ATHENS -- For three years, Jake Ganus played for a football program that had been set up to fail. A locker room smaller than some high school teams. A turf field that was promised, then never came.
Then, a short time after the axe came down on UAB football, Ganus found himself walking through the Georgia football facility. The culture shock came quick.
“When you walk around, there’s face scanners to get in the locker room,” Ganus said. “There’s fingerprint scanners to get in the door. That did kind of wow me.”
There are eight new players on Georgia’s team this spring and 30 overall for next season, but none of them have a story like Ganus. For him, Georgia became the happy lifeline after his career could have ended.
In November, trustees shut down the UAB football program in a controversial move that continues to be fleshed out. There was no official warning and no phasing out period. The coaches no longer had jobs, the players no longer had a team.
“In some sense, it still hasn’t hit me to think that something I put three years of my life into is just gone. That’s a tough thing to think about,” said Ganus, who wasn’t surprised by the published stories on how it went down, involving politics at the state level. “Ever since I got to UAB as a freshman, it always felt like something was holding us back. If it was new facilities, or whatever it was, there was always something that was keeping us down. ... All that stuff, I try not to think too much about it because it does make me upset, and I hate it. But it’s been crazy. I hope everything gets worked out over there, and I hope they can bring it back one day.”
But it wasn’t this year, so Ganus needed a new home. And suddenly he was very marketable.
Ganus, an inside linebacker, led UAB in tackles as a sophomore and junior. Last season, he was second in Conference USA in tackles for loss and was named second-team all-conference by the coaches.
“Jake was a special kid for us,” said Duwan Walker, who served as UAB’s defensive coordinator last year. “He was the quarterback of our defense. A lot of the things I was thinking on the sideline, he could make those projections on the field. He was the one who could help us get to the line.
“And his enthusiasm that he brought every day was not only on the field but in the weight room. He’s so intelligent that whenever he stepped on the field, he made players around him pick up their level of play.”
The elimination of UAB’s program set in motion a whirlwind two weeks for Ganus. Soon after the shutdown, he was going over his plans when his mother asked, “What’s your wish list?”
“I said ‘Georgia,’” said Ganus, who grew up in the Birmingham, Alabama, suburb of Chelsea, but was born in Alpharetta.
Georgia coaches had their eye on Ganus, too. Yes, he racked up numbers at a non-major program. But he had good size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) for inside linebacker, the film was good, and he held his own when UAB played Arkansas last year. Ganus had a sack and two tackles for loss in the loss to the Razorbacks. He only had three tackles earlier in the season when UAB played Mississippi State.
Ganus grants that it will be “a lot different competing weekly at this level.” That’s assuming he gets on the field, no sure thing with Georgia returning Tim Kimbrough and Reggie Carter, the top inside linebacker reserves the past two seasons. Chuks Amaechi, a junior college transfer, is also in camp this spring competing for a spot.
Ganus was asked if he felt guilty having landed at Georgia while almost everyone else on his former team has had to give up competitive football.
“I don’t know if guilt is the word. I do feel bad for some of my teammates that got the raw end of the deal,” he said. “I did luck up and end up at Georgia, which is good for me, coming out of this thing with my dream school.
“I’m gonna work as hard as I can to be productive here, just like I was at UAB. I know the skill level is gonna be better, and the bodies are gonna be bigger. But my body’s getting bigger. So I think I’ll be OK.”