By: Wells Dusenbury
Two years ago, Faton Bauta was a run-first quarterback in Brooklyn, New York, where he used his bullish frame, rather than his arm to generate offense.
Now? He's in the SEC as a scholarship quarterback on 7th ranked Georgia, which features one of the country's most prolific pro-style offenses.
Things have certainly changed in a hurry for Bauta.
"You go from New York where people don't really talk about football much. It's more of a basketball state," said Bauta. "Then you go to Florida and then all of the sudden, you go to college."
Bauta's rapid ascension to UGA couldn't have come though without a stop in Florida.
Following his junior season at Poly Prep, Bauta and his family moved down to Florida, where the QB soon enrolled at Dwyer High School.
Under head coach Jack Daniels, the Panthers have always run a pro-style offense and allowed their quarterback to air out the ball, something Bauta wasn't accustomed to.
"I saw glimpses of what he could do early," said Daniels. "But I don't think he had the confidence in his ability and he hadn't been asked to throw a lot."
After some early struggles, Bauta put together a standout senior season, throwing for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns, to just 5 interceptions. Bauta, a 6-foot-3, 225 pound workhorse, utilized his tough running style as well, rushing for nearly 1,800 yards and 8 touchdowns.
In his 17 years as the Panthers' head coach Daniels says he hasn't seen player show as much improvement as Bauta did in one season.
"Nothing like him," Daniels said. "He could run the ball when he first got there, but then he got the confidence and he could make all the throws."
"His throwing is like night and day from when I first saw him."
Despite only one full season of playing quarterback in a pro-style offense, Georgia head coach Mark Richt had seen enough and offered Bauta a scholarship to play QB. The Panther alum signed with the Bulldogs and ended up enrolling early at Athens.
The faith Richt showed in Bauta after just one season should give Bulldog fans plenty to be excited about in their young QB.
Of course, Bauta still has plenty to learn. For the freshman, that couldn't have been more apparent then in his first semester on campus.
"Before the spring even came I was studying the playbook," said Bauta. "I was going over the plays and I thought I had a good grasp of it until spring meetings came. I was sitting there and I didn't even know what was going on."
"It was seriously like a chicken with its head cut off, except I wasn't moving around."
Bauta's gradually gotten the hang got the hang of it, due it large part to finding a mentor in fellow quarterback Aaron Murray.
The redshirt junior has been the Bulldogs' starting quarterback for the past three seasons and has re-written the record books in Athens. Earlier this season, Murray set the all-time Georgia touchdown mark, breaking David Greene's record of 73. Later in the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs' signal caller surpassed former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning for most career touchdowns passes in the SEC with 90.
"You can never stop learning from him," Bauta said. "He's always in here watching film. He's always on the field after practice going over things. I swear, Aaron Murray could call the whole offense from the booth if he wanted to."
"He's a workhorse and I try to be a workhorse and outwork him because I know if I outwork him then I can be just as good or better then him."
After a junior season in which he threw for 31 touchdowns, there's the possibility that Murray could elect to declare for the NFL Draft, meaning Bauta could be in a position to fight for the starting quarterback job in the spring. Even if Murray decides to stay, the Panther alum will have the opportunity to compete for the job after just two years on campus.
Right now though, Bauta says he isn't worried about that, but is focused on continuing to improve as a passer.
"Throwing wise, you can never be satisfied. I'm still not satisfied and I'll probably never be satisfied."
When Murray does leave though, Bauta will have plenty of internal competition for the job. The Bulldogs have a plethora of former high recruits in players like junior Hutson Mason and freshman Christian LeMay. Despite that, Daniels thinks Bauta has a bright future ahead of him at Georgia.
"Faton can throw it and he can do some things with his feet that some of those guys cant do," Daniels said. "You saw what [Jeff] Driskell did at Florida."
"One thing I can guarantee is no one is going to work harder than Faton."
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