ATHENS -- Reuben Faloughi is much like any regular student at Georgia. Or perhaps a very smart, ambitious student: He started out majoring in pre-med, then he decided to pursue a PhD in psychology.
“I guess I got the burden. My grandfather’s name was Reuben, and he was a doctor,” he said. “The whole plan was, I have to have doctor in front of my name before it’s said and done, whether it be medical school or a doctorate program.”
What sets Faloughi apart from regular students is while he pursues that PhD, his tuition and books will be paid for by a football scholarship. That wasn’t the original plan, but it happened that way after the outside linebacker walked on to the team two years ago.
Faloughi is far from the only walk-on success story. In fact for a program that routinely ranks among the top 10 in recruiting rankings, Georgia sure does have a lot of Rudys.
When inside linebacker Alec Ogletree went down with a foot injury in the opener, it was Jeremy Sulek -- still a walk-on -- who stepped in.
There was also Connor Norman, a former walk-on, who got snaps at safety while the Boise State game was still in doubt. Norman has played in all three games and is a second-team safety on this week’s depth chart.
Brandon Harton, the third-string tailback for the first two games, walked on last year and just received a scholarship in August. Last Saturday against Coastal Carolina, Harton got 11 carries -- 10 more than Ken Malcome, a highly-recruited redshirt freshman.
There are others: Blake Sailors, the gunner on punts and kickoffs, is also a former walk-on. The long snapper is Ty Frix, in his third year in the role, but only his second as a scholarship player.
Taylor Bradberry is listed third-team on this week’s depth chart at receiver.
Almost everybody saw action in the 59-0 rout of Coastal Carolina. But in the opening two games, against Boise State and South Carolina, 10 current or former walk-ons appeared in one or both of those first two games.
“The coaches are always gonna give a shot to the people (who try out),” Sailors said. “It’s just about getting your shot and taking it from there.”
Sailors isn’t settling just to be a scholarship player. Next year he wants to contend for time on defense, and he even has a goal beyond that.
“I’ll probably try out for the NFL if everything goes right,” “Sailors said. “(Assistant) coach (Kirk) Olividatti (a former NFL coach) says all the time that there are guys who probably get one, two defensive snaps their whole career, but they’re getting a million, $2 million just to run down the field on special teams, and that’s all they do. So if could do that, that’d be amazing.”
Sulek is originally from Illinois, and he moved down to Georgia because of his father’s job transfer. He had no scholarship offers, so he got early admission and a HOPE scholarship to UGA.
He was cut the first year he tried out for the football team. But he came back, and there he was against Boise State, racking up seven tackles.
“It’s quite a leap,” Sulek acknowledged. “I had a blast.”
When Faloughi was coming out of high school, he had just one scholarship offer, from Furman. It was only when he attended a camp at Georgia, near the end of his career at Evans High School, that he got his break. Then-defensive ends coach Jon Fabris was impressed with Faloughi and eventually let him be a preferred walk-on.
His father, a Nigerian immigrant, encouraged him to chase the football dream, as long as it didn’t deter from his academics. That wasn’t a problem for Faloughi,
“We didn’t have much growing up, but he instilled those values in me,” he said. “No matter what, he was like, ‘You can walk on, I’ll pay for your school.’ I know a lot of ends weren’t meeting, but he was willing to do that, so that motivated me in practice. My dad’s barely struggling to pay for next semester, and then boom like that.”
“Boom” was finally being awarded a scholarship, after the 2010 spring semester. In his first year on the field, Faloughi appeared in 10 games. He has played in three so far this year and is listed as a second-string outside linebacker.
“Some of these things never happen. Some of these great walk-ons that have played here never got a scholarship,” Faloughi said. “But I try not to look at where I’ve been, I try to look at where I’m going, so I don’t get complacent.”