Georgia left tackle John Theus has 35 career starts entering his senior season, leaving it much easier to count his hairstyles during his time with the Bulldogs.
"I didn't cut my hair for two years, so we'll count that as one," Theus said last week at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "Now I've cut it real short, so it's been two extreme ones."
Theus has experienced extremes throughout his college career, arriving in Athens in 2012 as a top-25 national prospect for both Rivals.com and Scout.com. He started all 14 games at right tackle his first season, earning freshman All-America honors, but he lost his starting grip for stints of the 2013 season when Kolton Houston finally had his eligibility cleared by the NCAA.
* Last season: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
* Opener: Sept. 5 vs. Louisiana-Monroe (noon on SEC Network)
* Fun fact: This year’s Georgia-Tennessee game is for the series lead, with the two schools deadlocked at 21-21-2.
A 6-foot-6, 313-pounder from Jacksonville, Fla., Theus shifted to left tackle last year and claimed the starting role for all 13 games for an offense that led the conference with an average of 257.8 rushing yards a game.
"I came in and got thrown into the fire early, but I'm thankful for it and I'm better for it," Theus said. "When Kolton came back, it was a great addition to the line. He's one of my best friends now, but we were battling for that position, and it made us better.
"I've learned a lot since my first day here, and I think I'm a much better player and person."
Theus was on the preseason All-SEC first team announced last week, and he's among NFL.com's top 50 senior prospects for the 2016 NFL draft.
"He's excited about finishing strong, and he's excited about being a leader for this team," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "These guys want to play in the NFL. That's their goal and that's their dream, but they do enjoy the college football experience and they do enjoy their teammates. They enjoy playing in the types of venues they get to play in.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these guys, and I don't think they take it for granted."
Theus nearly experienced the pinnacle of college football as a freshman, but the Bulldogs were 5 yards short as time expired in a 32-28 loss to Alabama in a thrilling SEC title game. The Crimson Tide went on to beat top-ranked Notre Dame 42-14 for the national championship.
Offensive injuries and defensive inconsistencies resulted in a slide to 8-5 in 2013, but Georgia improved to 10-3 last season and is considered the overwhelming favorite in this year's Eastern Division race. The Bulldogs aren't without questions, however, including who will start at quarterback and how the offense will fare under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
"It's starting to become very familiar and second nature," Theus said of the change from previous play-caller Mike Bobo. "It's pretty much the same kind of plays and the same schemes, and the main thing is learning the new terminology. It's not all that difficult, but you've got to condition your mind differently and be on top of things."
The strengths of the Bulldogs are sophomore tailback Nick Chubb, who rushed for 1,547 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry last season, and the outside linebacker trio of Lorenzo Carter, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Another reason for excitement in Athens is the return of Theus, Houston and starting guards Brandon Kublanow and Greg Pyke.
Kublanow is expected to get the first crack at the center spot vacated by three-year starter David Andrews, which would result in Hunter Long and Isaiah Wynn vying at left guard.
"David was a great leader for us and was huge for us, but returning four out of five on the offensive line is big," Theus said. "Isaiah Wynn and Hunter Long are stepping up and doing well, and having that experience gives us a little edge and a little confidence going into the season. As a group, we hold each other to high expectations."
For the Bulldogs to get back to the SEC title game after a two-year absence, they must not only conquer their East foes but navigate the cross-division duo of Alabama and Auburn. They have a tricky three-week stretch at the start of October with Alabama in Athens, Tennessee in Knoxville and Missouri in Athens.
Georgia opens with Louisiana-Monroe and Vanderbilt before facing South Carolina, and the Bulldogs will embark with an offensive line filled with freshly cropped hair, with Pyke having joined Theus with the new look.
"We've got to at least act like we're growing up at some point," Theus said.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
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