Since returning from a four-game suspension, former Seminole County star Bacarri Rambo has taken a bit to shake the rust off following last year’s breakout season that saw him snag an SEC-leading eight interceptions at safety for UGA. Rambo, however, has found his groove once again and got his first pick of the year two weeks ago at Florida, followed by seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble last week vs. Ole Miss.

Since returning from a four-game suspension, former Seminole County star Bacarri Rambo has taken a bit to shake the rust off following last year’s breakout season that saw him snag an SEC-leading eight interceptions at safety for UGA. Rambo, however, has found his groove once again and got his first pick of the year two weeks ago at Florida, followed by seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble last week vs. Ole Miss.

By Seth Emerson

SPECIAL TO THE HERALD

Looking Ahead

WHO: No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC).

WHAT: UGA can punch ticket to SEC title game with victory.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Auburn, Ala.

TV: ESPN2.

RADIO: Albany— 1450 AM or 103.5 FM; Americus — 98.7 FM or 1390 AM; Donalsonville — 106.3 FM; Moultrie 93.9 FM or 1300 AM.

LINE: Bulldogs by 15 points.

ATHENS — Bacarri Rambo was walking to the training room in the Georgia football facility last week when a plaque caught his eye.

It heralded the program’s all-time leader in interceptions.

“What’s his name? Jack Scott? Jake Scott? I saw one of his plaques and saw he had 16 (interceptions),” Rambo said. “That would be pretty nice if I got three more.”

Rambo, a senior who sits at 14 career picks, said it with a wistful smile, as if knowing his time was running out. But then he added his own asterisk.

“The only thing about Scott, he played from 66-68. He did it in, what, three years?” Rambo said. “Shoot, it took me four years.”

And for awhile, the Donalsonville native was sidetracked. But he appears back on track now.

Just go back to the end of last season when Rambo was on top of his game: Then a junior, he was named an AP All-American after racking up an SEC-leading eight interceptions. He sent his name in to the NFL Draft advisory committee, expecting to hear back enough to validate turning pro.

But before the Outback Bowl, Rambo didn’t get the NFL Draft grade he wanted. So he returned to school, figuring his senior year would up his stock. Then came the spring, when news broke that Rambo was facing a four-game suspension for a second violation of UGA’s student-athlete drug policy. According to Rambo’s high school coach at Seminole County, Alan Ingram, the senior safety told Ingram that the second offense occurred when Rambo mistakenly ate brownies laced with marijuana while on spring break — then failed a random drug test once he returned to campus.

Rambo did sit out Georgia’s first four games this season, and when he returned he looked rusty. The play that signified that came in his first game back against Tennessee when Rambo broke for an interception. He timed it wrong, and the result was a completion for the Volunteers and a long gain.

Scott Lakatos, the secondary coach at Georgia, also points to a near-interception against South Carolina.

“Anybody that misses games is gonna take awhile to recover,” Lakatos said. “That’s the issue when people get suspended or they get injured for a long time. They don’t just come right back in and hit on all cylinders right off the bat. It just doesn’t work that way. That’s why you have practice. That’s why you play games and work yourself into a better situation.

“When he first came back, the interception he almost made against Tennessee, the interception he almost made against South Carolina — I don’t know if he would’ve made them or wouldn’t have. But he’d probably have a better chance if the same plays were to happen right now.”

And Rambo showed that against Florida two weeks ago and last week against Ole Miss.

As the first half wound down, the Gators were driving near the end zone. Rambo remains on the field for goal-line situations because — in addition to his athletic ability — he is a physical player. So as he was eyeing Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel from just beyond the goal line, he rolled to the sideline, looking for a receiver. Rambo stepped in front of a pass and picked it off — finally notching his first interception of 2012.

“He just did a good job of breaking on the quarterback and making that pick,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I don’t know how smart it was to take it out (of the end zone). But it was a good play.”

Rambo said he hoped to flash some of his talent carrying the ball from his days playing offense at Seminole County on the interception return against Florida, but it wasn’t to be.

I was what, a tackle away?” Rambo said. “I wanted to show you all the offensive skills.”

But Rambo still had another big play in him, only it wasn’t a pick. During the fourth quarter, he recorded the first sack of his career, helping derail a crucial Florida drive. Rambo said he studied film and learned how to time it the right way, then it was about waiting for the signal from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham to make the safety blitz.

“I was just waiting for coach Grantham to call the play,” Rambo said. “He called it at the right time. Because it looked like they were about to run a screen, and once I got through there, there was nobody to block me.”

Then last week against Ole Miss, Rambo had another big game, finishing second on the team in tackles with seven and forcing a fumble to go along with another sack.

Richt has noticed Rambo coming alive more since his return.

“Even in practice, he’s making more plays,” Richt said.

Rambo peppers his comments with praise for his coaches, and talks about how much time he’s spent in the film room and improved his technique.

“I’m becoming more of a student of the game now,” he said. “I used to do things — but didn’t know why I did them. But now I can play a certain coverage, and I know why I’m playing them because it also helps me to know where everyone else is gonna be.

“All the interceptions last year just came from learning what to do and being in the right spot. Because when coach Grantham and the coaching staff’s first year, I was the same player, I just didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t play full speed. When the second year came, I knew where to be, and it just allowed me to make plays. This year, the game slowed down; I can look at one receiver and I can see what he’s doing (or) I can see what the other receiver’s doing.”

While on suspension, Rambo said he would spend his time hanging out with junior linebacker Alec Ogletree — a fellow suspended starter. Late on Fridays, while the rest of the team was either traveling or headed to the Athens hotel they stay at, the pair would go to the practice facility and work out.

“We had to stick together during that process and help one another out,” Rambo said. “When one of us was getting down, we had to have the other guy come pick us up, just know that we weren’t gonna be out the whole season. It was just a certain amount of games. We had to keep fighting. We were working out together, running, trying to stay in shape, so when the time came we weren’t missing a step.”

As it turns out, Rambo was a bit off at first. But the hope now is that he’s back into the form that made him an All-American — and could lead to him breaking that school interception record.

“I can still do those things like last year,” Rambo said.