ATHENS -- It didn’t matter to Bill White that he lived in Alabama, and his daughter went to Auburn. He was a Georgia football fan, and therefore, so was the grandson who spent many a night and day around the house.
David Andrews considered his grandfather his hero.
“He was just a blue-collar, just a man’s man,” Andrews said. “He owned his own roofing company, and no matter how tired he was, every day he’d come home, wrestle with me, play ball with me, whatever I wanted to do. We were just buddies.”
White died two years ago, living long enough to see his grandson play for Georgia. But Andrews has done more than just play. He has started 38 straight games at center and is, arguably -- or perhaps not arguably -- the MVP of an offense that is among the best in the country.
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“I would definitely say he’s the MVP of the offense. A hundred percent,” starting right guard Greg Pyke said. “Through his leadership, that’s why we’re so good.”
Defensive lineman Sterling Bailey, a junior, put it another way.
“He’s the heart of this team,” he said.
This isn’t just a corny case of a hard-bitten senior being a vocal leader. That’s part of it, but Andrews has been the anchor of an offensive line that deserves immense credit for what the offense is doing.
Todd Gurley was the Heisman frontrunner after five games, prior to his suspension. Nick Chubb stepped in and is now the SEC’s second-leading rusher. Those two are very good, but at some point, one must look at who’s blocking for them.
The two stats cited the most to evaluate an offensive line are rushing offense and sacks. Georgia ranks 12th nationally (out of 125 teams) in rushing, and 16th in sacks allowed.
The play that might sum things up was against Auburn.
It was fourth-and-1 from the Auburn 6, and after initially deciding to kick a field goal, Georgia head coach Mark Richt went for it. Chubb ran through a massive hole up the middle and scored. Andrews then ran down the sideline celebrating.
“I play with a lot of passion, but that was probably the most outburst I’ve ever had. I just wanted that really bad,” Andrews said. “Moments like that, you know it’s on you. Fourth and six or seven, you might throw it, but know you’re probably gonna throw it.
“But fourth-and-1 or fourth-and- inches, you know what’s about to happen, the defense knows what’s about to happen.”
Andrews was only a three-star recruit coming out of The Wesleyan School, a small private school in Norwood. A few coaches saw him as too small -- he’s now 6-foot-2 and 293 pounds -- for the rigors of the SEC.
But then-Georgia offensive line coach Stacey Searles evaluated Andrews and offered a scholarship. When Searles left for the same job at Texas, new Georgia assistant Will Friend decided Andrews could be his center, feeling his technique and preparation could overcome any size issues.
“From day one, I thought he had a chance to be a good football player,” Friend said.
Not that it came easy right away, as Andrews admits. His freshman year, on the first full-pads day of preseason camp, he was matched up with 350-pound nose tackle John Jenkins, now with the New Orleans Saints.
It didn’t go well.
“Big John bull-rushed me in one-on-one pass rush and my helmet exploded,” Andrews said. “I was like, ‘Oh man.’”
But the following spring, leading into his sophomore year, Andrews started to feel like he could play at this level. He started the opener of the 2012 season and has remained in the lineup since, even braving an ankle injury three weeks ago at Kentucky.
The nice story would be that Andrews -- a lightly-regarded, three-star recruit from a small school -- was just content being on the team, being able to tell his grandson he wore the uniform.
Except that’s not the story.
“I wanted to play,” Andrews said. “People say, ‘You’re not supposed to be a football player,’ but this is what I do. This is what I love. This is what I want to do when I get older. Something in sports. Wearing a jersey just wasn’t enough for me.”
Four years ago Andrews was a member of the so-called Dream Team recruiting class. He was one of the lowest-rated members. He’s going to leave school as one of the most important members of not only that class, but this year’s team.
“Looking back on my freshman and sophomore year, if I’d be sitting here right now, I wouldn’t have pictured it like this,” Andrews said. “Just being a small kid from a small high school. It’s just kind of turned out (well), a lot of hard work and dedication through the years.
“And I hope people know that’s how it works.”