Georgia's Ganus still not over UAB's demise

Georgia's Ganus still not over UAB's demise

February 6th, 2015 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Jake Ganus shakes hands with Coach Mark Richt during a signing day press conference on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 in Athens, Ga. (Photo by Sean Taylor, UGA)

Jake Ganus shakes hands with Coach Mark Richt...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. -- To say new Georgia inside linebacker Jake Ganus had a better Christmas than Thanksgiving would be quite the understatement.

Ganus played his final game with the UAB Blazers in late November amid speculation the university would be shutting down its football program. That became official Dec. 2, when UAB became the first Bowl Subdivision member to ditch the sport since Pacific in 1995, but the Blazers' 6-foot-2, 215-pound leading tackler got an opportunity a couple of weeks later in the Southeastern Conference.

"It was a roller coaster, that's for sure," Ganus said. "We beat Southern Miss to become bowl-eligible, and then you find out you're losing your team. Then I got an offer from Georgia, so it was just an up-and-down December and the craziest month of my life."

Ganus is among eight early enrollees for the Bulldogs, but he will have just one year of eligibility.

Citing a comprehensive strategic planning process that included analysis from CarrSports Consulting, UAB president Ray Watts announced that continuing the football program would result in $49 million in operating expenses over the next five years. Watts added that sustaining the sport would result in the redirecting of funds from the university's education and research.

The cancellation came on the heels of the Blazers posting a 6-6 season under first-year coach Bill Clark, a dramatic rise from the 2-10 finish of 2013. Two of UAB's losses came against the SEC West duo of Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Ganus had an obvious role in the improvement, recording 70 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and a 56-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Louisiana Tech. UAB officially had its season end when the Blazers were not invited to a bowl, but other programs had video to watch and calls to make.

"We took a good look at the film, and Jake stood out," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "He's a guy that we thought could come in and help us. Obviously Jake doesn't have a lot of eligibility left, but he's got a lot of maturity about him, and we really believe he is going to come in and give us some pop."

Said Ganus: "It was all pretty sudden. I think over 40 schools ended up reaching out to me, and it was really anyone with a linebacker need."

The Bulldogs had a dearth of inside linebackers following the departures of Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, who each compiled more than 100 tackles during their junior and senior seasons. Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough were the backups this past season and have shown promise, but Georgia not only added Ganus to the mix but Chuks Amaechi of Arizona Western Junior College.

Amaechi also is an early enrollee.

"Georgia had watched my Arkansas film, and that was my best game of the year," Ganus said of his 11-tackle performance. "That showed that I could compete at this level, but it will be a lot different competing weekly at this level. There are some really good linebackers here right now, and me and Chuks are the new guys.

"I'm really looking forward to spring and competing and earning some playing time."

UAB played its home games at decrepit Legion Field, and there were ominous signs for the program's demise as early as 2011, when plans for a new stadium were scrapped. The Blazers did have a new locker room this past season. Ganus claimed the old one was inferior to most of Birmingham's high school facilities.

Last month, the UAB Faculty Senate announced a no-confidence vote for Watts in part for "no commitment to shared governance."

"Ever since I was a freshman at UAB, there always seemed to be something holding us back, whether it was new facilities or whatever," Ganus said. "Now there are reports coming out about flawed numbers. I try not to think too much about it, because it does make me upset, and I hate it.

"I hope everything gets worked out over there and that one day they can bring it back."

Clark said recently that he would not coach in 2015 because he is holding out hope the program can be restored. Many of his former players, however, had to move on, with guard Hunter Kennedy and tight end Steve Pickren signing Wednesday with UTC.

"In some sense, it really hasn't hit me," Ganus said. "To think that something I put three years of my life into is just gone. That's a tough thing to think about, and I feel for everyone involved, all of my former teammates and my former coaches.

"I'm the only one who ended up at Georgia, so I hope it all works out for the best for everyone else."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.