ATHENS, Ga. — Columbus High graduate Greg Bingham was getting ready to enroll at Georgia as a regular student, figuring his football career was finished.
Saturday, however, Bingham was a full-fledged quarterback at Bulldogs practice, slinging a ball so hard that he ripped the helmet off a receiver.
For Parker Welch, the best football moment of his life was a junior varsity high school game. Now he is throwing passes in practice to All-SEC wide receiver A.J. Green.
Most years, these two would be out of football already or just twiddling their thumbs in practice. But on this Bulldogs football team, the pair of true freshmen walk-ons are competing to be third on the depth chart.
“Usually, a walk-on quarterback is just watching,” coach Mark Richt said. “Usually, a true freshman scholarship quarterback is maybe getting a little taste, at best. But they’re getting a taste of everything we do, which is very unusual.”
The circumstances arose after the dismissal of Zach Mettenberger, expected to at least be the backup this year, and Logan Gray’s switch to receiver. That left redshirt freshman Aaron Murray the starter, and true freshman Hutson Mason, who’s on scholarship, as the backup.
Bingham and Welch, who went to Wayne County High, are a long way from playing in a college game. Gray would be switched back to quarterback before either walk-on would get the nod this year.
But someone has to take snaps in practice and fill out the depth chart. Bingham and Welch are the happy beneficiaries.
Bingham was offered a preferred walk-on spot in March, after signing day. He already was accepted to Georgia as a student, and his only football offers were partials, to Western Carolina and Lehigh. Had either of those been full offers, he probably would have gone there.
His mechanics are raw, having three coaches in four years at Columbus. But he is 6-foot-4 and has a strong arm, as he made clear Saturday, when his pass took off Israel Troupe’s helmet. Troupe didn’t have his chin strap on, but it still drew some raves.
Bingham said he had been urged earlier by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to “stop thinking about it and just let it rip.”
“I got a kick out of it,” Bingham said. “I think everybody else too.”
He also got a kick out of a moment earlier in the week, when Richt blanked on his name at a press conference. Bingham said he wasn’t offended.
“He came to me and we had a little laugh in the night meeting,” Bingham said. “There’s 125 guys on the team, 105 in camp. It’s hard to remember everyone’s name.”
Welch latched on through his relationship with Bobo, having attended camps in Athens since he was 9 years old. Last year, after Dawg Night, Bobo offered him a chance to be a preferred walk-on.
Welch had no scholarship offers at any level, but he said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier also personally offered him a chance to walk on. But his choice was easy.
“I remember when I was little, listening to Larry Munson,” Welch said. “So I know everything about Georgia. I’ve always wanted to be here.”
Welch had little chance to be exposed to recruiters: His high school team used a wing-T offense his final two seasons, and an ankle sprain kept him out for most of his senior season.
Asked for the biggest moment of his high school career, Welch mentioned a junior varsity game, when he threw six touchdowns. He was a sophomore then, before his school hired the wing-T coach.
So the kid whose greatest football moment was in a junior varsity game is now getting snaps in Georgia’s practice. Quite a leap.
“Exactly,” Welch said, then added, “I’ll have more bigger moments. I don’t expect to play the first year. I don’t want to jinx myself. But, hopefully, I’ll get to play between the hedges. That’ll definitely be the biggest football moment.”
For Bingham, it was his final game at Columbus: The team was struggling, and they were at Eagle’s Landing. They scored a touchdown with three minutes left, then the defense recovered a fumble, and Bingham threw a touchdown pass with 30 seconds left to win the game by one point.
“And, at that time, I didn’t know I was coming to Georgia,” Bingham said. “So I thought it was my last career game.”
It still may be. But no one can say for sure.