Jacksonville native Theus eager for first game in home town

John Theus grew up almost in the shadow of Jacksonville’s stadium.

Jacksonville native Theus eager for first game in home town
Roger Clarkson

On Saturday, he will finally get a chance to not just run onto the field, but play in one of the most famous rivalry games in the Southeastern Conference.

“I’m excited,” Theus said. “Ever since I can remember, I grew up going to Jaguars games. I’m definitely a hometown Jaguars fan, so I’ve been in that stadium many times. My senior and junior years in high school, I was able to go to the Georgia-Florida games, so that was good experience. That’s a big game and all my friends will be there. I’m really excited to go back home. It’s going to be weird driving over that bridge and seeing that stadium.”

Theus grew up in Jacksonville and went to the Bolles School about 10 minutes from Jacksonville Memorial Stadium, now called EverBank Field, and grew up in a house just a 20-minute drive from the stadium. Theus is a true freshman and is expected to make his first appearance in the Georgia-Florida game when it kicks off on Saturday.

Theus’ best friend is North Carolina lineman Jon Heck, who is the son of Jaguars assistant coach Andy Heck. Theus and Heck spent much of their time around the Jaguars’ workout rooms and playing field.

“In high school, we were able to go down there and train and stuff,” Theus said. “I’ve been through their facilities and locker room so much I could give my teammates a tour. It’s going to be cool to be able to play in that stadium that I’ve seen so many games in.”

Georgia’s hopes to make the SEC title game hinge on beating Florida. Georgia has a 4-1 SEC record and is one conference loss behind the undefeated Gators, who can clinch the SEC East with a victory. But Florida will be a heavy favorite against the Bulldogs.

“They’re a really good team and they like to really get after it,” Theus said. “They’re a physical team and they’re a hard bunch. We’re going to have to give it all we have to have a shot at it. We’re going to have to prepare a lot and go get after it because they play really hard.”

Theus has started every game at right tackle for Georgia so far this season and became just the third Georgia freshman to start at offensive tackle in the season opener. Florida will bring a deep and experienced defensive front to Saturday’s game. The Gators are ranked second in scoring defense (12.1 points a game) and third in the SEC in total defense (282.0 yards a game).

“The thing about John now is that he’s played for seven games,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That’s a lot of plays and a lot of them in the SEC, so he’s not quite just a pure rookie anymore. He’s been trying to protect some pretty good football players, so he just has a better gauge of what it’s all about. But he’s still a rookie. One year from now, he’ll be stronger and more experienced, and he’ll have a little bit more confidence in knowing what’s coming at him. So he’ll certainly be a better player a year from now than he is today, but he’s a better player today than he was a month ago or six weeks ago.”

Although he is just one year removed from high school, Theus has already played, but lost, a showdown between top-10 ranked teams (35-7 loss to South Carolina). No. 3 Florida is the highest-ranked team Georgia has faced this season.

“It’s tough for a freshman coming in to a league like this,” Georgia offensive tackle Kenarious Gates said. “Everybody plays at a different speed and the strength is different. Everything is different and it comes at you all at once. It takes some time getting used to that. But once you get past that first game or two, it’s about having fun and playing with your teammates. I think John has done a pretty good job so far. He’s smart. He’s quick on his feet. He contributes a lot for us.”

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