ATHENS -- Jeb Blazevich found himself saying he was excited to visit Charlotte, and all it had to offer.
“Which is kind of weird,” he said earlier in the month. “I’ve lived there my whole life.”
Blazevich grew up in the south part of Charlotte, about a half-hour drive from the heart of the city, where he and the Georgia football team are staying. But he’s been to plenty of games at Bank of America Stadium as a fan. Now he’ll be playing in it. In fact, he’ll be starting.
The ascent of Blazevich to the No. 1 spot at tight end remains one of the more underplayed surprises on this year’s Georgia team. Through the years, tight end has been one of the deepest spots on the team’s depth chart, with players having to wait their turn to see the field. Arthur Lynch, the starter the previous two years, had to wait three years, including a redshirt, and thought about transferring before eventually becoming a first-team All-SEC pick.
Jay Rome, a fourth-year junior, was assumed to be the starter this year, having waited his turn. But the former five-star recruit, who had foot surgery in the offseason, watched Blazevich, the freshman, vault past him early this season.
When asked how that happened, teammates and coaches point not to Blazevich’s hands, but his head.
“He came in with a head of a third-year guy as a freshman, and that mentality,” senior receiver Chris Conley said. “He soaked up anything that anyone told him. He’s the kind of guy who if you gave him a correction on Monday he would never make the same mistake on Tuesday. When you have a guy who’s got the size, who’s got the head on his shoulders, who has that ability to learn that fast, it’s a no-brainer. Jeb’s gonna be great.”
Blazevich has the third-most receiving yards this year, 256, trailing only seniors Conley and Michael Bennett. Blazevich also has 16 receptions, fifth on the team, and a couple touchdowns.
Entering the bowl, Blazevich also owns the team’s longest reception of the year, the 50-yarder from Todd Gurley in the Vanderbilt game. Not that Blazevich is proud of the play.
“That’s awesome, but I should have scored on that play, so I’m a little bit bitter about it,” Blazevich said. “I’m mad I didn’t score. So I try to forget that one.”
Blazevich caught it at about 25 yards. Gurley’s first pass attempt of his college career was a little behind the target, but Blazevich blames himself for not outrunning the defense.
In fairness, tight ends aren’t known for being fast. Ideally, they can catch and block well, which Blazevich has done, and the quarterbacks say he has a knack for getting open.
Add in the fact he learned the playbook quickly, and that’s why he’s a freshman starter.
“Jeb was the right kind of guy to fill that role as a freshman,” head coach Mark Richt said. “Very smart, conscientious. Had spent a good bit of his high school career training for a moment like that.”
Blazevich was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of Charlotte Christian, whose staff included former college players. Using an advanced offensive playbook was pretty helpful to Blazevich.
Just don’t look for any insightful commentary from him on why he’s had such a strong rookie year. For one, he said he can’t explain it. For another, he’d rather wait until after the final game, in his hometown.
“We’ve got one game to piece it all together, then I’ll have a chance to start acting all sentimental and wondering about that stuff,” Blazevich said. “But none of that really matters because right now we need to perform for one more.”