To put it in football terms, Georgia linebacker Jake Ganus had to pull off a trick play in order to propose to longtime girlfriend Peyton Thomas after the Bulldogs' win against South Carolina on Saturday.
But considering how Ganus crafted his proposal, it’s safe to say that Thomas didn’t mind being the victim of deception.
In fact, "it was absolutely perfect," she said Tuesday afternoon.
So here’s the backstory: Ganus and Thomas have known each other for seven years and have been dating for six.
"It took me a whole year to get her to like me," Ganus chuckled.
They started dating in their sophomore year at Chelsea (Alabama) High School, near Birmingham, and remained together as students at UAB. However, when the Blazers disbanded their football program after last season, Ganus was left without a place to play his senior year.
Luckily, Georgia had lost two starting linebackers and was interested in adding someone who could transfer in and play immediately -- especially when that someone had tallied 24.5 tackles for loss in the previous two seasons. Ganus joined the Bulldogs in January and has started each of the first three games this season.
"For a guy to come in on such short notice and play significant time and be able to get out there and make some calls, get people lined up and all that kind of thing, it is impressive," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He is a seasoned football player."
However, moving away from Alabama also meant he would be away from Peyton -- who will graduate from UAB in the spring -- for the first time since they started dating.
"It was devastating knowing that he was going to be leaving UAB," Thomas said. "We’ve never been apart or anything, and I felt so bad for him and the team and everyone involved. We just felt like God had his arms around us when he ended up at Georgia, because it was just the best-case scenario. Everyone has been so sweet and so welcoming."
That includes Richt, who helped set up Saturday’s trickery.
Ganus told his new coach during preseason camp that he wanted to propose to his girlfriend after one of the Bulldogs' games. They came up with a plan: They would tell Thomas that Ganus had won a fictional "Senior of the Week" award in which family members could gather on the field after the game to take pictures. That’s where Ganus would make his move.
"I had one of my better games. I wasn’t nervous all game," Ganus said of the 52-20 win against South Carolina, in which he led the team with seven tackles. "I wasn’t thinking about that at all. I was completely focused on the game. I think I did a really good job of handling it. I was completely locked in.
"Then when the fourth quarter kind of hit and we were up by 30 and my coach was like, 'All right, you’re done. We’re putting somebody else in.' Then I started getting real nervous."
Ganus’ girlfriend was completely in the dark when their 11 family members began to gather on the field after Georgia’s win. Ganus’ mom, Janene, had held onto the ring throughout the game and snuck it into her son’s hand while taking a picture.
"It was a pretty smooth transition," Ganus said. "She didn’t even see it."
Then he asked Thomas to walk with him to the 50-yard line, where they had taken a picture together shortly after Ganus officially became a Bulldog.
Allow Thomas to tell the rest:
"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I think it’s about to happen' as we were walking to the 50-yard line, because all these cameras were following us and everyone was looking at us," Thomas said. "So he grabbed my hand on the 50-yard line and just told me how much he loved me and I felt all these cameras on me and I just started bawling because it was so exciting. Then he got down on a knee and I was in shock. It didn’t really hit me."
Of course, her answer was yes.
"I’ve known that I would marry him since high school," she said. "It was just a matter of when it happened."
Reality is starting to sink in now, although Ganus and his future wife’s post-college plans remain up in the air. He still wants to give the NFL a shot and will graduate with a degree in business management either next year or in 2017, depending on what happens with pro football. They plan on getting married next summer -- likely June or July -- in Birmingham and will play it by ear after that.
The important thing is that they’ll do it together, adding another happy chapter to their story less than a year after Ganus' football future was very much in question.
"It just really turned into something great, because he’s worked so hard and earned that starting spot, and now we’re getting married," Thomas said. "It’s been an exciting year, for sure."