Molding JC Latham: How George Hegamin inspired “Trench King”

When Tennessee Titans rookie offensive tackle JC Latham arrived at IMG Academy, the premier prep boarding school for high school athletes in the country, as a raw 15 year old defensive linemen, it was offensive line coach George Hegamin that took him under his wing. Latham had left his hometown state of Wisconsin behind for the greener pastures of Bradenton, Florida to attend IMG in hope of better positioning himself to achieve his dream of one day playing in the NFL. Coach Hegamin arrived one month later as a former Super Bowl winning offensive lineman.

What transpired from there was a life-changing journey that saw Hegamin help Latham make a successful switch from defensive end to offensive tackle. With IMG Academy head coach Kevin Wright approving and helping oversee the change, Hegamin took Latham on a path to greatness that would eventually lead him to being the Titans’ No. 7 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft.

As Hegamin’s influence on Latham’s personal and professional life grew, his guidance eventually gave birth to Latham self-dubbing himself “The Trench King.” This is the story of how Latham pushed himself to achieve greatness. This is the story of “The Trench King,” as told through the eyes of Hegamin himself.

This is part two of four in my ongoing “Molding JC Latham” series. Part one was an exclusive interview with former IMG head coach Kevin Wright. Part Three is currently live on Youtube, an All-22 watch along of Latham’s SEC Championship Game film with coach Wright on The Music City Audible with Justin Graver (@TitansFilmRoom) and I. Part four is to come…

JM: JC Latham arrived at IMG Academy as a defensive end following his freshman season at Catholic Memorial. He was still playing defense as of his junior season at IMG. What were your initial thoughts and impressions?

George Hegamin: My initial thought was that he was a 15 year old kid who looked every bit the part of a really good high school, possibly a really good collegiate defensive end. As we began getting to know him and understanding his temperament, I just knew he would be what he turned out to be on the other side of the ball [at offensive tackle].

I went to coach Kevin Wright, who was our head coach at IMG at the time. I told coach Wright that I honestly believe we have a future first-round draft pick playing out of position at defensive end. He asked me “who?” and I said JC Latham.

We were short on offensive linemen at the time. Coach Wright was on board. He told me that if I thought I could do it [help him make the change], let’s go ahead and make him an offensive tackle. Coach Wright gave me his blessing.

I went to JC Latham and had a conversation with him about playing offensive tackle. To his credit, he trusted me. He knew I had success coaching a bunch of former first-round picks before him. He trusted my judgment. He started putting the work in every single day.

JM: You basically answered my next question. I wanted to know what went into the decision to move him to offensive tackle. Regarding that conversation, it sounds like he was immediately receptive to the idea?

George Hegamin: He was. That’s the thing about him. JC and I quickly developed a high-level understanding with one another. We quickly built that trust. Our relationship started blooming. Heck, I had just gotten to IMG myself. I arrived in February and I believe JC got there a month before me in January.

We were both new to the program. The real question was, we knew he was a young kid on our campus that needed to grow up and mature. I took him under my wing. That’s basically what I was asked to do. It’s what I do. I was happy to do it. It was no problem for me at all.

I honestly believe we have a future first-round draft pick playing out of position at defensive end.

We became very close very quickly. I know our relationship helped in his decision making process to embrace the move to offensive tackle. He knew then like he knows now that I’ll always have his best interest at heart.

JM: You quickly compared him to Tyron Smith coming out of USC. This is funny and ironic for Titans fans, because Smith played right tackle at USC and thrived at left tackle for the Dallas Cowboys. Smith actually played his rookie year on the right in Dallas, and moved to the left as a sophomore under-then first-year offensive line coach Bill Callahan. Callahan is now the OL coach in Tennessee that will oversee Latham’s move back to the left, and Callahan himself recently mentioned Smith as an example. What are your thoughts on that?

George Hegamin: You’re exactly right about that. Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. The most interesting part about it was like you said, Tyron Smith played right tackle at USC. He came to the Cowboys and became a perennial Pro Bowler at left tackle. I have a great relationship with Tyron Smith.

He’s very similar to JC Latham. They both understand how to compartmentalize better than most people do. What I mean by that is neither of them allow anything to get in the way of what they’re trying to learn.

Here’s the most impressive part about it. JC has quite frankly had the privilege of having people that understand how to coach the position in his corner. From his time with me at IMG to his time at Alabama, and now he has Bill Callahan with the Tennessee Titans.

JC has been extremely fortunate. He has a wealth of knowledge at his disposal. I don’t think there’s anybody else in the league I would trust with JC Latham other than Bill Callahan. Talk about a perfect scenario.

I’m so excited that he went to the Titans and is getting a chance to work with Callahan. Learning under coach Callahan is a huge opportunity for him however long it lasts. He [JC] should really be counting his blessings. He’s getting an awesome, awesome coach that I have a tremendous amount of respect for.

JM: I’m going to keep taking you down memory lane. You played with the Dallas Cowboys from 1994-97, where you won Super Bowl XXX. Callahan was the Philadelphia Eagles’ OL coach from 1995-97. You went to Philadelphia to play for the Eagles in 1998, and you probably just missed each other because he went to Oakland. You’re plenty familiar with Callahan though, as you said. You touched on coach Callahan being the guy to oversee Latham’s acclimation to the next level, but what do you particularly think about the move back to left tackle after playing on the right for Alabama?

George Hegamin: JC Latham couldn’t have asked for a better scenario or a better coach to help him make the move back to left tackle. Coach Callahan has the reputation of elevating the play of every offensive linemen he’s ever coached. I don’t know of an offensive linemen that has played under coach Callahan that doesn’t think of him as being the best technician in the business. 

He understands X’s and O’s like no other. And more importantly, he understands how to take that information and apply it to how the player is capable of learning and grasping that information.

I don’t think there’s anybody else in the league I would trust with JC Latham other than Bill Callahan.

He’s one of the best, if not the best offensive line coach in the league right now. He understands how to do it. I’m very excited for JC Latham in that regard.

JM: What are the main differences or challenges, if any, you think JC Latham will encounter as he prepares to play left tackle again? He hasn’t done it since IMG, outside of practice reps at Alabama.

George Hegamin: The people are probably going to think I’m biased. I’ve always thought his best position was left tackle. That’s why we put him on the left side at IMG. I’ve always thought that. He’s gotten so much more repetition at left tackle.

Don’t forget, playing left tackle is how he first learned the position. His first exposure to the position was on the left side. It’s how he got recognized as being one of the best recruits in the country. It was Alabama that made him a right tackle.

When he didn’t play left tackle at Alabama after Evan Neal left, I’ll admit I was surprised by that decision. I think left tackle is his best position. Quite frankly, I think he does it way more naturally than he does right tackle.

If there’s any challenge to it, it’s playing left tackle at the professional level. He’ll be going up against guys like Arden Key in practice. He’ll get those experiences at training camp and he’ll have to pick up the speed of the game.

That being said, I understand JC very well. He’s going to lock in. He’s going to get down there and pay attention. He’s going to pick up and learn that scheme rather quickly. He’s going to become great at it.

I’ve always thought his best position was left tackle.

JM: This has been outstanding. In closing, Latham mentioned your name in a post-draft interview. He talked about your relationship with coach Deion Sanders throughout his time at IMG, talking about how cool it was for a high school kid to see his OL coach FaceTiming “Prime Time.” It inspired him to look up to Sanders and other like minded athletes, even giving himself the nickname “Trench King,” because he wanted to be known for something like “Prime Time” was. 

And here you are working with coach Sanders at Colorado now. You’re doing outstanding work with the Buffaloes right now as their Director of Leadership and Engagement. How do you think the experiences you exposed him to helped give birth to the “Trench King?”

George Hegamin: I think the biggest influence it had was this. I told him if he trusted me, I’d always place him around people that did their job at the highest level of life like Deion Sanders has. He could take influence from that and become a great in his own right. That’s where the “Trench King” thing came from.

Prime [Sanders] is one of those people. We’ve been friends and brothers since 1995, when he first joined the Dallas Cowboys. I’m thrilled to be on his [Sanders] staff at Colorado. Our relationship is one where if I’m on the phone talking to a kid, like I used to do with Latham, Sanders wants to know who that kid is and what his makeup is. That happened with JC multiple times, which was his first exposure to Prime.

Prime always wanted to know if I was taking kids under my wing that wanted to achieve special levels of success. He wants these kids to reach our levels. He had no problem stepping right in and sharing information with those kids, even if he didn’t know them. He trusted my word.

When you look at JC Latham, it goes back to what I said earlier about his ability to  compartmentalize. He turns into a completely different person in practice and in games.

That person is now dubbed “The Trench King.”

I told JC Latham this. The most beautiful part about that is now that you’ve dubbed yourself something as prominent as “Prime Time,” now is the time to become that person on the professional level.

I honestly believe he’ll do it. He really believes he’s the “Trench King.” Who am I to argue?

Author: Justin MeloSenior Writer, Interviewer and Podcaster for Broadway Sports covering the Tennessee Titans and NFL draft. For more than five years, Justin Melo has professionally covered all things NFL draft and Titans for The Draft Network, SB Nation and USA Today. Best known for his Interview Series with NFL draft prospects, Justin has interviewed more than 500 NFL players. Co-host of the Music City Audible podcast alongside Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom).

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