ATHENS, Ga. — Kevin Smith has been waiting for the right time to come see one of his favorite former players in a Georgia game.
Said Smith, defensive line coach at Northside-Warner Robins High School: "I always tell my guys, when you start playing (in college), I'm going to come see you. I don't want to see you sitting on the bench.''
It's about time for Smith to make a drive up to Athens to see Will Thompson. It appears that Thompson's bench time with the Bulldogs is over.
Thompson, a former standout at Northside, now is leading Georgia in quarterback sacks after making his first career start last week against Northwestern State.
Thompson moved past Robert Geathers to start last week, and based on his
work ethic the sophomore may not easily give up the starting job. "We'll see week to week how those guys compete,'' said Georgia defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. "Probably the guy that competes during the week the hardest is earning the start and earning playing time.''
That criteria may play right into Thompson's strength. At 6-foot-3 and 243 pounds, Thompson is not the biggest or most physically imposing player on the field, but he compensates with his drive to succeed.
"Will has always been a guy who has been inconsistent in practice, but boy when his motor is running he can be a real productive player,'' VanGorder said.
"He has had moments where he has just played so hard that his production goes way up. Hopefully now he can sustain it. He is in one of those modes right now where his motor is running hard and he is playing hard.''
Added VanGorder: "There is no secret in this game, if you hustle and work hard, great things are going to happen. Basically, that is what has happened for him.''
Thompson credits Smith for teaching him that work ethic.
"Ever since high school, I've learned that if you work hard every play, you are the least likely to get injured,'' Thompson said Tuesday. "It stuck. Coach Smith was my first coach ever, and he was just always about hustle to the ball.''
Thompson had never played football when he reported to Smith as a ninth grader at Northside.
"We had to teach him the positions and how to put on his pads and how to tackle,'' Smith said.
Added Smith: "The one thing you can't teach is all-out effort, just wanting to do something. I think that comes from within him. ... He's going to play 100 miles per hour until the last second of that clock ticks off. He did that for us all four years.''
Thompson played behind Geathers in the first two games of the season, but he made the most of his minutes. He recorded 1.5 sacks against Clemson and a career-high 10 tackles against South Carolina. He added a sack against Northwestern State last week and now leads the team with 2.5 sacks.
"When I saw he was starting, I said that's it, they won't ever take him off the field now,'' Smith said. "He isn't going to let them take him off the field.''
Said Thompson: "I try to be a good hustler. I have a lot of people that I'm competing with for this position. I'm just trying to get to the ball and make some plays so I can get more of an opportunity.''
The challenge this week will be different as Thompson and the Georgia defense prepares for New Mexico State's option attack. There may not be many opportunities for Thompson to add to his sacks total this week, but it will be important for Georgia's defensive ends to make good
decisions on late pitches from New Mexico State's quarterbacks.
If No. 8 Georgia survives this week's test, and next week at Alabama, it will be 5-0 for the Oct. 12 visit from Tennessee. That looks to be the time Thompson will have his first visit from his first coach.
Said Smith: "I'm going to try to make the Tennessee game. It looks like it's time.''
Charles Odum is the beat writer for Dawg Post in Athens. He has over 20 years of experience covering Georgia football. He can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com
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