A Lot to Learn

ATHENS - Redshirt Freshman Kwame Geathers is getting in shape and learning along the way.

Clay Walker took a picture that first day.

It took a while to get Kwame Geathers cleared to begin his career at Georgia, and when the burly defensive tackle finally arrived on campus, he was a mess. He was overweight. He was out of shape. He was in no condition to compete on the football field.

Geathers' body looked nothing like the chiseled veterans he was practicing with, and Walker, a former player now in his seventh season as a member of the team's strength and conditioning staff, wanted to preserve the image for posterity.

The photo wasn't meant as a joke or to serve as motivation for Geathers. It was simply a snapshot in time.

This summer, when the Bulldogs wind down their offseason conditioning program, Walker plans to shoot another photo and hold it side by side with that first image of Geathers. It's meant as a reminder of how far he had come.

"I can't wait to see the difference in him," Walker said. "It's going to be incredible."

Geathers' early days at Georgia were the rudest of awakenings.

His older brother Robert played for the Bulldogs and is now in the NFL, and his other brother Clifton has played for South Carolina for the past three seasons, but even that family legacy wasn't enough to prepare Kwame Geathers for what was in store.

"I had to learn plays, learn to practice and do things the Georgia way," Geathers said. "I had to do all that and get into condition all at the same time."

And when it came to conditioning, Geathers was just short of a lost cause.

He arrived on campus three days after fall camp began, delayed from earning clearance from the NCAA and, in turn, delayed in preparing his body for the rigors of life in the SEC.

The early results were dismal. Geathers was badly overweight, weighing in at 355 pounds, Walker said. Practices weren't just tough – they were impossible. Geathers simply couldn't do what the coaches asked of him.

"When he first got here, the kid was completely out of shape," Walker said. "He had a bad body, he literally couldn't run a half-gasser without giving out. That's just something standard. I don't know what he did all summer, but it certainly wasn't getting ready for football."

Earning playing time was a long shot for Geathers to begin with given the number of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. But the uphill battle just to achieve some modicum of competence was difficult for the freshman.

"It was very frustrating knowing that I was so far behind. I'm still a little behind," Geathers said. "But you have to keep working at it."

And work is just what he did.

From Day 1, Walker rode Geathers endlessly in the weight room, while Rodney Garner and Georgia's other coaches provided little tolerance for diminished ability on the practice field.

The work was grueling, but it was crucial just to get Geathers to a point where he could make it through a practice without his body giving out.

"He came in so far behind—guys like that have to buy in so much quicker and push themselves so much harder just to catch up to the guy in front of them," Walker said. "The biggest thing with him was just getting him where he could move and could go through an entire practice. Just getting him in shape cardiovascularly to where his heart and lungs could handle the amount of work."

The work in the weight room came in three primary phases.

For one, Geathers had to start running – and running a lot.

On the practice field, making it half the field and back was an impossibility early on. But Geathers kept at it. He pushed himself, and barriers began to fall.

"He's very coachable, and that's what you have to be at this level," Walker said. "No matter how bad it hurts him, he's a tough kid, and he always pushes through everything."

In the weight room, Geathers was treated to a menagerie of exercises, some of which were completely new to him. But again, he worked.

From August to December, his bench press improved by nearly 100 pounds. He added 85 pounds to his squat.

"I don't know that the kid had ever done a power clean in his life until he got here," Walker said. "I don't know if he even knew what it was."

But Geathers did those, too.

Each day, a new challenge. At the end of most of those days, it was a challenge met, a challenge defeated.

The third step in the process, however, was doing something about Geathers' weight.

"If I go run two miles then go to McDonalds and get a cheeseburger and fries, it doesn't make a difference what I did," Walker said. "It's what you put in your body, how you fuel your body."

Geathers was used to consuming pretty much anything he wanted, and the result was a body his frame couldn't support and still push through a grueling football practice.

Moreover, Walker worried about Geathers' susceptibility to injuries. The more body fat a player has, the more likely he is to get hurt. Geathers was in a high risk group.

But again, his work ethic overwhelmed his physical limitations. Geathers came in for voluntary workout sessions each week, and Walker put him on a precise plan to get him into shape.

"They've just told me to eat the right things, and I go running every day," Geathers said. "It's just been conditioning and working out and eating right."

The results have been impressive.

In four months, Geathers shed 45 pounds, now checking in at a svelte 310.

"And that's just pure body fat the kid lost," Walker said.

But the results didn't come easily. It took effort. More than that, it took determination.

Those first practices weren't just difficult – they were terrifying. Geathers was far behind even the other freshmen who lagged behind, too.

More than any of the physical barriers Geathers had to break through, there was the mental one. He had to convince himself that he wasn't a lost cause. He had to learn that what might have seemed impossible could indeed be accomplished.

"It was pretty much a mental thing," Geathers said. "You have to keep in mind what you need to do. Sports are a mind thing, and you have to keep focused on getting better each day when you come to practice."

It's a process, Walker said. Players don't reshape their bodies overnight. They don't simply show up for a second day of practice suddenly better equipped to handle the long, hard work done on the field. It's a journey.

"It doesn't happen immediately, but that's what's so special about Kwame," Walker said. "The kid has made a lot of progress real, real quick. But he's still got a ways he's got to go. But if he keeps working like he's working now, he'll get there."

In just four short months, Geathers has already come a long way.

The funny thing is, he really didn't notice how much easier the work had become right away. One day it just hit him – he wasn't running out of breath so easily and lugging around all that weight wasn't so tough.

"It just happened one day," Geathers said. "Running-wise, staying in shape, conditioning, it just got to a point where I was OK. It just happened where I felt like I was doing much better."

That's good news for Geathers and for the Bulldogs. Those veterans who set the pace for Geathers last season will all be gone by the time the 2010 season kicks off. Only two experienced defensive tackles will be on the roster. Geathers' success will be vital.

And while the 2009 season wasn't entirely what Geathers had hoped – and it certainly wasn't what he expected – it was perhaps the most valuable time of his life.

"I look at it as a blessing," Geathers said. "I had a lot more to learn. I look at it as an opportunity."


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