THE TEN AT 10
1. Word coming out of Georgia’s football complex is that the Bulldogs’ “229 Boys” – Malcolm Mitchell, Jay Rome and Justin Scott-Wesley – have progressed nicely in their rehabilitations from leg injuries and are now working out full speed with the rest of the team in summer conditioning and practices. This is good news and, if it holds true through preseason camp, is a big deal for the Bulldogs’ offensive fortunes in 2014.
High offensive production has been almost taken for granted the past couple of seasons under the direction of quarterback Aaron Murray. Now it’s Hutson Mason’s show, and he has already proven capable of keeping the sticks moving.
However, you’re only as good the weapons surrounding you. And while having tailback Todd Gurley back in the fold along other talented running backs and wideouts, I see the healthy return of Rome and Mitchell as paramount to Georgia’s success. Most people point to Mitchell, the dynamic play-making flanker, as the most important piece. And while the Bulldogs certainly have other exceptional targets at the receiver position (Michael Bennett, Chris Conley) they don’t have anybody quite like Mitchell, who can take the short to mid-range isolation play to the house. But I’m not sure if Rome’s return might not be even more crucial.
2. First of all, there just isn’t enough experience at the tight end position. More specifically, there is zero experience behind Rome, who missed spring practice after having a screw surgically inserted in his troublesome left foot. Behind him is redshirt freshman Jordan Davis and true freshmen signees Jeb Blazevich and Hunter Atkinson.
Now it’s not like outgoing tight end Arthur Lynch wasn’t appreciated – he was voted first-team All-SEC after all – but I’m not certain people altogether grasp the contributions he made on almost every down. Not only was he a better-than-serviceable receiving tight end (30 catches, 459 yards, 5 TDs), he was formidable blocker, which is such bonus when you like to run the tailback like Georgia does.
In Rome, the Bulldogs have a better pass-catcher and route-runner than Lynch who also has the size (6-foot-6, 254 pounds) to be able to seal the corner on run plays. And while Rome’s young understudies have both size and receiving skills, it’s doubtful they’ll initially have the ability to do both well in the dual-threat role Georgia requires to be an effective pro-style offense.
That’s why the Bulldogs have been so slow and deliberate getting Rome, who’s left foot issues had become chronic, back on the field. And that’s why Georgia developed a hybrid-tight end role for fullback Quayvon Hicks. They’re bound and determined to set an edge for Gurley and company. And when defenses load up for that, the play-action fake, seam route to the tight end sure does work well.
3. Speaking of college football, we all know the 2014 season is fast approaching. But the unofficial start may be closer than you think. The annual SEC Football Media Days event is set to start even earlier than usual this year. The four-day talk fest begins on July 14 at the Wynfrey Hilton Hotel in Birmingham. But we’ll have to wait a little longer to hear from the Bulldogs. They’re not scheduled to take the podium until the conference’s final day on Thursday, July 17.
As always, the conference will begin with opening remarks from SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. That should be particularly interesting this year, given the climate in Division I athletics and FBS. I imagine he’ll have a lot more to say about “autonomy” and the possible secession of the five power conferences from the NCAA in football.
Slive will be immediately followed by Auburn and head coach Gus Malzahn. The rest of the schedule looks like this: July 14 – Florida and Vanderbilt; July 15 – South Carolina, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Tennessee; July 16 – Steve Shaw (director of officials), Missouri, LSU, Arkansas; July 17 – Georgia, Ole Miss, Alabama, Kentucky.
4. My phone lit up this past Friday night after Kolton Houston posted a tweet on his Twitter account that made more than a few folks think he was leaving UGA to become a Navy SEAL.
“Im sorry dawg nation. Im hanging the cleats up. My football career is temporarily over. I am now focusing on being a Navy Seal #BUDs,” Houston tweeted from is account @KoltonHouston75.
It didn’t take long to determine that Houston was just having a little fun. Turns out Georgia was having some Navy SEALS come in to train with and consult the football team this past weekend. They were part of an outfit known as “The Program,” which is contracted by college and pro teams to put athletes through their specialized leadership and conditioning training regimen.
Judging from the many tweets that followed, the training seemed to make an impact on the Bulldogs.
“Been training with the Navy Seals for the past (few) days and I must say that I Am a Leader and will be Mentally and Physically ready!,” cornerback Sheldon Dawson tweeted from @SBDAWGson2
From @_Flight_31 (Conley): “Volition: an act of making a choice or decision ; also : a choice or decision made. Being willing to sacrifice for something.”
5. Pretty good move on Georgia’s part to sign Terryuana Godwin to a women’s basketball scholarship. It’s not that Godwin is going to catapult coach Andy Landers’ program to new heights. Maybe she will. But Godwin is the older sister of 5-star-rated recruiting prospect Terry Godwin of Hogansville. He’s already committed to the Bulldogs but, as might be expected, is continually fielding overtures from other programs across the South and beyond.
Terryuna accompanied her brother, who was attending the Mark Richt 7-on-7 camp, to Athens this past Friday. During that time the 5-foot-6 point guard and her parents met with Landers. He offered her a scholarship and she accepted on the spot.
Terryuna averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds at Butler Community College in Kansas this past season. She was a star at LaGrange High, where she averaged more than 20 points per game while leading her team to a 21-3 record.
Olivia Godwin cautioned that basketball scholarship is not necessarily a deal-sealer for the Bulldogs. But she did admit she liked the idea of having them both on the same campus.
“I don’t think this is going to affect Terry at all,” their mother said. “He’s 100-percent committed to Georgia. And if he decides to change, then that’s on him. Every parent I know would love for their children to be at the same school. I know I would. But if that doesn’t happen, we’re all going to support Terry in his decision. We’re going to stand behind him 100 percent. So it will be his choice in the end.”
6. Georgia’s track and field teams posted their best combined finish in school history at NCAA Outdoor Championships this past weekend. The women finished fifth (their third-best finish and best since 1999) and men were sixth. Their previous best was third and 10th in 1999.
That was a continuation of what has been a strong year for coach Wayne Norton’s teams. They won a combined five individual national titles and the women’s team also finished third during the indoor season.
7. Georgia’s strong showing in track should help it when the Learfield Standings come out later this week. The Bulldogs entered the weekend 19th in the nation in the rankings, which will determine what school claims the Director’s Cup for best overall athletic program. Only track and baseball are left to be computed into those rankings.
UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity has said often the goal is for the Bulldogs to finish among the Top 10 every year. That’s not going to be possible this year, with poor showings football, men’s basketball and baseball and less-glorious-than-usual outcomes in men’s and women’s tennis and golf.
Only Florida (third) and Kentucky (16th) from the SEC are ahead of Georgia in the current standings. Texas A&M was ranked 20th before claiming the women’s national championship in track this past weekend, so it will move past the Bulldogs. Alabama (21st) and LSU (29) will pull points from baseball. But Vanderbilt (52) and Ole Miss (67), who are still competing in the College World Series, are too far back to overtake Georgia..
8. Georgia had what was for it a record number of players entered into the field of last year’s Masters Tournament, including eventual champion Bubba Watson, who also won in 2012. Chances are pretty good that the Bulldogs will improve on that next April.
With the second-place finish of 2001 alum Erik Compton in this past weekend’s U.S. Open, UGA already has three spots locked up for 2015. Brendon Todd, who finished 17th this past weekend, is already in the field thanks to his victory in the Bryon Nelson Championship last month.
There were eight Bulldogs in the U.S. Open field alone and there are at least 10 UGA lettermen actively competing on the PGA Tour this year. So between all the different ways there are to earn a spot in the Masters field, including PGA Tour and world rankings, odds are very good that Georgia could get in at least two more players.
In fact, to this point in the season, former UGA golfers have won more money on the PGA Tour than any other set of alumni. Bulldogs have totaled more than $18.6 million, which is more than twice as much as second-place Georgia Tech ($8.9 million). UNLV is in third at $7 million.
Compton, of course, is not worried about all that. He’s just ecstatic that he’ll final get to make his first appearance this coming April.
“Lets be honest here twitter….I am very excited to play in my first @The_Masters in 2015,” was the tweet from his @ErikCompton3 Twitter account late Sunday night.
9. A young filmmaker and his wife are reaching out to potential investors to make a movie about former Georgia running back Jasper Sanks.
Producer/director Will Santana, in a YouTube explanation of his project, says that “Inches Away” will be a documentary of “the rise and fall of Jasper Sanks.” It promises to tell the story from the perspectives of former Sanks’ former coaches and teammates, as well as Sanks himself.
Sanks was the No. 1-ranked running back prospect in the country when he signed with the Bulldogs out of Columbus in 1998. But after losing and regaining his eligibility at UGA, he was dismissed from the team by coach Mark Richt with two regular-season games remaining in his junior year. He never realized his dream of playing professional football.
Anyway, as you’ll see from the YouTube links, they’re still trying to raise money for this project. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.
I caught up with Sanks in 2011 when Isaiah Crowell was coming to UGA as a highly-touted freshman. You can read that Q&A HERE.
10. Don’t think Wayne Montgomery would have made a difference for Georgia’s men’s tennis fortunes this past season? The South African star was slated to enroll at UGA in January and compete for the Bulldogs in the recently-completed outdoor season. But he was unable to meet academic admission requirements and his enrollment was delayed this summer.
Now stateside, the freshman competed this past week in the Tennis Valley Open Championship, a USTA- sanctioned tournament in Chattanooga, and he won it in impressive fashion. Seeded second, Montgomery defeated Vanderbilt’s No. 1 seed Gonzalez Austin, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, in the final on Sunday. Austin is an All-American who played No. 1 for the Commodores this past season and finished ranked 19th nationally.
Suffice it to say, optimism will be high for the Bulldogs next season as Montgomery moves into the top of their singles lineup. They were ousted in the NCAA quarterfinals this past season.