Georgia quarterback Nathan Priestley (9) in action for the Bulldogs' scout team during a practice in preseason camp August 2019.  Priestley is a walk-on from Los Angeles. (Tony Walsh/UGA)
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

‘California Kid’ answers Bulldogs’ call at quarterback

Actually, where he comes from, they could probably make it look that way. Priestley is from a suburb of Los Angeles known as Burbank. That’s where a bunch of movie and television studios are located.

And, no, he is NOT related to the former Hollywood star Jason Priestley of Beverly Hills 90210 fame. But Nathan Priestley DOES have a teammate from Loyola High School who is playing the lead in the LeBron James’ new movie project, “Space Jam II.”

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For now, Priestley’s only act is to play quarterback for Georgia. And, by all accounts, he’s doing that quite well. Heading into the final week of preseason camp, Priestley is currently running third team, behind starter Jake Fromm and backup Stetson Bennett.

“I'm telling you guys, he's a good player,” coach Kirby Smart said after Georgia’s last scrimmage. “When you watch him take his reps with the (third team), the way he functions and manages the offense, we're lucky to have him."

Priestley likely will be on the Bulldogs’ travel roster for the opener at Vanderbilt. That’s a big deal for a first-year, walk-on quarterback.

To be in that position, Priestley had to be both talented and fortuitous. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he’s described as a “big kid with a great arm.” But he’s No. 3 on the depth chart largely because of the medical emergency that befell D’Wan Mathis. Mathis, a freshman early enrollee from Michigan, had to have emergency surgery and was hospitalized this summer because of what turned out to be a benign growth near his brain.

But Priestley knew that coming in. That was one of the reasons he chose the Bulldogs over a handful of other East Coast, preferred walk-on offers he entertained.

“It was real late,” Loyola High coach Drew Casani said of Priestley’s decision to come to Georgia. “I thought he was going to Virginia actually. It was during the summer. … I didn’t even know he’d committed (to Georgia) until after he’d already made the decision.”

Said Smart: “He found out that he could come in here and be a 3 right away with D'Wan's situation and he jumped on it.”


 

Yes, you can file this one in that fat folder of late acquisitions the Bulldogs have accumulated under Smart’s watch. Priestley was a player Georgia actually evaluated more than two years ago, in the spring before his junior season. Smart said he and offensive coordinator James Coley liked what they saw from the long and lanky kid Californian – particularly his passing ability -- and placed him in the follow-closely category.

“He was early on our list,” Smart said. “We thought he was a good player. He was a guy that we wanted to go see throw. We wanted to go watch him practice. … We liked him, he was pretty good.”

Trouble was, Priestley kind of disappeared from the recruiting radar that fall. Turns out, there was a good reason for that.

“He got hurt early, ACL, I think it was the second week,” Casani said. “So, he was out the whole season. And then, last year, we just had a really bad offense. Our offensive line was terrible, our receivers weren’t very good. So, I think he stayed under the radar because we were so unproductive.”

It’s important to note here that Priestley comes from a good football program. Loyola is the oldest private school in southern California, a Catholic school founded in 1865. The school features 1,200 students and they reside in 209 ZIP codes.

Not coincidentally, it has a rich sports tradition. The football program has claimed six state titles and was proclaimed national champion in 1975. It also plays in a very competitive league.

It just so happened that Priestley wasn’t there during one of the program’s peak times.

“We couldn’t protect, so now his clock is off,” Casani said. “He was back there just trying to get the ball out of his hands as fast as possible. He was getting run down a lot. It was one of those years between a beat-up offensive line and who we were playing, his talent didn’t show up the way it should have.”

As a result, there’s not much statistical data on Priestley, and it wouldn’t be worth the read anyway. But after Mathis was hospitalized, Coley remembered Priestley’s tall frame and smooth delivery, which happened to be very similar to Mathis.

Next thing everybody knew, Priestley was heading to Athens.

“He’s such a great kid,” Casani said. “He’s got a great football mind, a very talented arm. He’s not real mobile, athletic guy. He’s a pocket guy, a big statuesque guy who can stand in there and deliver the ball.”

Why, then, did not Priestley sign with a small school or walk on with major program out West?

“I don’t know what went into that decision, to be honest,” Casani said. “UCLA was interested and wanted him to walk on. There were a lot of other schools out here that were interested. He never really gave me a reason why. I think he was just interested in getting out of here and getting a fresh start. I think he just wanted to hit the reset button.”

Other than an occasional earthquake, there wasn’t much reason to flee suburban L.A., it's 80 degrees outside year-round and seldom rains.

“He comes from a good family,” Casani said. “His parents (Brian Priestley and Mimi Liu) are together and hard-working. He’s a blue-collar kid. He just works his (expletive) off. If anybody’s got a chance, it’s going to be him because he’s going to put in the time in the weight room and the film room and all that.”

Georgia is, of course, in pretty good shape already with its starting quarterback. You may have heard that junior Jake Fromm is a Heisman Trophy hopeful and justifiably so with a 24-5 record as the Bulldogs’ starter. But with Justin Fields just getting named Ohio State’s starting quarterback after his transfer from UGA, junior college transfer Stetson Bennett stands as the only other scholarship signal-caller ready to play a game for UGA.

Meanwhile, third-string quarterbacks not only must be prepared to spring into action not only in an emergency situation, but also in those instances when the guys being counted on each week need to seek refuge on the sideline. So if Priestley doesn’t get in the game a week from Saturday against Vanderbilt, odds are decent that he might get some action against Murray State or Arkansas State between the hedges in subsequent weekends.

About this, the folks back in L.A. are busting their buttons.

“I’m super excited for him,” Casani said. “I’m not surprised because of the type of kid he is. I’m happy he’s at a place that has a coach that has a great reputation for developing quarterbacks. He’s going to be learning from the guy that’s there (Fromm) that happens to be one of the best in the country. I’m just excited to see how he plays out for him.”

So, now, are the Bulldogs.

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