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Georgia haunted by ‘big fish’ that got away

HOOVER, Ala. — Scroll through Jake Fromm’s Twitter or Instagram accounts and it’s readily apparent that he’s an accomplished outdoorsman. There is plenty of photographic and video evidence that the Georgia quarterback can bag a wild turkey or flip a jig with the same accuracy he throws an out route. He can be found smiling on social media with all manner of impressive beasts.

Word has sufficiently spread about Fromm’s fishing exploits to catch the eye of TV fishing show host Mark Zona, who lauded the Georgia native’s work on Instagram. Fromm has caught a few “slaunch donkeys,” to use Zona’s phrase for truly fat bass.

“It’s nice to escape, get away, slow things down,” Fromm said Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days. “Life goes by very fast.”

Like any self-respecting fisherman guarding his favorite spots, Fromm played coy Tuesday when asked where he catches his slaunch donkeys. But he did allow that the biggest bass he has landed is about 12 pounds. That’s large.

Of course, every angler has stories of heartbreak about the monster that got away. For Fromm, that goes double for football and fishing.

The whole world knows which one has eluded him on the gridiron. Twice.

The big one.

Alabama.

Each of Fromm’s first two seasons, Georgia has had the biggest fish in the SEC on the hook but failed to land it in the boat. There was the crushing loss in the 2017 College Football Playoff national championship game, when the Bulldogs couldn’t hold a 13-point lead in the second half and lost in overtime. And there was the 14-point second-half lead that dissolved in the SEC championship game last year.

Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm speaks during SEC media days on Tuesday, July 16. (AP)Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm speaks during SEC media days on Tuesday, July 16. (AP)

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Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm speaks during SEC media days on Tuesday, July 16. (AP)

Both times, Fromm played well — a combined 41 of 71 passing, for 533 yards and four touchdowns against vaunted Nick Saban defenses. Both times, Alabama brought a backup quarterback off the bench to beat him.

“We’re just trying to get over the hump,” Fromm said of the Alabama problem. “Do more.”

“Do More” is the catchphrase coach Kirby Smart coined for this Georgia team. More in the weight room, more in the film room, more on the practice field. Do enough to close that narrow gap between the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs.

“We understand how close we’ve been to taking the next step,” Smart said. “And although 24-5 the last two seasons is good, it’s not good enough. It’s not where we expect to be at the University of Georgia.”

Smart referenced the 2017 seasons of pro golfers Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka as an example of what he called the “aggregate of marginal gains.” In other words, the big difference small margins can make. Thomas’ average round that season was 69.4, Koepka’s was 69.9 — a narrow difference over the course of a full year on tour. Yet Thomas earned $4.3 million more.

Intentional or not, Smart used an Alabama golfer (Thomas) in his example. If he wanted to carry the analogy a bit farther, he could compare his quarterback to Koepka.

Fromm, as Koepka once did, has played in the shadow of others who received greater adulation and attention despite his production. The 2018 All-SEC teams, as voted on by the coaches, placed Tagovailoa on the first team (not a surprise) and Missouri’s Drew Lock on the second team (a bit of a surprise). The year before, Lock was the first-team QB and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham was the choice for the second team.

Both seasons, Fromm had a higher pass efficiency rating than the second-team All-SEC QB. His team had more wins. But he didn’t receive commensurate recognition.

Georgia QB Jake Fromm (11) handles the football during the College Football Playoff title game against Alabama on Jan. 8, 2018. (Getty)Georgia QB Jake Fromm (11) handles the football during the College Football Playoff title game against Alabama on Jan. 8, 2018. (Getty)

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Georgia QB Jake Fromm (11) handles the football during the College Football Playoff title game against Alabama on Jan. 8, 2018. (Getty)

That was the case with recruiting rankings and Georgia fans as well. Fromm was no slouch coming out of high school — he was the No. 20 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 according to Rivals.com — but he wasn’t rated as high as Georgia quarterback recruits Jacob Eason (the No. 7 prospect in 2016) and Justin Fields (the No. 2 prospect in 2018).

Fromm was never expected to beat out Eason, until he did. He was widely expected to lose his job to Fields, until he didn’t. “I never really looked over my shoulder,” Fromm said, even though others did it for him.

Ultimately, his consistent play ran both of the more celebrated QBs out of Athens — Eason is now the starting QB at Washington, and Fields is expected to be the starter at Ohio State. Now, for the first time in his Georgia career, there is nobody else anyone wants to see under center when the Dawgs play.

Thus far, NFL scouts may think more highly of Fromm than SEC coaches. He’s considered a likely 2020 first-round pick, perhaps after Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert but ahead of everyone else. He’s unlikely to ever be as good as the guys he studies most, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, but seems to have their leadership qualities and obsessive devotion to honing his craft.

“He leads the right way,” Smart said. “Does everything you ask him to do. He enjoys the game of football. He plays the game of football the way it’s supposed to be played. When you go out to practice every day, this guy’s got a smile on his face, he’s competing, he’s challenging people.

“He’s the leader of our program, the face of our organization, a guy who has given so much to Georgia and Georgia means so much to. We had a guy come speak the other day to our team about characteristics scouts look for. He checks every single box on that list. He’s won a lot of football games.”

The only thing that remains for Jake Fromm to do at Georgia is land the big one. He’s had it on the hook twice. Now he just has to get it in the boat and smile for the pictures.

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