ATHENS -- Greg Pyke was always destined to be on the big stage, playing a sport watched passionately in that state.
Things are just playing out a bit differently than planned. Starting with the sport -- and the state.
These days, Pyke is the newest starting offensive lineman for the Georgia football team. He holds a promising career in the sport that galvanizes the South. But, for a time, the plan wasn’t for Pyke to block, but to carry a stick and attack.
Pyke grew up in a lacrosse family in Maryland, where the sport regularly draws thousands of fans, and is the main spring sport. His brother and sister both played Division I college lacrosse. At one point, Pyke was rated the eighth-best recruit in the 2012 class by Inside Lacrosse.
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But Pyke was also growing. He was 6-foot-5 and north of 300 pounds by his junior year, and college football scouts had noticed. The same schools recruiting him for lacrosse -- Maryland, Duke, Rutgers, Virginia -- were offering him football scholarships, too.
“I didn’t know if I was gonna play lacrosse or football in my sophomore year,” Pyke said. “Then the football offers started coming in.”
So how did Pyke end up all the way down in Georgia? It happened by chance, and because of Alabama.
The summer before his senior year, Pyke and his father were traveling to football camps around the South. They were just leaving Alabama, when on a lark his father signed him up for a one-day camp at Georgia.
“I didn’t wanna go,” Pyke said. “I told him, ‘I’m tired, I just wanna go home and enjoy the rest of my summer.’ My mom was like, ‘You might as well make the most of it while you’re here.’ ”
He did, and soon he had an offer from head coach Mark Richt. Georgia was the only SEC school to offer Pyke, who jumped on it.
Pyke is close in body type to Dallas Lee, who started 33 games the past four years at Georgia. Lee’s right guard spot opened up this year, and Pyke was the surprise winner of the battle. In fact, it wasn’t even that close.
“He’s been one of the most consistent guys all spring, for a guy that (was) basically scout-team his first year, and then last year saw very few reps,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We’re pleased where Pyke is. But you’ve gotta stay on Pyke’s butt.”
That’s because Bobo has high hopes for him.
“If he’ll do what he’s supposed to do, he has a chance to be one of the better players that’s played here,” Bobo said.
When Georgia coaches talked about Pyke this spring, they kept using the same phrase: He’s a good athlete. Being an offensive lineman isn’t just about being physical and blocking. It also requires leveraging in the trench and occasionally pulling then laying a block. Hence, the attraction to athleticism.
That’s where Pyke’s lacrosse background comes back in. He was an attacker, a role that requires sprinting downfield and occasionally diving while taking a shot at the net.
Yes, imagine a 6-foot-5, 310-pounder diving at the net. Pyke was that player.
He played the sport starting at age six, growing up in a hotbed area for the sport, then went to Boys Latin, a power in the local high school lacrosse scene.
“Football is the second sport up there. But when I come down here it’s football, football, football. It’s like a religion,” Pyke said. “When I go back home in May it’s nice to see a lacrosse game, where that’s the big-time sport when you go home.”
But Pyke is still happy with the way things are turning out.
He redshirted as a freshman, then he played in just two games last year, late in blowouts. He wasn’t one of the most frequently mentioned candidates to grab a starting spot before the spring.
Then early in practice on March 26, offensive line coach Will Friend told Pyke to get in there with the first team. At the end of practice, Friend told Pyke, “Good job, you deserve to run with the ones for the next practice.”
Yes, it’s only spring practice. But for someone who hasn’t played in a real game since 2011, it matters.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s nothing compared to being in the stadium and there’s 92,000 people yelling and everything. Or away games. You have to stay locked in and know your play, your technique, and everything in between to prepare yourself for Saturdays.”