ATHENS, Ga. — First impressions may not be the strongest suit for Georgia senior inside linebacker Jake Ganus.
This time last year, Ganus was competing in Conference USA as a member of the UAB Blazers. When UAB folded its program in December and the Bulldogs had a need for inside linebackers with the impending departures of Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, Ganus found a one-year home in the Southeastern Conference.
"I remember hearing everything about Jake," Bulldogs senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said this week with a smile. "Then I saw him in person, and I was like, 'Wait a minute. This is the guy who was leading UAB?'"
Senior defensive end Sterling Bailey remembers being equally underwhelmed, saying, "When he got here, everybody on defense was kind of hesitant. We were like, 'Oh, man, how is this going to work?'"
Generously listed at 6-foot-2, Ganus spent this past winter looking up at the likes of Jenkins and other more star-studded linebackers such as Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd. Yet when the pads started popping at spring practice, whatever Ganus lacked in terms of being an imposing figure, he made up for in productivity.
"During the spring and offseason, he really proved himself in the way he got us lined up and got the plays to us," Bailey said. "He fit his role perfectly."
Ganus will play at Sanford Stadium for the seventh and final time Saturday night when the 7-3 Bulldogs host 7-2 Georgia Southern. He has packed a lot into his 11 months with the Bulldogs, leading the team with 74 tackles and getting engaged at midfield following a 52-20 win over South Carolina in September.
In last Saturday's 20-13 win at Auburn, Ganus tallied 11 tackles on a defense that limited the Tigers to 200 yards after their opening possession.
"He's embraced the Bulldog Nation, and he's embraced being here," coach Mark Richt said. "He wasn't afraid to be a leader. He didn't come in here acting like he owned the place, but when guys learn what to do quickly and practice hard and have the right kind of personality, everybody accepts them and appreciates them.
"He's just the right kind of person to be able to make that quick of a transition."
Saturday night's senior ceremony may be a little more unique than emotional for Ganus. A year ago, he was simply trying to help the Blazers attain bowl eligibility when news first surfaced about a potential termination of the program.
Ganus will be greeted by family members 20 minutes before kickoff having spent four fewer years with the Bulldogs than the remaining 2011 "Dream Team" signees such as receiver Malcolm Mitchell, tight end Jay Rome and former Ridgeland High cornerback Devin Bowman.
"We've all played a bunch of college football," Ganus said. "Obviously they've put more blood, sweat and tears into this program, and I've put more into the other program, but at the end of the day, we're all Dawgs. This year, we've all become a family, and we'll all be honored together."
Ganus likes the fact he can claim two schools down the road, with UAB scheduled to revive its program beginning with the 2017 season. His Georgia teammates like the fact they were wrong in their initial judgments.
"When I saw him running around this spring, I was like, 'OK, now I can see why,'" Jenkins said. "Jake just shows that there are good players in every conference. You just have to look past the conference title and conference name to see that."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.