ATHENS -- Tim Kimbrough doesn’t let anything get in his way.
“He’s one of those guys who’s going to hit somebody. He’s just a competitor,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “He’ll run into a thousand cement walls if the coach tells him to.”
In Georgia’s 45-21 victory over Clemson on Saturday, it wasn’t a cement wall, but Tigers kick returner T.J. Green who experienced Kimbrough’s wrath. With a little less than 10-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had just taken the first double-digit lead of the game for either side. The sophomore linebacker filled in on kickoff coverage for the first time in the game.
What followed is what head coach Mark Richt called his “favorite play of the game.”
“I don’t even know who made the sub, but we made a quick sub to put Kimbrough in the game,” Richt said. “He just flew down the field, never slowed down, and made a huge hit that caused what we thought was a fumble.”
As it turned out, the fumble call was overturned. Clemson maintained possession for the time being. But Kimbrough’s play had a lasting effect on the Georgia sideline.
Following the play, he was ambushed by teammates on the sideline. The energy that resulted set the tone for the rest of the team’s dominant fourth quarter.
“It probably ignited the sideline more than any play of the game,” Richt said. “Those types of hits get people excited. The thought of us getting the ball back was pretty exciting for a little while.”
Perhaps the Bulldogs player who greeted Kimbrough’s play with the most enthusiasm was senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera. Consequently, it was Herrera who had been replaced by Kimbrough on kickoff coverage just seconds before the bone-crushing hit.
The substitution clearly didn’t bother Herrera. When reporters asked him about Kimbrough’s hit, Herrera’s face lit up. He was eager to let everyone know that he, in fact, had been the player whom coaches opted to remove before Kimbrough’s momentum-shifting tackle.
“He makes plays. That was a big-time hit,” Herrera said. “He put a big hit on somebody, and it just fired us up.”
Besides, part of the defense’s new identity is one of depth and substitution, something that Herrera has embraced to keep himself fresh, as well as prepare the program for the departure of the older players.
“(Pruitt) asks us, ‘Do we need a blow?’ If we’re tired, we’re going to say, ‘yeah, send them in,’ ” Herrera said. “You have to get those young guys in anyways because they have to play next year. So I mean we’re not going to hurt the team by staying out and staying tired.”
And while it was a special teams play that put Kimbrough on the highlight tape, it was far from the only action he got all game. He recorded four tackles and earned reps on the opening possession to fill in for Ramik Wilson (who Kimbrough was actually listed as starting over on the depth chart) at the goal line.
Despite being a true sophomore, Kimbrough had no reservations about his experience or his potential.
“I’ve just been practicing each day like I’m a starter, just trying to get better,” he said. “He just gave me my chance, and I proved myself.”
Kimbrough, along with fellow sophomore linebacker Reggie Carter, earned significantly more reps than they did throughout their entire freshman seasons. There were times during his freshman year that Kimbrough, admittedly, just “wasn’t ready” to play using last year’s playbook. With the coaching change, he knew there was an opportunity, but the loaded linebackers’ depth chart would make him work for it.
He has done just that.
“We just pulled ourselves at practice. We’re both great players. We really deserve to be playing a little bit,” Kimbrough said. “We’re very consistent when we practice, so (Pruitt) put his trust in us. He had the power to put us in, so he did.”
For Kimbrough, it was the first time in his collegiate career that friends and family were truly able to appreciate the effect he could have on college football game. As an Indiana native, he was drawn to Georgia to get a chance to play in “the most competitive conference” he’s seen
“I just wanted to prove myself and let people know I could still do what I do,” Kimbrough said.
On Saturday, with his dad, brother and cousin in attendance, he proved early on in the 2014 season that he’d play a pivotal role in the Bulldogs’ success on both defense and special teams. And while everyone from his hometown might not be able to watch every game he plays this season, they now know to keep an eye out for the play-making linebacker.
“My people that came down, they was like, ‘It was worth the trip,’ because usually I probably won’t get in or I’ll just be in on special teams,” Kimbrough said. “This game, I made a huge impact so they were very happy.”