Davin Bellamy figured it would be easy.
The preseason was underway and a freshman was stepping in at tackle to block the pass rush. Bellamy, a fifth-year senior, assumed he would have his way with freshman offensive lineman Andrew Thomas, who had only been on campus for a little over a month.
Bellamy was quickly proved otherwise. Thomas held his own and kept Bellamy from getting to the quarterback.
Bellamy began wondering if he was doing wrong. He then centered his attention on beating Thomas the next day. But Thomas held his own once again.
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“The second day, I was like, ‘I’m going to come at him hard,’” Bellamy said. “But gosh, he keeps blocking me.”
Bellamy started asking his teammates on the defensive side of the ball about Thomas. As it turned out, his story was the same as theirs. This freshman from Pace Academy turned out to be a legit lineman.
“You start talking to other guys and you realize this guy is for real,” Bellamy said. “He’s long. He knows the playbook. He has good feet. He’s patient to be so young. And Isaiah Wynn is really showing him the ropes. He definitely has a high ceiling.”
Those early practices during the preseason were when Bellamy realized Thomas could be a special talent. Fellow offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn recognized Thomas' ability then too.
What stood out to Wynn was the fact that Thomas opened the preseason behind him at left tackle. Then he moved to left guard. After a few days there, Thomas was suddenly running with the first team at right tackle.
Being able to perform well at all of those positions in such a quick span was impressive to Wynn.
“Seeing a young freshman come in on the offensive line, and seeing his ability to play any position – that’s great right there,” Wynn said. “That’s when I took note that wow, this kid is special.”
More recently, tight end Isaac Nauta had his moment where he realized Thomas, Georgia's first true freshman to start on the offensive line since John Theus in 2012, could be a big-time player.
Nauta was watching film from Georgia's game against Vanderbilt and was blown away at the kind of power Thomas displayed.
“He took a guy about 20 yards down the field the whole way,” Nauta said. “I was like, ‘Wow, he’s pretty special.’ He’s a good player for sure.”
Thomas is six games in and proving why he deserved to start so early in his career. Able to pick up on Georgia's scheme while playing with the desired physicality, Thomas has played a vital role in Georgia's 6-0 start.
“He’s holding up. He’s holding his own,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “We haven’t put him in a lot of really tough positions. We try to avoid that. Whether we cover him up (with a tight end) or being able to run the ball helps with that. He’s mature beyond his years.”
A lot of Thomas’ early playing time came to how he practiced during the preseason. The coaching staff was able to identify early that Thomas had the makeup of someone who could contribute as a true freshman. Throughout the preseason, there was never a moment that signaled the college game would be a too tough of an adjustment for him.
Thomas took plenty of instruction from the veteran linemen and has been able to make the most of his early opportunity. As a freshman, Smart has been pleased with Thomas’ ability to keep up with the pace of practice at such a young age.
“I won’t say every freshman embraces it,” Smart said. “Some you have to push them through it and they hit that wall. He hasn’t hit that wall.”