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Jul. 20—ATLANTA — Former Marietta High School standout Arik Gilbert started to show the Georgia faithful his potential in April's G-Day game.
The three-catch, two-touchdown effort by the 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end from the spring scrimmage may soon become the rule rather than the exception.
"His body has definitely changed. The guy is a freak, man," Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran said Wednesday during SEC Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame. "I was telling somebody else this, but Arik is like, you almost sometimes forget he came from another place. He's embraced the guys around the locker room so much, and the guys have embraced him. I think that having Arik around is definitely a good thing for your team."
The performance in the G-Day game was something Marietta fans had grown used to during the 2019 season, when he helped lead the Blue Devils to the Class AAAAAAA state championship.
Gilbert showed flashes of that talent during his freshman season at LSU in 2020, catching 35 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns in eight games. However, before the season ended, Gilbert had made the decision to transfer.
He missed the final two games of the season, then, after briefly deciding to transfer to Florida, Gilbert made his way to Georgia, where he sat out the 2021 season.
However, what Gilbert has done over the offseason has coach Kirby Smart ready to see what is next.
"I expect him to give us an 'A' effort every day. When you give an A-grade effort, you've got the talent that he has, it's a great combination," Smart said. "He's a tremendous athlete. He's had to do some extra conditioning. He was a little heavy for the spring. He's worked really hard on bringing that down. He had a really good year academically, which was a big hurdle. He had to focus on his academics upon coming to us from LSU.
"He got a great opportunity this spring. People forget Darnell (Washington) and Brock (Bowers) were both out. The opportunity he got, he seized that opportunity to grow and develop. He will have to continue to do that to be a major contributor for us. He's bought into doing that, being a team player. There's a lot more to being a tight end than just catching the ball. He's bought into that."
Gilbert played on the first team during the G-Day game, alongside quarterback Stetson Bennett. The pair teamed up for a 16-yard touchdown over the middle, an acrobatic touchdown catch in the back of the end zone and a 27-yard strike on a crossing route to help set up the game-winning field goal.
Bennett said Gilbert is starting to round into the kind of player everyone has expected him to become.
"He understands getting open, space, scramble drill, and some guys just don't," Bennett said. "Some guys are freak athletes and they just stop whenever you're scrambling, and he's working to find the space. He's still still getting everything down because it's almost like he just got here, but he's a really good football player."
Gilbert, who has run a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, has a potential to make the Georgia tight end corps a nightmare for opposing defenses.
The 6-4, 230-pound Bowers, who was Georgia's leading receiver in 2021 with 56 catches, 882 yards and 13 touchdowns, was named an All-American as a freshman. Washington caught 10 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown.
If Georgia runs two or three tight ends onto the field at one time, a linebacker or a safety could find themselves lined up 1-on-1 with Gilbert, which linebacker Nolan Smith said would be a mismatch for anyone.
"He's quick. He's fast. He's physical," Smith said. "He's just coming along great in our program, and he fits the scheme and the mold very well for tight ends."