ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia's fullback position is becoming a cliche.
For the third consecutive season, the Bulldogs' starting lead blocker will be a different player with the almost identical pedigree - an unheralded player who starts his college career at a small school, chunks that to take a shot at the big-time, stands out on the scout team and winds up as a starter on scholarship. It's a path followed by Verron Haynes (Western Kentucky) and J.T. Wall (Southwest Baptist University).
Next up is Jeremy Thomas, formerly of the Air Force Academy. Thomas, the salutatorian of his class, had scholarship offers from Air Force and Penn coming out of Loganville (Ga.) High in 2000. He signed on with the Falcons, hoping to play Top-25 football and get a good education. He thought the military would grow on him, he said. It didn't.
After one season of playing fullback for the junior varsity team and making the Dean's List, he decided to head back home.
"It just wasn't what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," Thomas said. "Plus, there weren't that many girls. Yeah, there are plenty here."
In 2001, Thomas walked on at Georgia, where, like the rest of the walk-ons, he went straight to the scout team, as a linebacker. Unlike most walk-ons, Thomas fought one of the team's superstars, offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb, often and eagerly.
"When you're on the scout team, sometimes they don't give you any respect, and I didn't like that too much," said Thomas. "I got in some scuffles."
That kind of attitude isn't an attribute in an office job, but it makes football coaches smile.
"He did anything we asked him to do, and he went full speed," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "You'd have to tell him to ease up a little bit. There were too many collisions."
In 2002, the Bulldogs moved Thomas to fullback, where he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out the first half of the season.
By the midpoint of the year, he was growing frustrated and briefly considered quitting, he said. Then, he got healthy and backup fullback Braxton Snyder suffered a season-ending knee injury.
"It was terrible for him, but you have to take your opportunities when they come," Thomas said.
Although he only had four carries for 4 yards and strikes an unimposing 5-foot-11, 235-pound frame, Thomas did enough to convince the coaching staff he could play.
"You may not pick him out of a lineup, but the intangibles he brings to the table are things you can't coach," running backs coach Ken Rucker. "I'm glad we've got him."
Thomas has blossomed since being handed the starting spot at the beginning of spring practice.
"We knew he was very physical, but we found out he's a good athlete," Richt said.
"He's got good hands, he's very intelligent, and he's still just as eager to hit you as he was on the scout team."