Memories of late coach guide way for Georgia’s Tramel Walthour

ATHENS — Tramel Walthour had no choice but to become a Georgia Bulldog. He played for Kirk Warner.

Warner played tight end for the Bulldogs from 1986-89. He went on to become the head football coach at Liberty County High School. That’s where Walthour played. So did Richard LeCounte before him, and a lot of other exceptional football players.

Sure, there have been Liberty County players who occasionally played at other places. But if Warner had anything to do with it, his best ones were destined to become Bulldogs.

He could not have been more pleased to see that happen for Walthour, who had to take a more difficult route into UGA than many of his predecessors. Unfortunately, the coach didn’t get to see Walthour play this season.

Warner died June 16 after a short battle with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 54.

“It hit me hard,” said Walthour, a fifth-year senior and defensive end for the Bulldogs. “It was really unexpected. We knew he was ill, but like, we didn’t know to what extreme it was. So, when it hit, it hit all of us in a certain way. We’ve just got to keep going for him.”

Credit: Dawg Nation

Credit: Dawg Nation

Warner no doubt was proud of his last UGA protégé. He got to see Walthour commit to the Bulldogs in the fall of 2017, his senior season at Liberty County. He also offered encouragement as Walthour spent one season at a junior college – Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College – before eventually arriving in Athens for the 2019 season.

“I thought he was a really good athlete from down there,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of Walthour. “We had seen him when we recruited Richard. He needed some development, needed to go play some to be able to come in here and help us. He was willing to do that.”

Walthour got into his first game as a Bulldog in 2019 against Georgia Tech, then received a redshirt. Small parts as a reserve and special-teams player in the pandemic season of 2020 were followed by a regular role playing in every game last season.

Walthour finished with 14 tackles and was fitted with a national championship ring. Warner got to see all that. Thank goodness.

“He was also a Dawg, so he had a huge influence on me and all the players that I played with,” Walthour said. “He came in each day telling us to work hard for what we want because nothing was going to be given. That was something he gave to all of us. He preached that to us all the time and the details of hard work and how it would pay off for you in the end. That was the advice he had for us.”

ExploreThe AJC's complete coverage on the Bulldogs

It has paid off for Walthour. He has gone from what many considered a “recruiting reach” as a prospect to a productive player and leader on one of the nation’s more feared defenses. He has played in each of the Bulldogs’ 10 games this season.

“You know, you learn as much as you can from the older guys, just picking up different keys and tricks that they have and try to implement it into your game,” Walthour said. “So, I just tried to gain as much knowledge as I could about my position and about the defense as a whole, and that has helped me a lot.”

Walthour has started eight of the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs’ 10 games at defensive end. He shares time there in a rotation that includes redshirt freshman Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins and freshman Mykel Williams.

Part of Walthour’s role is making sure his young position mates – both of them five-star prospects via 247Sports – know what to do and how to do it. That’s something he takes pride in.

But Walthour’s No. 1 job is to carry out his assignment for defensive line coach Tray Scott. Walthour has collected 13 tackles while doing that this season. That’s one tackle shy of his career high, with at least four more games to play. He still eagerly awaits the chance to record the first sack of his UGA career.

“The consummate team player who has played his role and is playing his role now,” Smart said. “Still doesn’t play a ton of snaps, but he makes the most of the snaps he takes. He has tremendous toughness, and he has tremendous buy-in to the way we do things.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Walthour and his defensive-line mates will be challenged to stuff a Kentucky offense that wants to dominate the line of scrimmage with tough inside runs Saturday.

Bring it on, Walthour says.

“We know that Kentucky is a real physical team,” Walthour said. “They’ve played us tough the past few years. So, we just want to stop the run first and make them a one-dimensional team.”

That’s a strategy that has worked for the Bulldogs all season. They lead the SEC and rank fourth nationally against the run, allowing only 82.5 rushing yards per game. Not coincidentally, Georgia’s leads the conference in scoring (11.6 points per game) and total defense (269.8 yards per game).

Warner preached the same philosophies while coaching the Liberty County Panthers for 20 seasons. He posted a record of 106-103, winning three region titles and reaching the state playoffs 11 times. He led the Panthers to state quarterfinals berths in 2016 and 2017. Walthour and LeCounte were on those teams.

No doubt Warner would be proud of the role Walthour is playing for his beloved Bulldogs. Knowing that keeps the competitive fires burning for Walthour.