- By Steve Hummer
Once you’ve had your name in lights in the butcher’s display, right between the chuck shoulder roast and the jalapeno cheddar burgers, what is left for a young man to accomplish?
The Fromm – as in Jake Fromm, the freshman quarterback for the No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs – is a premade hamburger with bacon, swiss and mushrooms. Just the way he prefers his burgers, his folks told Amy Dean when she launched this savory tribute.
“We wanted to honor him,” said Dean, who with her husband, David, runs The Butcher Shop here in Fromm’s hometown. “He’s just a great kid who has done a lot for all of Houston County.” And when you’re in their business, there can be no higher praise than to say it with meat.
Only 19, with all of six-and-three-quarters games of college experience behind him, Fromm already is becoming something more than just another hometown-kid-made-good in this football-mad slice of Middle Georgia. He is becoming an entrée, a tailgate specialty.
As the Bulldogs creep up the rankings – their profile and their ambitions going national – the quarterback who stepped in when Jacob Eason hurt his knee in the first quarter of the first game and Wally-Pipped the poor incumbent is attracting notice and praise in bulk. As quarterbacks tend to do.
Don’t confine the excitement to his understandably geeked hometown, said Phillip Johnson. “I know they are excited here, but I think it’s bigger than Warner Robins. I think it’s all over,” said the coach of Warner Robins 2011 Little League team that Fromm led to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
It has come as no surprise hereabouts that Fromm stepped in so ably for Eason that he now appears impossible to dislodge. Until further notice, it is Fromm Here to Eternity for the Bulldogs.
As they have gone unbeaten and Fromm was eased into this team’s rush-happy offense, the quarterback has grown into the job at a breakneck pace. Teammates rave about his football intellect and leadership. His father, Emerson, and other people here not related to him, will bite their tongues and quietly resist the thought that this teenager is but a “game manager” or is to be held suspect until he actually rescues the Bulldogs with his arm. He had his first 300-yard passing game last week against Missouri. He’ll make every throw that must be made, they say.
“He only throws it hard enough to get the job done,” he father says. Just watch, you’ll see.
You’ll hear the sentiment wherever you go in the Warner Robins area: Fromm was ready. Ready from the first instant Eason sprained his knee and the freshman hustled into his helmet to finish off Appalachian State.
If not born ready, certainly made ready by an upbringing that emphasized the keenest kind of competition one can find at an early age.
He had in front of tens of thousands in Williamsport, and in front of only slightly more intimate gatherings here, where high school football is bound genetically to the community. Never had the stage seemed too large. Grasping the intricacies of any offense was never going to be an issue, his former offensive coordinator at Houston County High knew. Mike Chastain, now the head coach at Warner Robins High, doesn’t know that Fromm has a photographic memory, but “when he sees something once, he’s got it.”
There is no talking to Fromm now, as Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart keeps him and all the freshmen sequestered from the media. Which is a shame. Because he’s ready (he and dad went over interview techniques when he was only 12, since he was a subject of multiple home runs and great interest at the Little League Series).
They all knew this was coming, they just didn’t know exactly when.
When on TV he saw Fromm enter the App State game, Jason Brett, his baseball coach at Houston County, had one initial thought: “I told my wife, I feel bad for that kid (Eason) because he’s probably never going to get in again. You give (Fromm) an opportunity, he’s going to fight you tooth and nail to keep it.”
Before the season had begun, as Zulema Toms cut his hair, Fromm went into the usual litany about just trying to do his best when he got to Georgia. “Baby,” said Toms, whose son also played on that 2011 Little League World Series team, “if you do your best, you’ll be the starting quarterback before you know it.”
And, for the record, Fromm of course has wonderful hair. “It spikes up real good,” said Toms, as she worked on another customer at the Serenity Salon and Spa.
Johnson, his Little League coach, had predicted Fromm would be starting at Georgia by the fifth game of the season. He had known him from the time he was just a gangly 7-year-old and a relatively high-round draft on the coach-pitch Little League team. “By the time he was eight, he started turning into a beast,” he laughed. He was quite familiar with the kind of accelerated schedule the kid kept.
As Emerson Fromm spent half a day last week introducing a visitor to some of the places and people around Warner Robins that shaped his boy, an almost stereotypical portrait of growing up in Middle Georgia emerged.
It can’t be this simple. It can’t be this pure, right? This must be the work of some hack script writer who trades in the trite.
But Emerson sets a very convincing scene. “With Jake, it’s faith, family, football and hunting,” he said, somewhat dismayed that he couldn’t make the complete thought alliterative.
First stop was the church, where the pastor’s office tilts toward the secular given all the Alabama Crimson Tide artwork on the walls. There’s even a photo of Jake with Nick Saban, shortly after he had committed early to Alabama in October 2015. By the next spring, Fromm had switched to Georgia. With his pastor’s blessings.
Football is a regular part of the Sunday service here, a way to connect with the congregation. After each Georgia victory, Jerry Walls finds himself preaching to the converted. “How ’bout them Jake Fromms?” he’ll ask from the pulpit. The response is always loud applause.
“I just can’t quite say ‘How ’bout them Dogs?’” he said.
The pastor does worry about what the future holds. “Last Sunday, I told (the flock) I’m in a real dilemma. I’m pulling for Jake, and I’m pulling for Alabama. And it looks like there’s a real good possibility the SEC championship is going to be between those two. You got to understand I’m confused.”
Lunch afterward was at Martin’s BBQ, just across from the air base. It’s the same place that catered Georgia’s in-home visit with Jake and his family. Yes, that was catered.
It’s a place where you line up for the brisket, and everyone in line seems to want to ask Emerson about Georgia football and one player in particular. It doesn’t hurt that the owner is a fan. “There was a comment on Facebook, like, ‘Yay, yay, Jake make it to Georgia.’ About how lucky Jake was. I went on there and said Georgia is more lucky they got Jake,” Richard Martin said.
This time of year, with the air turning crisp, the conversation between Emerson and Martin alternated between football and hunting. Off this week as it prepares for Florida, Georgia gave players a free weekend. That meant Jake was planning on coming home for some concentrated bowhunting, three days’ worth if he could manage.
Those who follow the Bulldogs want him up there in that deer stand before facing all the demons that come with playing the Gators. “He won’t think about football at all, that’s his release,” said his father.
Fromm, whose father runs a successful pool construction firm and whose mother, Lee, is a nurse, came to Athens from Warner Robins with certain blue-collar attributes. Georgia knew well what it was getting. The first time Bulldogs offensive coordinator Jim Chaney met Fromm, the kid was still wearing his camo from a morning dove shoot.
Did you know, Emerson said, that last week when the Georgia offensive linemen were doing extra running in penance for some false-start penalties the previous Saturday, their quarterback ran with them?
And did you know that even as he dresses up in a suit and tie every pregame, Fromm wears his father’s old work shoes, the ones dad wore when it was time to pour cement? “In his mind, he’s saying, ‘I’m going to work,’” Emerson said.
Two younger brothers, twins, are playing football now at a different place than Jake, at Warner Robins High. Growing up, they always wondered why they were catching all the spankings and older brother never did.
Welcome, kids, to just another chapter of the Jake Fromm fable, set so perfectly, like a diamond in a ring – or a burger in a bun – here in the heart of Georgia.