If you've been a UGA fan for a while, you remember that every offseason comes with at least one surprise shocker of a player who decided to forgo his final year of eligibility in lieu of chasing the paper that comes with an NFL contract. Names like Asher Allen, Danny Ware, Reshad Jones all come immediately to mind. It's not that those guys couldn't cut it in the NFL, as they're all still on rosters and I know for a fact that Ware and Jones are both playing prominent roles with their team, but with one more year, those guys could have been first or second round talents. Of those three names, Allen was drafted in the third round, Jones went in the fifth, and Ware, who goes by "DJ" now, went undrafted.
Every offseason, UGA fans worry over who the next guy making the ill-advised jump would be. This year was no different. Last Friday, the remaining Dawg juniors thought to be considering a jump to the NFL all held a press conference. Hours earlier, one of those juniors, Branden Smith, faked myself and many others out by putting out on his Twitter feed that he was looking ahead and had to do what was best for himself and his family. I wrote then on my own Twitter feed that I would be downright shocked if he stayed.
More after the jump...
Turns out, I was more than shocked. Not only Smith, but Cornelius Washington, Abry Jones, Sanders Commings, Shawn Williams, and Bacarri Rambo all elected to stay. According to those individual players, the paperwork they received back from the NFL was good enough for them all to elect to go pro.
...but they didn't.
Now, before I go any further, I need to point out that this isn't a hit piece of Orson Charles. He announced his decision to go pro before the deadline and it really didn't take many people off guard. He has been a great Dawg, and really can't improve his draft status another year by electing to stay. He has first round talent, but projects to be in the second round. Either way, he'll make a team, achieve a dream, and change his life monetarily. Anyone that has an opportunity with so much to gain one way and very little to gain another should take that next step. Who could begrudge Stafford and Moreno for doing what they did? How about AJ Green? I certainly can't, and the only ones that I think could are either already millionaires, delirious, or both.
So in short, UGA's team is loaded with kids who have made the best decisions for their careers AND the University. How long has it been since that happened?
Not only that, but Hutson Mason (who should get a shot to start according to some) decided to stay and is taking a redshirt so that he can get his one season to shine (premium at Dawgs247), assuming Murray stays all four years. We had a guy by the name of Shockley that did that once. It worked pretty well for him, if I remember correctly.
Now compare that situation and those UGA teams to the ones we've seen as of late. It feels like it's been eons since the Era of the Davids, where the Dawgs were getting it done on and off the field. They were a team. They were competitive. The defense was stout and the offense was not flat-out losing games for us. Would anyone say that was the case in 2009? 2010? (You, with your hand raised, stop being "that guy.")
Fast forward to the offseason of 2011 and all you heard about was "energy bus" this and "getting rid of the cancer" that. We dismissed half of our stable of running backs. We totally overhauled our Strength and Conditioning program by hiring a guy with the crazy idea that hard work and discipline could overcome nearly anything. "He's not qualified!" was the rallying cry at first, but as the Dawgs went on to win 10 games straight, something had changed. Whatever it was, it was working.
But in that offseason, it felt like we had honestly hired a new coach. There were so many changes and so much uncertainty, that it was impossible to predict what kind of season we'd have. Furthermore, we were staring down a schedule that softened more as it went along, but started out with losses that could have broken this team mentally. Yet, they persevered. They grew stronger, even though no one was expecting them to do it. They CAME FROM BEHIND to beat Florida.
Doesn't it feel like this team's a little more focused already? I don't want to pass around Kool-Aid like the man just busted through my fence, wrecked my backyard, and I'm totally cool with it, but seriously. We've got a long way to go to see if this team can be good or great, but doesn't being great start right now?
To use a tired example, take a look at Alabama. I'm completely appalled by the way that Nick Saban has handled his most recent escapade in over signing, but I've got to give the man some credit. No matter how clear it becomes that he's a scumbag, his players want to play for him and they want to fight for each other. That showed in New Orleans when they blanked LSU. I'm not rooting for the bad guy by using this example, but let's be honest, for all people know about him, they're still trying to clown-car recruit their way into another top class. Just because one kid is disgruntled, I don't see anyone else jumping off the bus.
(....and no, Alabama fans, there's no excuse for what he did and you can't explain your way into justifying it. He's a man. He gave his word and then he took it back. At the end of the day, that's not "business," that's a damn joke...but I digress.)
Focus, people. Knowing your goals, both personally and professionally is the key to maintaining your drive, your loyalty, and your desire. If you can't maintain focus, you'll never get anywhere, and that's just the plain truth. When Richt was having his less than stellar seasons, what was it that he said to McGarity that he needed to do in order to get better? Richt said he wanted to FOCUS more on becoming a student of the game.
Set the goal. Work towards it. Realize it. Achieve it.
It's no longer "finish the drill" in Athens. It's a prequel to that. We are now back to just "knowing the drill." You can't tell me those juniors on that same stage last Friday weren't on the same page as well. They know the drill and they're going to do what it takes to achieve it.
Championships aren't won in the preseason (sorry, South Carolina), but they start there. We've got a long ways to go before we find out how focused this team really is, but I can tell you one thing, I'm downright excited about what I see right now.
Until next time kids.