But the one replacing him - No. 4 Delp - was recruited to Georgia specifically to become the next Bowers. That’s one of the reasons the two players physically are so indistinguishable. The record-setting Bowers, who hails from Napa, California, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 240 pounds and is uncannily fast and strong for his size.
Delp is 6-5, also weighs 240 after entering UGA at entering school as a 226-pound freshman, and is unusually strong and fast for his size. That’s what made him the No. 1-rated tight end prospect in America as a senior at West Forsyth in Cumming.
Pursued by virtually every program in the country, the 5-star recruit chose Georgia specifically because of Bowers and what the Bulldogs were doing with their tight ends.
“They had already decided they were going to change the way they used their tight ends and get them more involved in the offense,” West Forsyth coach Dave Svelha recalled this week. “They showed that in Oscar’s senior year of high school. He just looked at that situation and said, ‘this is a place I can develop my skills and have a chance to go to the next level as well.’”
Getting to play and compete with Bowers every day has been an unexpected bonus. Bowers’ competitiveness has become the stuff of legend since his arrival as an early enrollee in 2021. That’s who Delp has been chasing around since he first stepped on campus, also as an early enrollee, in January of 2022.
Allegedly, a fully-healthy Bowers has never lost a rep since he’s been at UGA when it comes to conditioning, physical workouts and weekly written tests the Bulldogs give regarding game plans. He has been a walking, talking phenomenon since he first slid on the red and black.
Delp hasn’t been far behind. He recognized that better than anybody, and immediately embraced the pursuit of perfection. Bowers recognized that about Delp, too, and immediately took him under his wing. Delp credits the elder statesman for transforming his game in the area of blocking. That was the one in which he struggled the most, coming to Georgia with a background as a primary wide receiver.
But the thought has always been that Delp had time. Everybody knew that Bowers would be Bulldogs’ featured act on offense in 2023. But with Bowers suddenly sidelined with a surgery-required ankle injury just as Georgia entered into the most competitive gauntlet of the schedule, Delp finds himself stepping into arguably the most critical offensive role at the most pivotal point of the season.
It’s about that sentiment that coach Kirby Smart bristles a bit.
“We’re not asking Delp to do anything normally different than what he’s done, nor anybody on the team,” said Smart, reiterating the point he made even more vociferously during the off week.
To wit: “Yeah, he’s not in a bigger role. He’s in the same role he was in, which is to help our team. I don’t believe for one second that he’s in a bigger role. You know, the plays that you design — y’all think of them as ‘Brock Plays’ -- there are a lot of positions that can be in those spots. Delp could be in those spots, Dom (Lovett) could be in those spots, Dillon Bell could be in those spots, Marcus Rosemy(-Jacksaint) could be in those spots. Our offense is not built around, like, one person doing one thing.”
As Georgia prepares for its most important game to date, that’s truly the million-dollar question. What will the Bulldogs’ offense, so dependent before on the unique skills of Bowers, look like in its first game without the guy that authored some of the team’s most explosive plays over the last 2½ seasons?
Svehla, Bowers’ high school coach, wonders that as well. In fact, he got a chance to ask his former pupil when he visited West Forsyth last week during the Bulldogs’ down time.
Delp got to be on the Wolverines’ sideline last Thursday and personally witness his younger brother, junior wideout Topher Delp, catch a touchdown pass in the first quarter of their game against Milton. Milton ultimately pulled away to win 45-14, but Delp has two brothers on the team at West Forsyth (including injured senior wideout Henry Delp) and enjoyed a rare in-season opportunity to visit his old stomping grounds.
“I talked to him for a little bit and just asked him how things were going and tried to catch up with him a little bit,” Svehla said. “I think he’s excited. He didn’t really want to share too much what his role might be, and I understood that. But I think it’s fair to say it won’t be the same that it’s been.”
It definitely won’t be for Delp, who moves into the role as TE1, or freshman Lawson Luckie, who becomes TE2. What Georgia fans and the Gators and everybody else is wondering is whether the Bulldogs will operate its offense as much out of “12″ personnel as they have most of the last three seasons. That’s when there are two tight ends on the field, one in the traditional place tight to the line of scrimmage and the other virtually anywhere else in the formation.
Delp can do that, too, and reps it every week in practice. Perhaps a greater question would be whether the Luckie can do all Delp did in the secondary tight end role. The 6-3, 240-pound Luckie turned heads during spring ball and was again in preseason practice before being sidelined for the same type of ankle injury that shelved Bowers and required tight-rope surgery to repair.
Injured on August 13, Luckie has slowly made his way back to field, missing the first five games of the season, dressing out but not playing in two and finally getting into games the last two weeks. So far Luckie’s has been a mostly-blocking role, without a reception or even a target. But Luckie has shown he can be a receiving threat before hauling in three passes for 48 yards and creating a bit of a buzz on Georgia’s G-Day game last April.
Doing it during a primetime television broadcast in a rivalry game against an archrival SEC East opponent with a salty defense is another story. It’s something, though, that everybody around Delp believes he is ready for.
“He’s a really gutsy player,” said redshirt sophomore guard Dylan Fairchild, who played with Delp at West Forsyth and welcomed him to UGA. “He’ll go out there and jump in the air. Y’all’ve seen him do front flips and stuff, right? He does a really good job of just coming to work every day and trying to get better every single day.”
It helps that Bowers has been there guiding Delp along. Everybody has known since Bowers picked up his second All-America Award last year and the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end that this junior season for Bowers would be his last at Georgia. The question now is whether it ended prematurely because of the severe high-ankle sprain suffered in the second quarter Oct. 14 against Vanderbilt in Nashville. That Bowers chose to undergo the most aggressive treatment there is for that injury two days later in Birmingham, Alabama, is an indication Bowers at least wants to have the option to play again for the Bulldogs.
In the meantime, he’s been getting Delp ready to step into his shoes for the past two years. Bowers has been doing that whether it was in 100-yard wind sprints, route-running or one-on-one blocking drills.
The progress in Delp’s game has been evident. Taking over for an injured Bowers in the Vanderbilt game, he caught two passes for 32 yards over the final 2½ quarters. After playing in 13 games as a freshman last season and catching five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown, Delp has 13 catches for 160 yards and two scores this season.
So far, he doesn’t have a rushing attempt, but we’re told he’s adept at executing those specially-designed run plays for Bowers as well. He does it all the time in practice. Meanwhile, Delp has proved reliable when quarterback Carson Beck has targeted him this season. He caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Beck early in the blowout victory against Kentucky on Oct. 7 and hauled in a 21-yard TD toss from Brock Vandagriff in the season opener against Tennessee-Martin.
It was in Week 2 that Delp last was heard from.
“It was awesome just to get in there and play with Carson and Brock,” Delp said of the Tennessee-Martin experience. “That was the first game I could really say that I contributed in Sanford (Stadium) and it’s definitely one I’ll remember.”
Which is not to say he hasn’t contributed in big games. At no time has Delp come through greater for Georgia than in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Ohio State last New Year’s in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. After Darnell Washington was lost to an ankle injury early in that contest, Delp came off the bench and finished out the come-from-behind victory. Delp didn’t have any catches, but he proved he could handle a vital role in a must-win game.
This time, he’ll be asked to do it as the featured guy.
The folks back in Cumming are sure he’s up for it.
“Oscar has a lot of those same tools,” Svelha said of comparisons to Bowers. “The reason Brock Bowers is Brock Bowers is because he takes all that athleticism and ability and plays extremely smart and savvy. He’s got a high football IQ and that’s why he’s who he is. Oscar, getting to practice with him and compete with him, that’s got to make anybody better.”