JACKONSVILLE, Fla. - This is where John Theus grew up, and this is where stardom was first predicted for him. As he rose to five-star recruit status, regularly bowling over helpless defensive linemen, the Georgia football program looked its lonely eyes down to Jacksonville, hoping Theus could save its offensive line.
That still could happen. But in Theus' first two years he has been more solid than dominant, and at times inconsistent.
"I know I have a long ways to go," Theus said Friday, before Georgia's second Gator Bowl practice. "It was my second year starting. I've gotta have a big offseason to get there. But I'm a pretty far ways off from that. In high school it was just a different world, but here you're playing against great guys week in and week out. Great players. I've just got to keep improving and work on the little things."
Theus said he couldn't pinpoint any reason he hasn't been quite as dominant as expected.
"No, there's no excuses really," Theus said. "I've just been working, and trying to get there."
Theus is finishing this season as the starter at right tackle, after initially being beat out by Kolton Houston. Theus did play in all 12 games, and started seven, including the final six.
Last year Theus started every game at right tackle. He was named to some all-freshman teams, but also had some shaky performances, notably at Missouri and South Carolina, struggling with some false starts and sacks.
The hope had been that Theus, a Parade All-American at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, would anchor Georgia's list. Some struggles could be expected, but competing for his job as a sophomore was a surprise.
Still, Georgia head coach Mark Richt downplayed Theus' past press clippings and played up that he started as a freshman on a team that finished ranked in the top five nationally.
"Just to do that was very special," Richt said. "And obviously he's stronger, he's more athletic, he knows more what we're doing. So he's becoming that guy. But in our league it's tough to be dominant. If you can play and function and help us win, you're a heck of a football player. To be a dominant force, I wouldn't tag him with that right now. But he's still got time to do that."
It seems likely Theus will stay at right tackle next season, though with Kenarious Gates set to graduate, the left tackle job is open. Richt called Theus moving to the left side a "possibility." Theus said it is too, but deferred to offensive line coach Will Friend.
"Right now I'm gonna try to finish this season strong with this game at right tackle, and then after this season I'll talk to coach Friend and everyone about that," Theus said.