Georgia’s Travon Walker and David Marshall go back. Way back.
In fact, Marshall knew about Walker long before Walker was considered a can't-miss football recruit. The two defensive ends grew up not far from each other in Thomaston, and both attended Upson-Lee High School.
“Shoot, I’ve been knowing him since middle school,” Marshall said following Georgia’s practice Friday evening. “He was bigger than me in middle school.”
The good news is Thomaston’s finest both will be lining for the Bulldogs next week when they open the season against Vanderbilt. That’s a significant development in each case.
Marshall, a part-time starter and stalwart contributor on Georgia’s line the past four seasons, has finally overcome a Lisfranc fracture in his left foot and will be able to play again after missing the second half of last season.
And Walker, a 5-star prospect who signed with the Bulldogs in December, has performed well enough in preseason camp to have convinced all parties that he’ll “be on the bus” in Nashville. Georgia can dress out only 70 players for the conference road contest, per SEC rules, and there are no guarantees for any of this year’s contributors.
“Good talent. Big guy,” Marshall said of his 6-foot-5, 290-pound Thomaston neighbor. “You don’t see too many guys flying around how big he is. He’s an athlete, plays basketball, all that. He’s gonna be pretty good. He’s gonna help the team this year.”
That meshes with other glowing comments that have been offered about Walker this month, including evaluations from coach Kirby Smart and offensive linemen Isaiah Wilson and Cade Mays.
“A big dude, long arms, fast off the ball, strong,” Mays said this week. “He looks the part.”
Truth be told, Marshall is the more important integer in the defensive end equation at this point. The senior defensive tackle is the best run-stopper among the players at his position, including last year when he split time with Jonathan Ledbetter. The Bulldogs’ rush defense declined significantly when they lost Marshall to that foot fracture in the fifth game last season.
Coincidentally, that injury came against Vanderbilt. Marshall was asked if that provided any extra motivation.
“Really, it’s just the next team we’re playing,” he said. “So, I’m just ready to play. It’s been a while.”
Ten months and nine games, to be exact.
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The crazy thing is most of Georgia’s defensive ends seem to hail from Marshall’s general neck of the woods. Junior Malik Herring, who is also vying for the starting role, hails from Forsyth, only about 20 minutes away from Thomaston. Fellow D-end Justin Young is a relative foreigner, coming from Grayson.
Whoever ultimately holds it down the job, Marshall is certain Georgia’s future at D-end is in good hands with Walker on board. Marshall said he's “been knowing” that for a while.
“It’s just a small town,” he said of watching Walker grow up in Thomaston, population 8,740. “Everybody knows everybody. So we’ve been hanging around each other every day. We’d play at the playground every day. So I’ve been knowing (Walker) since he was a little kid.”