ATHENS -- One of the first things noticeable about new Georgia quarterback Jacob Park is the prominent New York Yankees tattoo on his left arm. Faton Bauta noticed it, too.
Park is a native New Yorker. So is Bauta.
“He thought I was from the city when I got it,” said Park, who informed Bauta he moved from upstate New York when he was 6.
“Naw, you’re not a true New Yorker,” Bauta told him, according to Park, who is actually from Watkins Glen, N.Y., which is in upstate New York.
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Park lived there until he and his family moved to Goose Creek, S.C. Why the move?
Football. Yes, football.
Park and his brothers were getting bigger, so their father moved the family to the lowcountry of South Carolina, where they already had family.
“He thought we’d have a better opportunity to play in South Carolina, where football is bigger,” Park said. “Up north, football is not really a big sport. It’s more wrestling and basketball. So we moved down here, where my grandparents lived, and the rest is history.”
The risk paid off for Park, who earned a scholarship to Georgia and is the team’s lone early enrollee this year. He joins a crowded quarterback room, where Hutson Mason is the entrenched starter for 2014, and three others will battle to be the heir apparent: Bauta, Brice Ramsey and Park.
It’s likely that Park will redshirt this season, just as Bauta did in 2012 and Ramsey did last year. Park said “redshirting doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me. Just extra time to get to know everybody, create some chemistry with some guys, and get used to the offense.”
Park has his detractors, despite being Mr. Football in South Carolina last year and being signed by Georgia, which has a good history of quarterback evaluation. The most notable in recent years are Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray.
But South Carolina decided not to offer Park a scholarship. Head coach Steve Spurrier apparently just wasn’t interested, which Park claims isn’t a big deal to him.
“Not getting offered by South Carolina wasn’t the end of the world for me,” Park said. “I didn’t grow up there so I didn’t really know the whole South Carolina thing. It was whatever to me.”
Then there were the all-star games. Park led his high school, Stratford, to the state championship game, passing for 3,665 yards and 33 touchdowns. But some recruiting analysts carped at Park’s most recent performances: 1-for-8 and an interception in the Army Bowl in January and 3-for-11 for 63 yards in the Shrine Bowl in December.
Park did his best to avoid reading and hearing about the criticism.
“I kind of knew after I threw that pick that it wasn’t gonna be too good after that,” he said. “So I didn’t really open my Twitter or Facebook account or read anything for the next couple weeks, actually months. After I got here I wasn’t really worried about it.”
Curiosity got the best of him during class one day, and he did check.
“It wasn’t too good,” he said, smiling ruefully.
But Georgia coaches always have felt the 6-foot-4 Park has the tools, including some mobility. And the depth chart gives him the luxury of honing his skills without being forced into playing early in his career.
“We want guys that are really good passers, and he’s an outstanding passer,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I think he’s very sharp and a very good decision-maker. We’ll find out about how he handles pressure once he gets here, but he’s got the things that we’ve looked for over the years to have a guy that we think will be successful. We’ve been blessed with good quarterbacks over the years.”
Park was reminded of that when it came time to select a jersey number. He wanted No. 10, which was his number in high school. But Bauta already had that, so Park settled for No. 7, last worn by Stafford.
“I don’t want to be compared to him,” Park said. “He did what he did when he was here. I don’t want, just because I’m wearing his jersey for everybody to be, ‘Well he’s not Stafford.’ Obviously I’m not Stafford.”
So who might he resemble? Park said he has been told he’s reminiscent of Aaron Rodgers and Colin Kaepernick, tall quarterbacks with some mobility.
“But I think I’ve got my own little twists to the game,” Park said.
He should get a chance to show some of that when spring practice begins in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he can try to convince Bauta he’s a real New Yorker.