set a school-record by racking up more than 150 tackles last season at North Clayton High School in College Park.

So imagine the kind of damage that Herrera, now a starting inside linebacker for Georgia, did when he spent the first couple of games of his sophomore season playing on the junior varsity squad.

“I pulled him up off the JV after two games of totally destroying the other team,” said North Clayton coach Max Wiltz, who was defensive coordinator when Herrera played there. “He started the third game for us on varsity, and he caused fumbles and ran people down.”

Herrera was plenty good enough for the varsity squad, but he didn’t go to summer camp with the team that year while he was uncertain if he would be switching schools or even playing that season. Anyone who didn’t go to camp had to spend two games on JV.

Herrera spent longer on the JV team than he did as a backup at Georgia.

In his second game with the Bulldogs, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Herrera started in place of injured Alec Ogletree at the “Mo” inside linebacker spot.

He has started four games in all this season and is making as much of an impact as any freshman other than tailback Isaiah Crowell and receiver Malcolm Mitchell.

Herrera is tied for fourth on the team in tackles with 24, including six in each of the past three games. In Georgia’s win Saturday at Tennessee, Herrera also forced a fumble and had a pass break-up.

“When you get the chance to play, you’ve got to produce,” Herrera said. “You’re in the SEC and they’ve got everybody here to make plays, so when you’re out there, you’ve got to make plays.”

Georgia needed Herrera to be ready to contribute this year at a position that was lacking in depth.

“It comes so fast and you’re learning so much, you’ve just got to take extra time out and prepare yourself,” Herrera said.

“We threw him in the fire in practice and said we’re going to need somebody to step up,” said junior inside linebacker Christian Robinson. “He started picking it up. He’s a hitter. He has great hands and he’ll really lock out a lineman.”

Then Ogletree was lost with a broken foot in the first game and Robinson with a foot injury of his own in the second game.

“At our linebacker situation, Amarlo was second team pretty much by default,” coach Mark Richt said. “Then we got some injuries and all of a sudden he’s playing.”

Ogletree began running and changing directions on Monday and Richt said Tuesday that “I don’t think there is any question at all that he’ll be ready for the Florida game,” on Oct. 29.

So what happens then at the position?

“That’s what everybody’s wondering,” Robinson said. “I think we’re just going to have to do packages, just things that people specialize in.”

Herrera was a four-star recruit who was the third player to commit in Georgia’s 2011 class that came to be known as “The Dream Team.” Five-star pass rusher Ray Drew and junior college transfer John Jenkins were the defensive headliners.

“I really don’t care too much about the attention because we’re winning and if you watch the film, you see what I can do, or if you watch the game, you see what I can do,” Herrera said. “I don’t really like to talk much about it. That’s how I was in high school. I didn’t get to play in no big All-American games and I had one of the best senior years.”

Herrera didn’t get an invite for the US. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio or the Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg, Fla. No, he played in the less high-profile Offense-Defense All-American Bowl in Myrtle Beach.

Arkansas cornerbackTevin Mitchel leads all freshman tacklers in the SEC with five per game.

Herrera isn’t far behind at four.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and he’s only going to get better,” Robinson said. “I’ve been telling people I can’t wait when I’m gone from here, just seeing how well he’s going to play.”

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