Ten@10: Georgia’s Ray Drew gets shot at NFL dream

Remember this guy? This was Ray Drew posing for his AJC Super 11 portrait in 2010. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Remember this guy? This was Ray Drew posing for his AJC Super 11 portrait in 2010. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

THE TEN AT 10:

1. Well, it wasn’t exactly the Georgia career that everyone envisioned for Ray Drew. But regardless, the former 5-star phenom landed a free-agent deal with the Miami Dolphins and is going to have an opportunity to fulfill his dream of becoming an NFL player.

“Fins up!” Drew tweeted shortly after he got the call on Saturday.

Drew was fired up when I finally caught up with him this past Sunday.

“I’m very happy,” Drew told me. “I’m glad I was given an opportunity to showcase what I can do. I can now get back to what I use to do and that’s play end in a 4-3 (defense). It’s warm, I have family there, and it’s not too far away from home, so I’m very happy. I’m just grateful to the Dolphins organization for giving me a chance.”

Drew never did really find his fit with the Bulldogs. He came to Georgia from Thomas County Central High as a 6-5, 250-pound end and was immediately moved to outside linebacker by former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He had two largely unproductive seasons playing there in reserve roles before making the transition to a down lineman.

Drew found his finally footing as a defensive tackle and part-time end. He started 18 of the final 26 games he played in and had 7 sacks over his final two seasons. As it worked out, Drew played for four different position coaches in four years (Grantham, Rodney Garner, Chris Wilson and Tracy Rocker), so he never really perfected his technique. He finished his career with 18 starts in 46 games with 113 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and 36 pressures.

It was a productive career, for sure, but not what was envisioned for him when Georgia won a high-profile recruiting battle with the likes of FSU, Alabama, Auburn and Florida.

Receiver Michael Bennett (L) and quarterback Hutson Mason are also hoping to catch on with an NFL team via free agency. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Receiver Michael Bennett (L) and quarterback Hutson Mason are also hoping to catch on with an NFL team via free agency. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

2. Drew was one of three Bulldogs who ended up with free-agent deals after the NFL Draft concluded this past Saturday. Also earning their opportunities that way were center David Andrews (Patriots) and defensive end Toby Johnson (Titans). I wouldn’t be surprised at all if all three of those guys earned roster spots.

Meanwhile, quarterback Hutson Mason on Thursday will get a tryout with the Miami Dolphins. If the NFL doesn’t work out, I wouldn’t be surprised if another league doesn’t come calling Mason. The five-year man out of Marietta had a solid senior season for the Bulldogs in his only year as the starter. In a run-oriented offense, he completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 2,168 yards with 21 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. More importantly, he led Georgia to wins in 10 of 13 games.

And receiver Michael Bennett, who was generating a great deal of interest before his ACL injury in the Belk Bowl, has had a lot of contact with teams. But they’re all waiting until he’s completely healthy to bring him in for workouts. Bennett expects that to be sometime this summer, probably late June.

3. So all-in-all, it was a solid year for the Bulldogs in regards to the NFL. Highlighted by No. 10 overall pick Todd Gurley, Georgia had five players selected this year’s draft. Receiver Chris Conley was the second Bulldog off the board, going 76th overall to the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round on Friday night.

The St. Louis Rams made Todd Gurley one happy man this past Thursday. (USA Today photo)

The St. Louis Rams made Todd Gurley one happy man this past Thursday. (USA Today photo)

Inside linebacker Ramik Wilson was taken with the 19th pick in the fourth round (118th pick overall) by the Chiefs, defensive back Damian Swann went 167th overall pick (31st in the fifth round) to the New Orleans Saints, and the Indianapolis Colts picked inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera with the 31st pick of the sixth round (207th overall).

So how does that stack up?

Well, Georgia was tied for fourth among SEC teams in players selected. Surprisingly, considering their struggles of the past couple of seasons, the Florida Gators led the way with eight. Alabama (7) and Missouri (6) were next, while Arkansas and Mississippi State like Georgia had five.

By my count, that’s 80 players who have been drafted to the NFL during the Mark Richt era. That includes the late Paul Oliver, who was taken in the supplemental draft of 2007. UGA doesn’t officially count that.

4. One last thing on the draft: I didn’t catch this one particular interview of Gurley initially the night of the draft when he became the first running back in three years selected in the first round. But I thought it was notable in the fact that Gurley showed a rare glimpse of emotion when he was asked about all he had to overcome in his journey to the podium in Chicago last Thursday night.

And speaking of Gurley, the Rams announced that Georgia’s former No. 3 would be wearing the number 30 for St. Louis. Talk about cruel. That was the number Zac Stacy was wearing before they traded him away in the wake of Gurley’s selection.

5. “Hotty C-Roby,” they’re saying on social media.

That’s C-Rob, as in Christian Robinson. And the Georgia Bulldog is now an Ole Miss Rebel. Hence, the play on the Rebels’ battle cry of “Hotty Toddy.”

Robinson

Robinson

I saw Robinson – one of my all-time faves as a football interviewee – at Augusta National while I was covering the Masters last month. I unexpectedly ran into under the Big Oak. He was attending as a guest of the Knox family and had a clubhouse pass.

At that time, Robinson had already left Georgia as a defensive graduate assistant. Asking him about that in Augusta, Robinson explained to me that he’d been in football a long time and was just having an inkling to do something else. The plan was to head to Nashville and to enter the business world.

Well, people change their minds, and Robinson did, too. He explained himself in a Facebook post:

It’s been a fun journey here in Athens the past few years. I don’t think I can express how much this town, state and people mean to me. Georgia is my home and will always be where I grew up. It was hard to make some decisions to move on, but I know where my heart is and it’s in college athletics. After some time away it was easy to see that I’ve learned too much to just set it down. There’s no question I will miss being in Athens, but I know I can make a difference in this sport so it’s too soon to let that go.

Robinson started his new job as a graduate assistant at Ole Miss this past week. Now re-committed to coaching, look for the Bulldogs’ former linebacker to rise fast through the ranks.

6. I really enjoyed getting a chance to catch up with members of Georgia’s 1990 national championship baseball team this past weekend. That group was honored on the occasion of their 25th anniversary of that accomplishment before the Florida game at Foley Field on Saturday.

About 90 percent of the members of that squad were able to make it back for the festivities, including coach Steve Webber and first baseman/DH/team spokesman Brian Jester.

“Everybody looks the same,” said Jester, now an assistant athletic director at Binghamton University in New York. “The guys looked good. They’re doing well, they’re professionals. Bruce Chick has seven kids. He’s a pastor at a church in Virginia. A couple of them have grandkids. (Mike) Rebhan had kids when he was here, so every time I see him he’s holding a baby. It was like we didn’t miss a beat.”

Webber had not had a chance to reunion with his former players since that magical season in which the Bulldogs shocked the baseball world by winning 52 of 71 games and conquering the College World Series in a championship game victory over Oklahoma State. Webber has spent the past 18 seasons coaching professional baseball, the last two as pitching coach for the Houston Astros’ AAA squad. But he has taken a year off and is living in Smyrna with his wife Pam, where they dote on their three grandchildren.

“I just thought it was time this stage of my life to back off a little bit, take a year and sort things out and decide whether I want to get back in the game in some capacity,” said Webber, who coached the Bulldogs for 16 seasons and went 500-403 from 1981-96.

As for seeing his ’90 guys, Webber beamed. “They had a reunion in 2000, but I couldn’t make it because of my commitment to the Yankees and couldn’t get here. But I knew next time that had any kind of reunion I was going to be here because those guys are special to me. The ’90 team took it to another level.”

Members of Georgia's 1990 national championship baseball team pose along the first-base line at Foley Field this past Saturday. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

Members of Georgia’s 1990 national championship baseball team pose along the first-base line at Foley Field this past Saturday. (UGA photo by John Kelley)

7. The 2015 team is having a little bit more trouble. The Bulldogs dropped two of three to the No. 7-ranked Gators. That’s 15 losses in the last 19 games and drops them to 22-25 (7-16 SEC) in this injury-marred season.

There was a bit of good news through the otherwise lost weekend.  Right-handed pitching ace Robert Tyler, out since Feb. 1 with a forearm injury, was able to return and started against the Gators on Sunday.

The Bulldogs were understandably cautious with him. They pulled him in the third after facing 12 batters in two innings and trailing 4-3. But Georgia’s defense didn’t do him any favors. Only one of his four runs allowed was earned. He struck out one and walked three of 12 batters.

“Robert’s velocity was great,” coach Scott Stricklin said. “We put him in a difficult situation not making plays, but I thought he looked fresh. … But the story of the game was us not getting it done defensively.”

8. Football players Faton Bauta, Jeb Blazevich, Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter, Josh Dawson, Keith Marshall, Quincy Mauger and Nathan Theus will be among 31 UGA athletes who will be in Atlanta on Wednesday visiting D.H. Stanton Elementary School as part of the school’s annual “Learn, Play, Excel” initiative.

Each year, some of the Bulldogs’ biggest stars visit metro Atlanta schools to talk to children about the importance of education, college attendance, respecting authority, anti-bullying, perseverance and the pursuit of their dreams. In addition to speaking to and playing with the kids, the student-athletes will also have lunch at the school and distribute Georgia bags, t-shirts, posters and other items to the kids.  Also attending the event will be new women’s basketball head coach Joni Crenshaw and deputy athletic director Carla Williams, who started the program five years ago.

All the participating Bulldogs are the best of the of the best UGA has to offer and members of its Leadership Education and Development (L.E.A.D.) program. Created in 2010, L.E.A.D. inductees are chosen based on academic and athletic success, leadership, campus and community service involvement and recommendations of head coaches and academic counselors.

Other participants include: Baseball — Sean McLaughlin; women’s basketball — Marjorie Butler; equestrian — Morgan Justiss, Paige Stawicki; women’s golf — Sylvie Brick; gymnastics — Chelsea Davis, Cat Hires; softball — Niaja Griffin; swimming and Diving — Olivia Boggs, Nicolas Fink, Maddie Locus and Laura Ryan; men’s tennis — Nathan Pasha; women’s tennis — Lauren Herring, Alina Jerjomina and Maho Kowase; track and field — Maria Augutis, Morgann Leleux, Burke McCarty, Kisean Smith and Kendell Williams; and volleyball — Gaby Smiley, and Lauren Teknipp.

9. The Georgia men’s golf team on Monday was invited to an NCAA regional for the 26th time in 27 years since the format was introduced for the 1989 season. The Bulldogs are seeded sixth and will play May 14-16 at the San Diego Regional.

Joining the Bulldogs at The Farms Golf Club in Racho Santa Fe, Calif., are the host and ninth-seeded Toreros, No. 1
seed Arizona State, No. 2 seed Georgia Tech, No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 4 seed New Mexico, No. 5 seed Virginia, No. 7 seed East Tennessee State, No. 8 seed Ole Miss, No. 10 seed Idaho, No. 11 seed St. Mary’s College of California, No. 12 seed Wichita State and No. 13 seed Eastern Kentucky. Georgia Tech (ACC), East Tennessee State (Southern), Idaho (Big Sky), Wichita State (Missouri Valley) and Eastern Kentucky (Ohio Valley) won their respective conference titles. Thirteen teams will compete with the top five  advancing to the NCAA Championships May 29-June 3 in Bradenton, Fla.

In the previous 25 years, Georgia has advanced to the NCAAs 19 times. The Bulldogs have been invited to an NCAA Regional in all 19 of Haack’s seasons and have moved onto the NCAAs in 16 of the previous 18 campaigns. Haack led the Bulldogs to the 1999 and 2005 national titles and to runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2011.

10. This & that: The Georgia men’s and women’s tennis teams will host NCAA regionals at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex this weekend. The No. 7-ranked men (21-4) will enter as an eight seed and take on Winthrop in the first round Friday, May 8 at 2 p.m. The winner will play the winner of Florida State and Troy on Saturday for a spot in the round of 16, which will be played in Waco, Texas, beginning on May 14. The Lady Bulldogs (20-6) are seeded sixth and will face Charleston Southern (18-2) at noon on Saturday.  Duke and Purdue will battle to reach Sunday’s regional final (1 p.m.). … Chelsea Newton, a former Big East defensive player of the year and now assistant coah at Rutgers, has been named assistant coach for the Lady Bulldogs and new head coach Joni Crenshaw. … Seventy-four student-athletes will receive their undergraduate or graduate degrees from UGA Friday at the annual spring commencement exercises. They include 14 members of the football team, nine women’s track and field athletes, eight members of the equestrian team, seven men’s track and field athletes, six volleyball players, four members of the men’s golf team, four members of the gymnastics team, four baseball players, four men’s basketball team members, four members of the men’s tennis team, three women’s swim & and dive athletes, two soccer players, two members of the women’s basketball team, two women’s tennis players, and one softball player.


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