ATHENS, Ga. – The day after Georgia’s spring game earlier this year, a walk-on cornerback having just joined the team tweeted a picture of himself in mid-tackle.
(Photo by Dan Evans/UGA Sports Communications)
The tag reads, “Living in a dream.”
Some might call that excited exaggeration for a newbie or mere lip service for a experienced player. But for Tristan Askew, who was both rookie and veteran, it really is the way he sees it.
“It’s just always been a dream to be here,” he said. “I always wanted to walk-on for Georgia.”
On the field, he might just be the best Bulldogs player you’ve never heard of before.
Don’t believe it?
Just ask teammates and coaches, especially the top receivers who’ve had to deal with Askew, his reputation being built this season as that annoying guy in a scout team jersey.
“He can play,” said receiver Michael Bennett. "I mean, he’ll shut you down sometimes."
“He’s a worker, and he worked every single snap on scout team,” Chris Conley said. “He’s going hard. Whether he was right or wrong, he’s going 100 miles an hour. He’s going to try to make a play, and he made a lot of plays. He did really well.”
Off the field, what in the world is Askew doing here?
It’s not that uncommon to hear stories of the non-scholarship player who grows up dreaming of playing for a certain state university. But that university is usually in that player’s state -- or at least in the same general vicinity of the country.
Askew did grow up a Georgia fan, but he did it from about 2,700 miles away. Born and raised in Kent, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, Askew says he followed the Bulldogs mostly because of his father Willie's background.
“My dad is from Georgia,” Askew said. “He got me into Georgia as a young kid. Growing up, I’ve always been a Georgia fan. … When I was a sophomore in high school, I set my goals to be at this school. People didn’t believe in me, but I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to still pursue it.’
“I didn’t go to this school right out of high school, but I’m here now. It’s a blessing. People are proud of me. I’m proud of myself, to be honest.”
As would be imagined with the distance involved, it wasn’t simple for Askew to make this move. It takes some courage and some sacrifice to uproot your life and a successful career at a smaller institution and embrace the unknown.
Starting in high school, when he was a standout quarterback in the Seattle area, Askew received some scattered interest from smaller colleges, but not much. He was only 5-foot-11, about 170 pounds. Those aren’t college quarterback dimensions, but he liked the idea of trying cornerback in college.
At that time, Askew says he looked into walking on at UGA and nearby Washington, but he didn’t have the grades for either place. So he wound up at Eastern Oregon, an NAIA program, where he was an all-conference player – on scholarship.
Soon after his 2012 season ended, Askew was then able to enroll at UGA in the major he wanted that wasn’t offered at Eastern Oregon: Criminal Justice (“I want to be an FBI agent,” said Askew, the son of a police officer.”)
So he left to go across the country to chase his dream, doing so without knowing a soul in Athens or speaking to anyone with UGA’s program. Plus, he’d already played two seasons of college football and redshirted another. So per NCAA transfer guidelines, he would have to sit out the 2013 season, leaving him one remaining year of eligibility in 2014 as a senior for the Bulldogs.
“I wanted to take the chance as just walk on and see where the road takes me,” Askew said. “I had to lose a year of eligibility, but I was like, ‘It’s worth it.’ … I kind of just showed up. The first day of school, to be honest, was awkward. The first day coming in here and getting ready for mat drills was awkward, because I didn’t know anyone. I mean, I knew them from TV and that other stuff.”
“I was still in shock,” he said.
Knowing he wasn't eligible to play in games in 2013, Askew was sure to be on the scout team. But from the time practice started, however, more people began noticing him anyway.
Bennett described it this way: “He definitely pissed a lot of guys off on our offense.”
“Yeah, I really did. I really did for sure,” Askew said with a laugh. “They always want to say, ‘Tristan, you’re going too hard’ and all this. I’m like, ‘I don’t mean to go hard. I’m just trying to work.’ To each his own, but it’s fun. I love it.”
After being named as one of two outstanding defensive walk-on award after spring ball, Askew then repeated that feat, receiving an outstanding scout team honor for the regular season from the coaching staff.
More subtle – and perhaps more significant -- was the inclusion of Askew with the regular rotation cornerbacks in bowl practices this past week. Rather than donning a scout team jersey with some of the other DBs, Askew was rotating into some individual drills with guys like Damian Swann, Shaq Wiggins, Brendan Langley and the other scholarship players.
“He’s a good player,” UGA secondary coach Scott Lakatos said. “He makes a lot of plays out there.”
“Actually, Tristan is a great player. Most people don’t know,” safety Corey Moore said. “When we do 1-on-1s, man, he gets after it. He has stopped some of our best receivers. People look around like, ‘Man, why isn’t this kid playing?’ … I think he’s going to be a player that we can use next year.”
Outside of special teams, is it realistic to think that Askew could contribute on defense as a walk-on who arrived with only one year of eligibility?
Maybe not, but few thought he’d be here to begin with.
“I’m confident in myself to come in for spring and do what I can and help in any way I can,” he said. “Coaches have said to just be ready for spring and ‘I’ll help you on this and that.’ I’m just prepared to see where the road takes me. … All I want to do is just have an opportunity to play at a dream school that I’ve always looked up to.
“It would just be an honor to be on the field.”
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