ATHENS -- Ramik Wilsons eyes got wide for a moment, and he cocked his head.
He said that? Wilson said.
Then he laughed.
Oh, no, he said, shaking his head. Its humbling to hear it.
Entering this year, Wilson just wanted stability. Put him at one position and stick with it. A starting spot was nice, too. His name on the lips of NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper. It apparently still is.
But a look at the SEC statistics, and there is Wilsons name, leading the way in tackles. In fact its not even close: Georgias junior inside linebacker has 119, which is 22 more than second place. Throw in four sacks, and Wilson might just be an All-SEC candidate.
Thats pretty good for someone who hadnt started a game his first two years and wasnt considered the best inside linebacker on his team.
But this hasnt been a good season overall for Georgias defense, which is on track to give up the points in program history. Even after yielding a season-low 211 yards to Kentucky, the Bulldogs rank seventh in the SEC in total defense.
So are the tackles just an indication of the defenses problems -- i.e. being on the field too much -- rather than Wilsons ability?
Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti literally snickered when presented that idea.
I mean, tackles are tackles, Olivadotti said. He has things that he can work on, but hes getting guys on the ground, and thats kind of a big part of the job description.
I didnt realize that was the perception out there. Thank goodness I dont read stuff.
It is true that Wilson and the Georgia defense has been on the field more than most teams: 761 plays this season, more than all but four other SEC teams.
But Wilson has more tackles than anybody on those other four teams or anybody else on Georgia. That includes fellow junior Amarlo Herrera, who is fourth in the SEC with 95 tackles.
Herrera has been playing for three years, and starting for most of those. Wilson had to wait his turn, not even sure of his position. Sometimes in practice he would literally jog from the inside linebackers to the outside linebackers, his head on a swivel.
In Georgias base 4-3 defense, Wilson was the second-team outside linebacker. The first teamer was Jarvis Jones.
In Georgias nickel defense, which it used more than 60 percent of the time, Wilson was the second-team inside linebacker. The first teamer was Alec Ogletree.
It was tough, real tough. But youve gotta have faith, Wilson said. Some dudes get thrown right in, like Amarlo. First day, the first time he stepped on this campus he got thrown in. Im like, What about me? But everything happens for a reason. I just stayed patient, stayed humble, and I knew my time was gonna come.
It finally did this spring, when coaches put him at inside linebacker, next to Herrera, and told him hed stay there.
Wilson said he never considered transferring and didnt need a heart-to-hear talk with the coaches.
I knew who I was behind. All-American Jarvis Jones. I wasnt worried. I learned from him. I learned all his moves, especially because Ive been coming off the edge. I even look like him sometimes, Wilson said, alluding to his dreadlocks.
I pushed him for his spot. I came out and tried to take his spot.
Wait, he pushed Jarvis Jones for his spot?
I knew it wasnt gonna happen, Wilson said, grinning. But it made me better. It got me prepared. Its a great thing to learn from, to be behind someone like that. And Tree too, when I got moved inside. I learned so much from him too.
Jones and Ogletree were first-round picks. Wilson has a long way to go to get in that conversation, but ESPNs Kiper did recently mention Wilson as a prospect. Wilson, who has one year of eligibility remaining, didnt sound like he had any plans to leave early, but he was gratified to be mentioned.
Its another payoff to patience. Wilson compared himself to Hutson Mason, who takes over as the starting quarterback this week against Georgia Tech.
Ive been patient, just like Hutson. And Ive been preparing for my moment, Mason said. I gotta keep getting better. Because Ive got great freshman linebackers who are trying to come for my spot. So Ive gotta keep working, and try to be the best linebacker I can be. Everything else will take care of itself.