Football stadium dedications tend to be a who's who of state officials, especially in places like Georgia.
Andrew Thomas, who was drafted by the Giants fourth overall on Thursday night, was invited to represent the players at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the University of Georgia late in the summer of 2018. Just a sophomore at the time, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with UGA President Jere W. Morehead, Director of Athletics Greg McGarity, head football coach Kirby Smart, the UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors, Board of Regents and the Foundation chair.
They were there to celebrate the massive, 16-month "West End Zone" project at Sanford Stadium, which added space for a new locker room for the Bulldogs, a larger video board, and a new entry plaza for fans.
Thomas had already done great things on the field (he was named a Freshman All-American the previous fall) and would go on to do much more, but the speech he delivered that day stuck with his college coach. So much so that Smart used the story in a congratulatory video message shortly after Thomas became the newest member of the New York Giants.
"Probably one of the best speeches I've ever heard," Smart said. "It came straight from the heart. It wasn't memorized. It wasn't read. You just spoke. I know you've got a bright future, and we can't wait to see you be an NFL 'Dog' and come back and visit with our players because you meant so much to me and the University of Georgia."
Thomas won the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2019, becoming UGA's first recipient of the award in 21 years. He was named one of four permanent team captains in his final season and was the co-winner of the Vince Dooley Offensive MVP Award, given at the team's post-season awards gala.
"I'm super proud of you," Smart continued. "I couldn't be happier, man. It's a lifelong dream. From the first time I met you in recruiting coming out of Pace [Academy] with Coach [Chris] Slade over there and so many good football players coming out of there, I'm just so happy you're able to reach your goals. A three-year starter at the University of Georgia, played a lot of great competition in three years, and competed every day to get better. We can't be any more thankful as a family here at UGA for what you did for our program."
Now the Giants get to see what he can do for theirs.
"Well, the tape gives you the initial impression of what you're looking for and then you use all of the information when you talk to the coaches is really to fill in any gaps you may not know about personality, work ethic, how they respond to hard coaching, and then also to really confirm what you've seen on the tape as well," said Giants coach Joe Judge, who overlapped on Alabama's staff with Smart from 2009-11. "Listen, the one thing is I have very good contacts at all of these places with all the top guys. I have a good enough relationship where they're not trying to sell me a product, they know if the guy is good enough, he's going to get paid to play somewhere and they are very directly honest with me. I don't get just the good on guys. They give me, 'Hey, these are the things he's gonna have to work on, these are the things you have to know about how he responds personality wise,' and that's all very important."