JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Brothers tend to be competitive but John Theus doesn’t mind if his brother, Nathan, can do a particular skill better than he can.
Georgia long snapper Nathan Theus (49) greets fans before Georgia takes on Kentucky at Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, in Athens, Ga.
“He can have that kind of pressure,” John said about his brother’s role as Georgia’s long snapper. “When we line up for a big kick, I’m more nervous than he is. He’s great with pressure.”
Besides, John already has a job as the Bulldogs’ starting right tackle. He earned it as a true freshman last season, becoming only the third freshman to start at tackle for UGA since first-year players were eligible in 1973.
Although both Jacksonville natives lost their starting jobs earlier this season, they’ve since been restored to the lineup and will start on Wednesday when Georgia (8-4) plays Nebraska (8-4) in the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.
John (6-foot-6, 298 pounds), who is one of only two starting offensive linemen who will return next season, is viewing the game as a jumping-off point for better things in 2014.
“This can be a springboard for next year,” Theus said. “I hope to go out on a good foot. If you have a big (bowl) game, it sets you up right to have a good off-season. I want to finish strong so I can improve and work on the little things, like footwork and technique.”
“I think John is going to get better from here on out,” offensive line coach Will Friend said.
The Theus brothers have a chance to join a list of Jacksonville area players who have stood out in past Gator Bowls. As an offensive tackle and a long snapper, it might be hard to gauge their contributions.
However, if Georgia can run the ball effectively and if quarterback Hutson Mason remains standing for most of the game, consider it a job well done by John and the rest of the offensive line.
And if every punt and field-goal attempt snap is executed flawlessly, Nathan (6-3, 241) will have done his job.
Georgia coach Mark Richt is confident he will get nothing less from the two Bolles graduates and Fleming Island residents.
“They’re both outstanding kids and have done a good job for us,” Richt said.
Nathan is a year older, but both he and his brother are sophomores. The Georgia coaches red-shirted Nathan in the 2011 season but he has played 24 games in two years.
Playing well also would end the season on a high note after both were benched early in the season.
Although he started all 14 games last season, John missed most of spring practice with an injury and junior Kolton Houston passed him in August. Houston was the opening-day starter against Clemson, Theus started the second game against South Carolina, and Houston regained the spot for the next four games.
Theus has started the last six games.
“The injury (in the spring) set him back and then he had some competition and fell a little bit behind,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “To his credit, he worked his tail off, got better every week and worked his way back in the starting lineup.”
Friend said it was only a matter of time before John bounced back.
“He did a tough thing, playing as a true freshman for 14 games on a team that had a chance to play for the national championship,” Friend said. “His competitiveness, his toughness are what we saw early. He came from a disciplined program (at Bolles) that is run right and you knew he would know how to work. He was coached the right way and it gave him more of a chance.”
Nathan also didn’t have a good start to the season, getting yanked after what assistant coach John Lilly felt were three high snaps in the first three games. The first one cost the Bulldogs a chance at a field-goal attempt in a game they lost 38-35 to Clemson.
Like his brother, Nathan worked his way back into the lineup.
“They’re good kids who want to do good and compete,” Friend said.
Nathan said years of being a long snapper, beginning when he was for his father in Pop Warner football, have given him a tough skin and the ability to hit the erase button.
“You’ve got to have a short memory, good or bad,” he said. “It doesn’t matter because the next snap is coming whether you want it to or not. I enjoy the fact that I’m in for plays that have a chance to change the game.”
His brother stands in admiration.
“I have a lot of respect for long snappers because it’s not easy,” John said. “Everyone has their own talents and that’s his thing. He works his tail off at it.”