“It hurt me to my heart,” said Gaither, who while suspended along with sophomore guard Jamie Thomas for undisclosed rules violations, spent the past two weeks working out on his own and doing a bit of soul-searching.
Gaither spent a lot of time getting advice from family members, especially older brother Jamar Gaither, a former basketball player at West Virginia.
Jamar’s advice: “It’s gonna be bumps in the road [and] you’re gonna have to take them with a grain of salt, come back and do the best you can,” Jared Gaither said. “It’s a lesson learned. So, I come back, they know where my heart is, do the best that I can and get it done.”
Head coach Ralph Friedgen said he didn’t spend much time talking to either player during the suspension, opting to leave them to work things out individually – both mentally and physically.
“These [other] guys have been out here busting their butt, and we can’t forget that. So we’ll just continue to work them in, see how they continue to progress,” Friedgen said.
Of the suspensions, Friedgen said: “It’s like dealing with your children. I’m still a proponent of spanking, by the way.”
Both Thomas, a gifted blocker who was expected to contend for a starting spot, and Gaither -- a returning starter at right tackle and one of the team’s most valuable players – worked with the second team this morning. They’re going to have to earn their way back up the depth chart.
Gaither said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I never once thought that I could sit out for two weeks and come back to my starting spot. That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of my teammates. I wouldn’t want the coach to put me in that situation and I know he wouldn’t do that,” said Gaither, who didn’t allow a sack in six starts last season.
“So me starting from the bottom and working my way back up, that’s just something that I have to do. And, I mean, I’m gonna work my way back up and we’re gonna take it from there.”
Offensive line coach Tom Brattan said there was a notable morale boost with the two back on the field. It meant less reps for a tired, nicked-up group of lineman and a palpable energy boost. The experience that the other players gained in the two weeks also could help the team move closer to Friegden’s goal of having two full, almost equally effective units o the line.
“The premier programs can almost substitute. If you look at Texas, their number ones go, I think, for three series, and then their number twos go for two series and the numbers ones come back in,” Brattan said.
Gaither actually weighs about five pounds less than he did a month ago, 340 pounds, and both players looked in good shape. According to Friedgen, the two were mentally sharp as well.
They picked up the plays “better than I thought they would,” Friedgen said.
“There were a couple situations fro a mental standpoint, and I would’ve probably bet money they would have missed them, but they didn’t. So I was pleasantly surprised.”
Gaither “didn’t take a whole lot of reps today,” said sophomore LEO Trey Covington, “but he’s big out there. Even if he’s not full speed, he’s tall and hard to get around. He’s always strong.”
It was clear everyone involved was ready to put the unnamed indiscretions in the rearview mirror.
“The situation was a situation, that’s over, in the past. We’re just looking forward,” Gaither said.
“It’s over,” Friedgen concluded. “let’s move on.”