ATHENS - Instincts are a big part of football. Vanderbilt's Greg Billinger knows this.
Billinger, a 2006 Parkview graduate, was a highly recruited defensive lineman and originally made a verbal commitment to play at Georgia. As the recruiting process continued, however, he decided to make the journey to Nashville and play for Vanderbilt.
"I love the people here at Vandy," Billinger said. "I came here because of the education and the possibility that I would play early, which I did in my freshman year. I don't regret it at all."
Both parties have benefited from Billinger's decision. Once bottom feeders of the Southeastern Conference, the Commodores have evolved into contenders in the SEC East. Coming into Saturday's game at Georgia, the Commodores were nationally ranked at No. 22 and tied for the division lead.
Playing in front of family, friends and former coaches, the junior defensive tackle played a huge part in helping Vandy nearly come back and beat the Bulldogs. Midway in the third quarter with a 21-7 lead, Georgia had the ball on its own 23 and faced a second-and-8.
Matthew Stafford dropped back to pass and Billinger stepped in the passing lane and batted the ball, resulting in an interception by Myron Lewis. That turnover led to a Vandy score to cut the Georgia lead to 21-14 and turn the momentum in favor of the Commodores.
Just like his decision to change from Georgia to Vanderbilt, Billinger credited his instincts.
"I forget what stunt we were running on that play but sometimes I get an instinct on where the ball is going," Billinger said, who finished with five tackles to up his season total to 26. "Once you get a lot of balls thrown over you, you get a feel of where it's going to go."
Collins Hill graduate T.J. Greenstone joined Billinger along the Commodore defensive front last year. Spending most of his time on the scout team, Greenstone quickly rose in the ranks of the depth chart and has seen plenty of action this year, playing in five games with 16 tackles.
Lining up next to Billinger, the pair helped bolster a defensive front that was once regarded as one of the weakest in the conference.
"We are getting better every year," Greenstone said. "We're starting to get the athletes and we play fast and smart."
Greenstone, now a redshirt freshman, was looked at by Georgia during his recruitment but was told he was too small. Saturday's game was a homecoming for the former Eagle standout and a chance to show his family, friends, coaches and the UGA staff that he can play at the D-1 level.
"I'm disappointed right now," Greenstone said after the 24-14 loss. "I thought I could've played better. I had a lot of people here and I had to tell them 'I'm sorry.'"
Despite his disappointment, Greenstone still finished with assists on two tackles while putting pressure on Stafford, especially in the second half.
"I had a chance to catch a couple of one-on-one blocks and was able to use my speed and quickness," Greenstone said.
The contribution made by the pair of Gwinnett alums is a big part of the reason Vanderbilt is no longer considered an easy win.
"I know both of them are hard-nosed, tough players and they give it their all on the inside," Vandy head coach Bobby Johnson said. "That's a tough man's place to play."
And on Saturday, Billinger and Greenstone showed just how tough they were in front of 92,746 Bulldog fans, a group they were once part of.