Giants first-rounder Andrew Thomas was heavily recruited in high school. Several SEC schools, including Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn, offered the offensive lineman a spot in their respective programs. But at the end of the day, the Georgia native decided to stay close to home and play for the Georgia Bulldogs.
It was during the recruitment process that Sam Pittman, then Georgia's offensive line coach, got to know Thomas. Pittman spent three years recruiting Thomas to the Bulldogs and another three years coaching him and was able to see first-hand what a hard worker Thomas is. Pittman joined Big Blue Kickoff to discuss his protege.
"I recruited Drew for three years -- his sophomore, junior and senior years of high school -- and was able to develop a great relationship with him, and his mother, father and sister," said Pittman, who served as assistant head coach at Georgia last year and was named head coach of Arkansas in December. "He was one of those guys that wanted it. He worked hard for it and wanted all of your coaching. He's a wonderful person. I'm sure the New York media is already seeing what kind of character he has."
Thomas put together an impressive resume during his tenure at Georgia. He was named a Freshman All-American in 2017 after starting every game at right tackle. Thomas then moved to left tackle for the 2018 season, earning First-Team All-SEC and First-Team All-American honors. He finished his collegiate career last year with another dominating campaign and was again selected as First-Team All-SEC while also being named a Unanimous All-American. In addition, Thomas was the recipient of the 2019 SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy.
"Drew, he's just so hungry to be the best," said Pittman. "One of his goals is to make the Pro Bowl and to make the Hall of Fame. You can't sit around now, there are not that many people that get to do that. I don't care how talented you are, you better go to work. That's exactly what he'll do."
After working with Pittman for the last three years, Thomas will now get to work with Marc Colombo, the Giants' offensive line coach. No matter the style of offense the Giants choose to run this season, Pittman is confident that the rookie lineman will be able to pick it up quickly.
"He's very coachable. Regardless of the style of Coach Colombo, whatever it may be, he'll get the most out of Andrew," said the Arkansas head coach. "I've coached very few players that you had to find exactly what made them click, and what makes Andrew click is knowledge. If you give him something technical or give him something to look for on a play or something like that, that's going to get done. Regardless of how the coaching style is of Coach Colombo, he's so bright. I've said it before, he's one of the brightest, if not the brightest, offensive linemen I've ever coached. That says a lot because I've been very fortunate to have a lot of them. I think he's going to learn very fast and I think he's going to be very coachable. I think he'll fit in perfectly with the organization."
Not only did Thomas prove to be one of the most talented players on the Bulldogs last season, but he also showed that his character could not be questioned. Thomas was voted as one of Georgia's four permanent captains by his teammates for the 2019 season. As you can tell by what his former position coach had to say about him, Thomas was cherished by his coaches and teammates alike.
"It's a team-voted honor, and we thought it was the highest honor you could possibly get there at Georgia...," Pittman said on Big Blue Kickoff. "The reason he was team captain was because he's one of the greatest human beings and greatest leaders that you're going to have. Now, he's not going to be as vocal of a leader as some might be. We worked on that. But he's certainly going to lead by example. And he was, obviously, one of the best players on the team, if not the best."
General manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge have already told reporters that Thomas will immediately compete for one of the starting tackle positions. The rookie showed in college that he can perform at a high level regardless of which side he plays on, which could allow him to start right away.
While the transition from one level of football to another can be tough for some, Thomas has proven that he is capable of making that jump. As Pittman recalls, it did not take long at all for the freshman to make his way into the Bulldogs' starting lineup in 2017.
"I had him behind Isaiah Wynn, who was a first-round pick (in 2018) with the New England Patriots," Pittman said on Thomas beginning his collegiate career as a backup. "To be honest with you, the kids came back and said 'Hey coach, I don't think you want to play this guy behind Wynn because this guy is one of the best five offensive linemen we have.' We moved him inside to left guard for about three or four weeks there in the summer. Then two weeks before the first game, we moved him to right tackle. I'll never forget, Kirby (Smart) said, 'You better be right, Pittman...'
View photos from the college career of Georgia OT Andrew Thomas.
"We noticed how talented he was, how long he was, how intelligent he was, and so there was no doubt in our mind that he was one of our top five players. We went to the National Championship that year with him. I can remember that I wasn't worried going into games because we had this freshman out there at right tackle. I wasn't worried a bit about it."
Pittman told Big Blue Kickoff about Thomas' style of leadership. He isn't going to be the vocal guy in the middle of the huddle screaming at everybody. Instead, he is going to lead by example and let his play do his talking.
However, Pittman wanted to be clear that just because Thomas may not be the loudest guy on the field, it does not mean that he is not the most competitive player out there.
"It's competition that turns (his) switch on," the Arkansas head coach said. "You know, a great player doesn't want to lose anything. He doesn't want to lose a rep, he doesn't want to lose a one-on-one rep. He wants to get a plus, plus, plus, plus, plus. Everything he does, he wants to be good at it. Off the field, he's very reserved, very quiet. His dad in recruiting said, 'Coach, the football is going to handle itself. I would just like for when he leaves college that he's able to speak in public.' A year later, he went back to his high school commencement and did the commencement speech and knocked it out of the park. Georgia was good for him... That kind of helped him in his leadership role, too. The ability to speak out and speak a little bit in public. You guys have already talked to him, so you know he's a very, very good speaker."
Based on everything Pittman had to say about him, Thomas sounds like the ideal player for the New York Giants. A great work ethic, the ability to lead, high football intelligence and strong character are all attributes the Giants' front office has talked about this offseason. It's no wonder his former position coach at Georgia believes that Thomas is a perfect fit for the Giants.
"I'm telling you, the guy is intelligent and it means something to him," said Pittman. "I don't think all this first round draft money or anything like that is going to affect any of his focus. I think he's a perfect fit for a big city like New York. I think he'll do great."