ATHENS -- Bacarri Rambo is happy that, as a man who now plays college football, he changed his last name from Fudge when he was in elementary school.
Then again, his last name is still a famous action movie character, and his first name is close to a Caribbean rum drink.
“(People) say your parents must have been drunk watching the Rambo movie when they named you,” Rambo said, shaking his head. “And I say no, it’s Bacarri, not Bacardi.”
The name Rambo at least befits a hard-hitting safety. But the question lately for Rambo has been: Is he hard-hitting enough?
Georgia has a recent line of safeties who made the kind of hits on opponents that made highlight reels. Thomas Davis, Sean Jones, Greg Blue and Reshad Jones come to mind.
So naturally that has been expected from Rambo, a redshirt junior who is listed at 6-foot and 218 pounds. And Rambo has racked up the tackles; he was second on the team last year.
That doesn’t mean he has perfected that part of his game.
“He needs to become a more physical player, and he needs to become a better tackler,” Georgia defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos said.
But the fact that it’s even an issue is a testament to Rambo’s strengths as a player, according to the coaches.
Lakatos said Rambo has good instincts for where the offense is taking a play and also knows football. Lakatos and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham praised Rambo’s communication skills with his teammates.
“The guy’s got a sense for the ball,” Grantham said. “He does have some vision back there as far as where the ball is going, those kinds of things. In the two games he’s played this year he’s been consistent.”
That knowledge may come with practically being a football lifer. Rambo’s father was one of his coaches from little league through high school. Rambo said he has no idea the origin of his first name. Fudge was his mother’s maiden name.
As a star player at Seminole County, Rambo was a quarterback, so that may give him insight into the way offenses work.
He admits, however, that when he went to college and was made a safety that he had to get used to hitting. He was used to running away from people on offense.
“I already had good instincts. I had a nose for the ball. But really I had trouble developing the toughness, like tackling all the time,” Rambo said. “Because I wasn’t used to tackling when I first got here. They had to change my mentality, to go hit, and I feel like I had good ball skills. But I just have to keep getting better at that.”
There was also what happened against Auburn two years ago.
It was late in Rambo’s redshirt freshman year, and Georgia was clinging to a 34-27 lead. As the final minute approached, Rambo broke up a pass at the 2-yard line, but the nasty collision left him temporarily unconscious, and he had to be carted off the field.
Rambo admits the hit “spooked” him, but he moved on eventually.
“It kind of scared me for a bit. But I saw it as if it’s gonna happen (again), it’s gonna happen,” he said. “I just prayed to God that he’ll protect me from harm and danger, and I just leave that behind me.”
His coaches also say they’ve seen no hesitancy from Rambo since then.
“No. I’d say no. Not right now, not lately,” head coach Mark Richt said. “Maybe as he was coming back there might have been a time or two. But I’ve seen no signs of that in a ballgame.”
In fact, Richt said Rambo was one of the players who, in his words, “flipped the switch” in the offseason in an effort to be a better player. Unfortunately Rambo had to sit the opener against No. 4 Boise State, suspended for unspecified reasons.
And his most notable play thus far this season started great but ended badly. He picked off a pass last Saturday against Coastal Carolina and returned it 43 yards, only to cough it back up on a fumble.
He got some razzing for that play, and they could kid about it because it came during a 59-0 Georgia win. Grantham said he has seen a lot of improvement in Rambo so far, pointing out he also had an interception against South Carolina.
A.J. Green, the former Georgia star receiver and fourth overall NFL pick, was watching that Rambo pick and immediately tweeted, “Roomie!” The two were roommates at Georgia and still talk nearly every day.
That might bring it home to the junior safety that his college career is more than half over, and a pro career could await. But while his athleticism and nose for the ball will get him notice, he seems to notice that his improving tackling -- and ferocity while doing it -- is the next step.
“It’s been a very good career,” Rambo said. “But I’ve still got a lot to learn and a lot to improve on.”