SW Georgia Not That Far for Trio

ATHENS – Bainbridge is about as far from Athens as you can get and still be in Georgia, but for Bulldogs Nick Williams, Baccari Rambo and Darryl Gamble, both places feel like home.

The three Georgia defenders grew up together in Bainbridge, a town of about 12,000 people little more than a stone's throw from the Florida border, and are now virtually inseparable as members of the Bulldogs' defense.

Gamble and Rambo are cousins, but the two, along with Williams, treat each other much more like brothers.

They have leaned on each other often during their first few weeks together as teammates. Gamble, a sophomore, has been the older brother, while Rambo and Williams, both freshmen, have motivated each other on the playing field and consoled each other off it.

"It's really good because it makes me feel like I'm home," Rambo said. "It makes me feel real confident I have somebody to talk to when I need something."

While the demographics of Bainbridge might not make it a hot bed for college football talent, all three were quickly identified as stars on the gridiron.

It didn't take long for Gamble to gain legendary status in his hometown as one of the most fearsome defenders in the state. Williams remembers a practice during his sophomore season when he was playing quarterback for the scout team. On one play, Williams tucked the ball under his arm and sprinted past the line of scrimmage. Gamble closed on him quickly, and when Williams tried to juke his teammate, Gamble laid a vicious hit on him. The contact was so violent it broke Williams pads, a detail that gets discussed routinely to this day.

"He was the man in high school," Williams said, "and he's the man now."

Gamble may still be an idol for Williams and Rambo, but his first two years in Athens were filled with stumbling blocks.

The system was far more complex than it was in high school, and Gamble spent his first year on the sidelines. As a redshirt freshman last season, Gamble only made it onto the field sporadically. By season's end, however, he was pegged as one of the most improved players on the team, ripe for a heftier role as a second-team linebacker in 2008.

The journey taught Gamble more than a few lessons about perseverance, advice he's now passing on to Williams and Rambo, who have faced many of those same struggles during their first preseason camp.

"I tell them not to look down on themselves," Gamble said. "I tell them, ‘Y'all are freshmen, y'all are gonna mess up,' so just to stick with the plan."

For Williams and Rambo, "the plan" goes all the way back to grade school.

In those days, both played quarterback, and they were constantly compared against each other. They were best friends, however, and they rarely paid much attention to the comparisons.

"We may get into it a little bit, but that's what you need," Williams said. "I love him, though, and we just kept competing and pushing each other."

For years, they pushed each other. Both starred at quarterback in high school – Williams at Bainbridge and Rambo at Seminole County. While the competition was fun, they spoke often of the day they might play together.

So when both had the chance to come to Georgia – and even better, to join Gamble on the defensive side of the ball – it was a dream come true.

"We played together for years, so it was nothing to come up here," Williams said. "It was just like we were doing it over again."

The decision to come to Georgia was an easy one, but the consequences haven't always been so simple.

Williams and Rambo have both struggled at times during the preseason.

Williams suffered a hip-flexor injury that has nagged him throughout camp. Rambo hit a wall midway through two-a-days, and the struggles shook his confidence.

"I just had to get used to the atmosphere," Rambo said. "I had never been in two-a-days before, and it just kind of got to me. I was on the slope."

It was a slope Gamble had slid down before.

When Gamble was a freshman, former teammate Tony Taylor had taken him under his wing. Taylor and a few of the other veterans took time out of their schedules to organize one-on-one meetings with Gamble, helping him learn the playbook, do homework and simply adjust to college life.

So when Gamble saw Williams and Rambo struggling, he didn't wait for one of the seniors to put an arm around his old friends. After all, to Williams and Rambo, he was still the big star from Bainbridge who could do no wrong.

"I've known them for some years, I just felt like that was my place to lead them in the right way," Gamble said. "At least I'm having some influence to somebody. I'm still a young guy, but I feed off the other guys, and I feel better that some people are feeding off me."

Gamble's advice was simple but significant.

"He told me just to fight through it," Rambo said, "that he was like that his freshman year, too."

To know that Gamble, the bruising superstar who once broke Williams' shoulder pads during practice, had gone through the same struggles was a revelation that earned him even greater respect.

Gamble told Williams not to push his rehab, that he had to heal properly if he wanted to get back on the field. That's exactly what Williams did. Gamble told Rambo to keep his head up and fly to the ball at all times, even if he didn't know the play. That's exactly what Rambo did. Now both are in line for playing time in the secondary – not completely past those rookie mistakes, but now armed with a better perspective.

"He was a big brother when I was at Bainbridge, and he's still one here," Williams said of Gamble. "I go to him when I've got questions about classes, work, football. He's always there. I can ask him anything."

After all, they're family. From Bainbridge to Athens, Williams, Rambo and Gamble have motivated, advised, challenged and consoled each other. That's just what brothers do.

So now, Gamble gets text messages and phone calls several times a day from Williams and Rambo, usually asking questions about what to do on one play or another. It's instruction he's happy to give.

And Williams and Rambo are still being compared to one another. They aren't star quarterbacks anymore, but they're both battling for playing time in the same secondary.

Of course, it's not really a competition. That would mean there would be a loser, and that's something the two Bainbridge boys won't let happen. This opportunity is a long-standing wish that has finally been granted, and success only comes if they both make it.

"We always used to say, ‘I can't wait until we get somewhere we can play together,' and we're actually playing together now," Williams said. "We're like brothers on the other side of the field."

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