Georgia’s Ray Drew developed at his own pace

Ray Drew only recently turned 21 years old, but he can drop an anecdote or a figure of speech as quickly as the most wizened octogenarian. We knew him to be a master philosopher.

“How can you say the sky’s the limit when we’ve landed on the moon,” Drew said.

Now we’re also learning he’s a pretty good football player.

Georgia fans have been fascinated Drew since he was a five-star college prospect. And what is not to like? He is outspoken and funny and straight as an arrow. A licensed minister who happens to play defensive end, he’s almost too good to be true. Hence the nicknames such as “Reverend Ray,” “The Pastor of Disaster” and “The Pastor of the Pass Rush.”

But that adulation slowly morphed into angst when Drew did not immediately make an impact on the football field for Georgia. A freshman season in which he made only eight tackles in seven games was followed by a sophomore season that featured a position change and zero starts.

Three years later, Drew finally is showing what all the fuss is about. Now settled in at defensive end — he signed as an outside linebacker — he leads the team and ranks third in the SEC in quarterback sacks, with five. All of them have come in the past three games.

“Ray’s been a little bit of a surprise,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “When we signed Ray, everybody thought we had this five-star guy who was going to come in and do this and that, and it’s taken Ray a little while to get going. Now that the light came on, or however you want to say it; he’s really playing well.”

Drew smiles wide and reaches into his bag of phrases when asked what took so long.

“We live in a microwave society, but I’m on the crockpot plan,” he said.

“That stems from a sermon I gave back in high school. Today we live in a microwave society. You can put food in a microwave and in a minute or two tops, you’re eating it. When I was growing up, my mom used a crockpot. You put it on the night before and then let it sit all day. The meat would be so tender, and it was just delicious. Some of the best stuff you can have you have to wait on.”

Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has a more literal translation for the timing of Drew’s development.

“That’s just expectation based on somebody’s ranking,” said Grantham, who recruited Drew to play outside linebacker. “Each player is different, and they’ve got to be developed. Whether it’s from a mental standpoint, from maturity standpoint, physically, it’s a lot of different things.”

Drew acknowledged that it has taken him a while to adjust to playing a down lineman position after starting his college career at outside linebacker. That’s somewhat ironic in that he came to Georgia from Thomas County Central, where he played defensive end in a 4-3 defense.

But the 6-foot-5 Drew arrived in Athens as a 250-pounder. Today he weighs 285 pounds. That’s too big for an outside linebacker, but remains on the small side for an SEC down lineman. Drew said it took him a while to master the craft of his new position while taking on tackles that might outweigh him by 30 pounds.

“Technique and fundamentals trump all, I believe,” Drew said. “You can go against a Goliath if you want, if your technique is perfect and you’re flawless with your hand placement and foot placement. Things like that are going to be the difference maker in that battle.

“You can chase the dream, but sometimes you just need to let the dream come to you.”

Whatever the reason for his delayed gratification, Drew said he wouldn’t change a thing about his experience so far at Georgia. Certainly he’s happy now, but he insists he was happy before.

“In football, I hadn’t ever really had to face any adversity,” he said. “Now, being in the position I am, I think it made me a stronger person because it didn’t come quickly. … The biggest thing I can do right now is try to stay humble. I can’t forget who placed me in this position. I have to give thanks to (God) every day, and I’ll just continue to roll from there. Just as quickly as it was presented to me, it can be taken away.”