Georgia’s Ramik Wilson goes from backup to leading tackler

Ramik Wilson arrived at Georgia with a strong reputation and high expectations. So when friends and family from Tampa, Fla., didn’t see him making plays all over the field his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, they wanted to know what was up.

There were times Wilson wondered himself, but really it was pretty evident.

“I came in as an outside linebacker and a dude named Jarvis Jones was playing there,” said Wilson, a 6-foot-2, 232-pound junior. “It’s kind of hard to beat out somebody like that, an All-American and first-round pick. Second year came, and I had to transition because they moved me to inside linebacker, seeking more playing time. But then there’s another first-round draft pick there, Alec Ogletree.”

As the Bulldogs (5-3, 4-2 SEC) prepare for Saturday’s homecoming game against Appalachian State, Wilson not only leads his team in tackles, he leads the SEC with 80, an average of 10 per game. He’s coming off an 11-tackle effort in Saturday’s 23-20 win over Florida and had 15 in a win over Tennessee.

Clearly Wilson didn’t spend his first two years sulking in the shadows.

“You know, I just prepared myself and kept working real hard,” Wilson said. “I’ve learned from some great dudes. I’m trying to practice hard and mold my game after both of them.”

The subject of Wilson’s development tends to bring broad smiles across the faces of those familiar with it. All coaches hope to land recruits who come in and make major and immediate impacts. But there is something to be said for the more common scenario in which a guy has to bide his time and learn the ropes before stepping into a vital role.

“Ramik’s had a chance to shine, and sometimes it’s not bad for it not to happen right away,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a star as a freshman. Sometimes you have to mature a little bit and grow a little bit and grow within the system and find your niche.”

Wilson definitely has found his niche. An inside linebacker in high school, he always had a penchant for bringing down ball carriers. His size, speed and strength serves him well between the tackles, and that is why he now mans an inside linebacker spot for the Bulldogs.

But Wilson’s double-figures tackles per game goes beyond his role as a designated tackle-maker.

“If you can’t tackle as a linebacker you’re out of business,” linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said. “So he’s making his plays. But he hustles his way into a couple more every game. I think that’s what separates him. He plays extremely hard, and that shows up.”

Hustle and effort were the words most often used by teammates to describe Wilson.

“He runs to the ball,” said fellow inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who has 72 tackles himself. “If you run to the ball, good things happen. You’re going to get extra tackles, you’re going to be able to put more hits on people. That’s what he’s doing, running to the ball.”

Said freshman safety Quincy Mauger: “He’s determined, first of all. He never takes a play off. He just always gives a lot of effort. That’s why he leads the SEC in tackles.”

Not that Wilson feels like he has arrived. When the subject of owning the SEC’s lead in tackles was broached, Wilson knocked it down as he would a 150-pound tailback running off-tackle.

“No, I really don’t keep up with that at all,” Wilson said. “You know what? We’re in-season right now, and the coaches tell us not to focus on stuff like that. We’ve got a job to do. We’ve got to win some ballgames. We’ve got to start playing some better defense and help this team become great.

“So at the end of the season y’all can look at all the stats. Until then, we’re trying to work right now to win some games and get bowl-eligible. So I’m not looking at that at all.”