When it comes to Georgia right tackle Andrew Thomas, age is just a number that loosely defines his level of experience.
Thomas, 18, will be the youngest starter on either side of the line of scrimmage in the national championship game against Alabama on Jan. 8. But nothing seems to faze him. Not the stage, not the expectations, not the competition. This was evident from the moment he came to Georgia.
“You could tell right away there'd be a chance for him to get on the field,” Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman said.
During Georgia’s preseason practices, outside linebacker Davin Bellamy thought rushing the passer against Thomas would be easy. After all, Bellamy is a fifth-year senior. Then here was Thomas, a freshman who had been on campus for a month.
Thomas blocked Bellamy — on consecutive days.
“Surprisingly, he's made me better,” Bellamy said. “You usually don't hear that from a fifth-year senior talking about a true freshman, especially at offensive tackle. They usually have a harder time getting acquainted. He came in a stud.
“He's everything you want in a tackle.”
When the season began, Thomas became the fourth true freshman offensive lineman to start Georgia’s opener since freshmen became eligible in 1973. He was the first since John Theus in 2012.
Much like the rest of Georgia’s team, Thomas played well for the first nine games of the season. He created wide rushing lanes and rarely gave up sacks. Then came the Auburn game, Georgia’s only loss this season. Thomas lost a one-on-one matchup and gave up a sack to Jeff Holland in the first quarter. For the first time, Thomas looked like an overmatched freshman. Thomas said the loss motivated him. After the game, right guard Ben Cleveland saw a change in the way Thomas practiced.
“I think that was when he started to practice harder,” Cleveland said.
Thomas hasn’t looked like a freshman since, and Georgia has been better off for it, winning the SEC and then the Rose Bowl.
At a spectacle-like media day inside Philips Arena prior to the national championship, Thomas sat quietly. Amongst the conglomeration of personalities that create Georgia’s offensive line, Kendall Baker said Thomas is the “quiet, funny one.”
After Georgia walked in to begin the event, Thomas found a chair at a round table with the rest of Georgia’s offensive linemen. There, he sat, scrolling through his phone, checking Snapchat and cracking the occasional joke.
“He drops in a few jokes here and there,” backup lineman Dyshon Sims said, “and you're not expecting it.”
Then Thomas stood up.
Somehow, he seems taller than 6-foot-5 and larger than 320 pounds, the numbers he’s listed at. His arms, some of the longest ever measured at the Army All-American game, almost reach his knees.
“He's got arms that stretch a country mile,” Cleveland said.
Thomas said he will possibly switch to left tackle next season after Isaiah Wynn graduates. First comes the final test of his freshman season, which is perhaps the toughest. Alabama created havoc in the Sugar Bowl, recording five sacks. As he has all season, Thomas seems up to the challenge.
“They have really good pass rushers,” Thomas said. “They're defensive line, they're really strong and athletic. It'll be difficult, but we're going to be ready.”