ATHENS -- More than four decades ago, an Albanian man named Melaim Bauta moved to New York to seek a better life. A short time later, he met a woman named Myra, another Albanian immigrant. They married and had six kids.
They named one of those children Faton, which in Albanian means “our luck.” As it would turn out, another word might have applied, but it doesn’t exist.
“I don’t think there’s a word for quarterback in Albanian,” Faton Bauta said. “I wish there was.”
Bauta said this Tuesday after football practice at Georgia, where he is the most unlikely of stories. Almost as unlikely as two Albanian immigrants meeting an ocean away from their homeland.
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When he committed to Georgia two years ago, more than a few observers figured Bauta was ticketed for a position other than quarterback. Maybe fullback, tight end or linebacker.
But as Georgia prepares for the Gator Bowl, the redshirt freshman is not only still a quarterback, but he’s the top backup, and perhaps the quarterback of the future.
“That’s something that offends him, when someone asks him (if he’ll switch positions),” senior receiver Rhett McGowan said. “He’s definitely got his mind to be the starting quarterback here one day, and he can definitely do it.”
Bauta’s running ability is what stands out. But his arm is underrated. In fact, McGowan said the zip on Bauta’s throws compares favorably with both Aaron Murray and Hutson Mason, the team’s former and current starters.
“If I had to say, I’d probably say (Bauta) had the strongest of the three over there. They’re close,” McGowan said. “Faton has a really strong arm. He’s really accurate, too. He’s been working on it a long time, he’s improved so much. He brings a little extra weapon with his legs, with his running ability, because he runs the ball great, he breaks tackles. So that gives him a different edge than the other guys.”
Coming out of high school, Bauta was rated a three-star prospect by every major recruiting service. When he signed, one of the first questions Georgia head coach Mark Richt was asked was whether Bauta would move to another position.
“No. He’s a quarterback,” Richt said.
Bauta spent the next two years showing it. He redshirted last year, as planned, and then a shoulder injury hampered his spring, preventing him from playing on G-Day.
But when preseason camp began in August, Bauta came on strong. He was crisp in practice, his knowledge of the offense was improved, and he starred in each of the three scrimmages. When the season began, he had come out of nowhere to be the No. 3 quarterback, outplaying Christian LeMay and Parker Welch, last year’s top backups.
“I don’t think I did anything special,” Bauta said. “I was just in there every day working, focusing on the process. It’s a long and dreary run sometimes, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes it seems coaches don’t even care about you. Some days it’s like they’re all about you. It’s nothing you can control.
“So the only thing that I did to help myself was really worry about the things that I can control: Preparing, watching film, making sure my feet were correct. Knowing where to go on certain reads and coverage. Learn about the little things, and then the rest will come.”
Bauta was born and raised in Brooklyn, and he still has the accent to prove it. The family moved to southern Florida before his junior year, but it ended up being good for Bauta’s career. As a high school player at Dwyer in Palm Beach Gardens, he replaced Jacoby Brissett, who went on to sign with Florida, and was noticed by Georgia coaches.
Growing up in an immigrant family, there was some Albanian spoken in the home, but not much. Melaim (who goes by Mel for short) and Myra decided to mainly speak English at home after discovering that their eldest son was having trouble in school. Bauta was one of the middle children.
“Today, my parents have some pretty heavy accents. My mother is more a New York accent,” said Bauta, who has his own accent, although not as noticeable as tight end Arthur Lynch, who is from Massachusetts.
There’s a long way to go before Bauta is Georgia’s starting quarterback. The job is Mason’s for the Gator Bowl and next season, if he stays healthy. After that, Bauta likely will be pushed by Brice Ramsey, a freshman this year, and possibly incoming recruit Jacob Park.
But the fact Bauta has risen this far on the depth chart is remarkable.
“Improvements need to be made every day. And the haters and talkers will go to rest after you do what you have to do,” Bauta said. “That’s it. You have to stay on an even keel and keep the eyes on the prize.”