ATHENS -- It was John Theus’ dream position, set years ago when he first saw he could play college football. The problem is, Mark Beard had the same dream.
There are five starting spots on an offensive line. But there’s only one left tackle.
So a couple of months ago one player had his dream realized. That was Theus. And another had his dream dashed, leading to a hasty decision to leave the Georgia football team. That was Beard.
But after changing his mind, Beard and Theus are together, at least for now, potentially the starters on Georgia’s refurbished offensive line.
“That’s the position I’ve played since little league. So that’s the position I’m comfortable with,” Beard said of left tackle. “But if it takes me starting at left guard, I’m gonna start at left guard.”
Beard was the top backup at left tackle the past two seasons and actually started there a couple of times as a sophomore. So he figured he would inherit the job upon the departure of starter Kenarious Gates.
Instead Beard was startled when told after the season that Theus, the starter most of the past two years at right tackle, was shifting over. Beard was slated for guard and not guaranteed that spot either, even after the departure of starter Dallas Lee.
“I didn’t know what my future was,” he said.
It was a much different feeling for Theus, a former five-star recruit who has had good and bad moments his first two seasons. He was benched to start last season but finished strong, and when offensive line coach Will Friend told him he was going to the left side, Theus was elated.
“I know that was always a goal of mine since I was a freshman in high school. Or whenever I got my first offer my sophomore year it was (my goal) to eventually be a left tackle at a D-1 program,” Theus said. “Once I got here, I didn’t really have much time to think about it, but it was definitely always a dream of mine.”
Beard, on the other hand, was concerned, to the point of being angry.
So he lashed out by deciding to transfer. His departure was announced in a press release Feb. 6, complete with statements from Beard and head coach Mark Richt.
But Beard was already in the process of changing his mind.
Richt told Beard the lesson of Fernando Velasco, who shuttled between tackle and guard for Georgia in the mid-2000s but went on to be second-team All-SEC and had an NFL career. Richt said he saw a lot of Velasco in Beard.
Beard’s parents also helped change his mind, reminding him that if he transferred to a new program he would have to learn a new playbook.
“My best shot was here,” Beard said. “It was a hasty decision. I didn’t think it all the way through or anything like that.”
“I think it was a culmination of not playing a lot last year,” Richt said. “And then the mat drills in the morning, there was (an incident), it got heated up a little bit, which it tends to do from time to time. And I think he was just like, ‘You know what, I’m done.’ ”
Beard said the incident, which wasn’t specified by anybody, did not have anything to do with his departure. Either way, he and Richt agreed it wasn’t the wise decision.
“If it was at the end of spring, and you did your best, and all that, and then you still feel like you’ve gotta go, then that’s one thing,” Richt said. “But to do it right before spring ball’s about to start, I mean, gosh, you go through spring you may be the starter when it’s over, you never know. It wasn’t like he could transfer anywhere the next day. He’s just going to class and wasting away. So I wasn’t shocked that he decided to come back. But he’s got a great spirit, a great attitude, working hard. I’ve got no problem -- we’ve never had a problem out of Mark Beard.”
Beard also says that above the desire to be the left tackle stands another goal, one still in reach.
“My main goal since I’ve been here, when I committed here years ago, I just wanted to start,” Beard said. “That’s all I want to do.”
As for Theus, teammates and coaches say the former star recruit seems to have kicked it up a gear since the new year. Theus said he’s aiming to be a leader. Richt said he noticed good quickness and pass protection in drills from Theus.
And, of course, pass protection is key at the left tackle spot.
“He’s been doing phenomenal,” quarterback Hutson Mason said of Theus. “I think if you were to ask him that’s kind of his true position. And having a big-bodied guy with great