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Ten@10: Gurley, Conley latest NFL prodigies from UGA

Georgia coach Mark Richt talks to Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff about one of his players at UGA Pro Day. Richt has had 75 players drafted by the NFL, second only to LSU in the SEC. (AJC photo).

Georgia coach Mark Richt talks to Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff about one of his players at UGA Pro Day. Richt has had 75 players drafted by the NFL, second only to LSU in the SEC. (AJC photo).

THE TEN AT 10:

1. It’s interesting the way something that seems nothing but positive on its own merit can get twisted into a negative. Take Georgia’s success at producing NFL players.

The NFL Draft gets under way in Chicago later this week. As usual, the Bulldogs are expected to be a big part of it. Under coach Mark Richt, the Bulldogs have had 75 players drafted since he coached his first season in 2001. Only LSU, with 79, has had more players drafted during that same span in the SEC. And way more UGA players have gone on to make a living in the NFL via free agency and the like.

But no sooner does that stat get cited than comes the retort, “so why hasn’t Georgia won a national championship?”

It’s true, Georgia hasn’t won a national championship in 35 years. Hasn’t even played for one since 1982.  But when one considers what is supposed to be the college mission – as defined in one dictionary: “the activity of educating or instructing to impart knowledge or skill” – should the lack of championship teams be considered such an abject failure?

When that philosophy is applied to this particular sport, the mission would seem to be to teach these players how to play football at a high level. Richt touched on that subject this past Thursday when he was talking with reporters in Rome before speaking at the UGA Days event there.

“I think Georgia has been a draw for guys that want to play (in the NFL),” he said. “It’s a great place and we feel like we do a good job of teaching fundamentals and running systems, NFL-type systems, offense, defense, special teams. We think when guys come through our program and start getting interviewed by NFL head coaches and GMs and position coaches, they know our guys really understand the game. When they watch film of our guys they watch them actually do things they’re going to be asked to do in the NFL instead of having to guess. I think they see what they need to see.”

The growing consensus is that Todd Gurley will become the first running back to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in the last two years. (Photo by USA Today)

The growing consensus is that Todd Gurley will become the first running back to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in the last two years. (Photo by USA Today)

2. NFL teams seem to like what they’ve been seeing out of Georgia’s latest draft sensation – Todd Gurley.

Even though the Bulldogs’ junior tailback is coming off a season in which he missed seven games due to suspension and injury and continues to recover from postseason knee surgery, Gurley has become one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2015 draft. It is now the consensus prediction that he will become a first-round draft pick.

That’s really saying something considering a running back has not been selected in the first round the last two years. The debate now is which team can afford to take Gurley with his first-year availability in question. Gurley’s handlers are now talking about him being available to play as early as September this fall.

Gurley certainly gave NFL executives something to think about when he released THIS VIDEO on Instagram of him running full speed on a treadmill this past weekend. Keep in mind, this is roughly just four months after undergoing ACL reconstructive surgery. Mind-blowing, really, when you think about it.

3. Gurley is one of at least half-dozen Bulldogs who could hear their name called during the three-day draft that begins Thursday. Wide receiver Chris Conley is expected to be second Georgia player off the board.

ConleyCombine(JoeRobbinsGetty)

Chris Conley has been turning heads both with his NFL Combine performances and his acting/directing skills. (Getty Images)

Conley famously blew up the NFL combine with his record-breaking performance back in February. Conley established a combine record for wide receivers in the vertical leap, while also posting the second-best broad jump and third-fastest 40-yard dash time among his position group.

That’s expected to get Conley paid this year. But Conley is drawing as much national notice for his personality and off-field accomplishments as he is for his NFL potential. In fact, just this week Conley was profiled by RollingStone magazine.

In a Q&A therein, Conley mentions that he expects to be drafted by the third or fourth round. But regardless of when he is taken and how long he plays, it seems a virtual certainty that Conley will end up with some semblance of a career in Hollywood.

“You know, football ends one day for everyone,” Conley tells RollingStone. “Whether it’s 2-3 years down the road or after a 15-year career in the league, you’re still gonna have to do something with your life. So it’s not bad to have a fallback plan when you’re ready to go into the real world.”

Dominique Wilkins and Hugh Durham get reacquainted during the "Dominique Belongs to Us" premiere earlier this month at Ventanas in Atlanta. (ESPN photo)

Dominique Wilkins and Hugh Durham get reacquainted during the “Dominique Belongs to Us” premiere earlier this month at Ventanas in Atlanta. (ESPN photo)

4. “Dominique Belongs to Us,” the ESPN documentary on the life and career of basketball great Dominique Wilkins, made its national television debut Monday night. I didn’t watch it then, but I had the good fortune of being able to view a screener’s copy last week. ESPN actually premiered the movie on April 14 in Atlanta at Ventanas, where it was attended by a who’s who of Georgia basketball personalities.

It’s part of the SEC Storied series that ESPN produces and will be televised a bunch, so I won’t bog you down with details here. But, in a word, I thought it was “fascinating.”

The story focuses on how Wilkins’ decision to spurn North Carolina and N.C. State in order “to create his own legacy” at Georgia in 1979 affected his relationship with the people of his adopted hometown of Washington, N.C., where he led the high school to a couple of state championships. You can see a trailer HERE.

5. But, for me, every time I have cause to revisit that time when Dominique came through UGA, I always end up marveling about the job coach Hugh Durham was able to do when he showed up at Georgia from Florida State in the 1970s.

Vern(UGA)

Remember this guy? Vern Fleming came from the Big Apple to play for Hugh Durham at Georgia. (UGA photo)

It’s hard to fathom what he was able to do from a recruiting standpoint soon after taking over a program that had virtually no history of success in basketball. Not only was Durham able to convince Dominique to come to UGA from North Carolina, he also got Vern Fleming out of New York and Derrick Floyd out of Miami while convincing the best players in the state such as Terry Fair, Lamar Heard and James Banks to stay at home.

I was talking to Floyd at Lane Creek Golf Club on Monday at the Loco’s tournament benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Athens and he was telling me Durham almost landed Dale Ellis at that time, too. Floyd said Durham followed these players around in the various in the BC Camps of the day and sold them on coming to Georgia and building something new at a place where it had never been done before.

Sure enough, by 1983 Durham had assembled a group that managed to reach the school’s first and only Final Four. And Floyd is convinced that Georgia would have won it all had Wilkins decided to stick around

Will "Turtle" Jackson is one of the latest recruiting successes being claimed by Georgia. (onlineathens.com photo by Richard Hamm)

Will “Turtle” Jackson is one of the latest recruiting successes being claimed by Georgia. (onlineathens.com photo by Richard Hamm)

6. Meanwhile, current Georgia coach Mark Fox is doing his best to build on the foundation left by Durham and Tubby Smith and others since those formative years. And indications he has established a fairly firm footing.

The Bulldogs (21-12) are coming off their second consecutive season of 20 or more wins. That’s just the third time in school history that has been accomplished. And recruiting — while not as eye-popping as those early Durham assemblages — appears to be going well.

Fox was being asked last week at a speaking engagement in Rome whether his 2015 signing class of Michael Edwards, Will “Turtle” Jackson, Derek Ogbeide and E’torrion Wilridge is the best of his watch. And the Bulldogs also have commitments already two highly regarded players for the class of 2016 — guards Tyree Crump of Bainbridge and Jordan Harris of Donalsonville.

Fox credited the success to the overall stability of the program and the recruiting acumen of his assistants, Philip Pearson, Jonas Hayes and Yasir Rosemond.

“The recruiting successes we’re having now is we’ve established ourselves as a successful program,” he said. “I think my assistants have done a terrific job. Those three guys have great chemistry. All three in their own right are very good recruiters. … And we have a product now that we can sell. All those things combined have really helped us.”

The Diamond Dogs are hoping to get pitching ace Robert Tyler back in action this weekend against Florida. (UGA photo by Steven Colquitt)

The Diamond Dogs are hoping to get pitching ace Robert Tyler back in action this weekend against Florida. (UGA photo by Steven Colquitt)

7. Georgia is hopeful it will get pitcher Robert Tyler (forearm) back for the Florida series this weekend. But it could be too little too late as far as the season goes.

The Bulldogs have seen been watching their season slowly wash down the drain the past few weeks. After suffering a sweep on the road at the hands of Auburn this past weekend, Georgia has lost now lost 14 of its last 16 games and now is officially last among the SEC’s 14 teams at 21-23 overall and 6-14 in the SEC.

The SEC tournament takes 12 teams, so the Bulldogs will have to battle Mississippi State and Tennessee for those last spots.

Certainly losing  Tyler and right-hander David Sosebee for most of the season hurt Georgia considerably this season, pitching wasn’t the problem this past weekend on The Plains. The Bulldogs scored only four runs in three games and were 3-for-29 with runners in scoring position against the Tigers. Meanwhile, Auburn averaged just 4.3 runs during the series.

UGA will look to get its bats heated up this weekend with SEC series with nationally-ranked Florida (33-12, 13-8 ). On Saturday, Georgia will honor the 1990 national championship team as they celebrate the 25th year anniversary of winning the SEC’s first national title in baseball.

8. Basketball player Marcus Thornton was chosen male student-athlete of the year and multi-event track and field star Kendell Williams was designated the top female on Monday as UGA held its annual Student-Athlete Awards Banquet at the Classic Center in downtown Athens.

Heptathlon and pentathlon national champion Kendell Williams was honored as UGA's female student-athlete of the year. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

Heptathlon and pentathlon national champion Kendell Williams was honored as UGA’s female student-athlete of the year. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

Swimmers Nic Fink and Maddie Locus announced as Georgia’s nominees to the SEC for the Boyd McWhorter Postgraduate Scholarship, while Conley and tennis player Lauren Herring were nominated for the SEC’s Brad Davis Community Service Postgraduate Scholarship.

The equestrian team and the men’s tennis team were recognized as the recipients of the Faculty Athletics Representative’s award for earning the highest team grade-point averages of 3.40 and 3.26, respectively, during the previous academic year.

Other special award winners included: Nathan Pasha and Gaby Smiley (UGAAA Sportsmanship-Ethics Award), Morgan Justiss (Marilyn Vincent Scholar-Athlete Award), Derek Onken (Dick Bestwick Scholar-Athlete Award), Jill Maloney (Clifford Lewis Leadership Award), Nemanja Djurisic (Dick Copas Leadership Award) and Malcolm Mitchell (Hornsby Howell Community Service Award).

The top student-athlete in each sport was also recognized. They were: D.J. Smith (baseball), Taylor Echols (men’s basketball), Marjorie Butler (women’s basketball), Kate Skoglund (equestrian), Marshall Morgan (football), Jaime Lopez Rivarola (men’s golf), Sammi Lee (women’s golf), Lindsey Cheek (gymnastics), Ty Stewart and Derek Onken (men’s swimming), Maddie Locus and Chantal Van Landegham (women’s swimming), Garrett Brasseaux (men’s tennis), Lauren Herring (women’s tennis),  Kisean Smith (men’s track),  Rachael Doverspike (women’s track), Liliana Rios (soccer), Tiesha Reed (softball) and Gaby Smiley (volleyball).

9. Georgia will not compete in the NCAA Women’s golf tournament for only the second time ever. The Bulldogs found that out Monday night when the NCAA field was announced.

UGA had taken part in every edition of the NCAAs since 1983. In 1982, the year both the AIAW and NCAA held national championships, the Bulldogs chose to play in the final edition of the AIAWs.

UGA will have individual representation in the tournament, however. Junior Manuela Carbajo Ré secured an invitation to compete as an individual in the Raleigh Regional on May 7-9. Carbajo Ré finished in the top-15 individually in five of the Bulldogs’ six events this spring and recorded three top-10 and six top-20 individual finishes in nine tournaments during the 2014-15 season.

“I know she’s excited for the chance to compete for a national championship,” coach Josh Brewer said. “You want to be playing your best golf of the season right now and she’s certainly doing that.”

Carbajo Ré is one of six individuals who will compete individually along with golfers from 18 schools in the regional hosted by N.C. State. In Raleigh, she’ll be able to catch up with the coach who initially recruited her to UGA. Former Lady Bulldogs’ coach Kelley Hester was fired from Georgia before Carbajo Ré arrived. She’s now coaching Furman, which earned an automatic NCAA bid and will be playing in Raleigh as Southern Conference champions.

10. This & that: UGA placed 88 student-athletes on the SEC’s winter academic honor roll, tops among all 14 league institutions. South Carolina was second with 67 and Alabama was third with 66. The honor roll is based upon grades from the 2014 spring, summer and fall terms and a student-athlete must maintain a GPA of 3.00 or above for either the preceding academic year or have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or above at the nominating institution. … Georgia’s Steve Bryant — better known around the athletic department as “Chickenhawk,” received the Chris Patrick Award on Sunday evening at the SEC sports medicine meetings in Opelika, Ala. The honor is given annually to the outstanding athletic trainer in the SEC as chosen by the directors of sports medicine at each league school. … Georgia’s UGA Days speaking tour continues this week with stops in Albany on Tuesday and Augusta on Thursday.


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