ATHENS – Georgia’s Amarlo Herrera has a reputation that precedes him. He’s known as a hard-hitting, run-stuffing linebacker whose specialty is jacking up running backs between the tackles.
So when the 6-foot-2, 245-pound block of granite deftly back-pedaled into the deep middle zone , read the tight end on a crossing route, broke on the ball an d jumped to snatch it away, then bolted down the sideline 35 yards for a touchdown against Florida Atlantic, you can understand the ensuing mob that smothered him in celebration in the end zone.
“Actually he surprised me there,” said fellow linebacker Mike Gilliard. “I didn’t think he could run like that. Shoot, he surprised all of us when he scored. That’s why we were all riled up. We were happy for him.”
Herrera thinks his athleticism is being underestimated.
“I’ve been working with [speed specialist] Sherman [White] for a good little bit now; maybe that was it,” Herrera says with a laugh. “I’m probably a little faster than most people think. I’ve run a 4.5-flat before.”
Whatever he runs, it’s fast enough for the Bulldogs and they sure are glad to have him. In fact, Georgia would be in a real pinch if it wasn’t for Herrera.
Herrera has started all three games for the Bulldogs at the “Mo” inside linebacker position. That’s the one usually manned by Alec Ogletree. But Ogletree, who Georgia players argue may be their best overall athlete on defense, has missed the first three games due to disciplinary suspension and is expected to miss at least one more this week.
Of course, Georgia’s next game is an SEC East matchup against a Vanderbilt team that gashed the Bulldogs for 200 yards rushing and 349 overall this past season. So Georgia will be counting on Herrera to come through again.
“I’ve found myself in a strange situation,” Herrera said. “You’ve got a starter that’s not playing and he’s expected to come back and start. So you never know, but I can’t concern myself with all that. I’m just trying to produce and help us win.”
Herrera has definitely been productive. His play in Georgia’s 41-20 win at Missouri was overshadowed by national player of the week Jarvis Jones. Herrera recorded a team-high 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. He had 7 tackles this past Saturday and is currently second on the team overall with 22 stops.
“Amarlo is doing great,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “That was a great interception and return for a touchdown; he really looked like a ballplayer there. He’s always been very physical tackling. He hustles. I felt like he’s been a little bit better in the run game than in the passing game, but that was really a great play that he made.”
The Bulldogs shouldn’t be surprised by Herrera anymore. They’ve been counting on him since he first stepped on campus
Because of injuries to Ogletree and Christian Robinson in the first two games last season, Herrera was pressed into duty quickly. He ended up starting eight of Georgia’s 14 games as a freshman and finished with 37 tackles, which was 10th on the team.
It was a lot more work than Herrera expected when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Atlanta’s North Clayton High School last year.
“I feel like I’ve developed a lot since I’ve been here,” Herrera said. ”I really wasn’t into weight-lifting a lot until I got here. So I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot better. My high school coach [Rodney Hackney] said it before I got here I’d be a better college player than I was in high school because I wasn’t developed all the way. Everything I did was just off of what my Mom and Dad gave me.”
Georgia’s defense has had some struggles early on, especially in the first half of its first three games. So there is still much improvement to be made.
Some of that will come with the return of Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo next week. But what, then, becomes of Herrera?
The big man with the bigger-than-you’d-expect game says he’ll just handle whatever comes.
“Shoot, I didn’t even know I was going to play football in college,” Herrera said. “I’ve been playing since I was 5, but I never really looked at it as something that was going to get me somewhere. I just enjoyed going out there and making tackles on Saturday mornings.”
Now he just does it on Saturday nights.