November 15, 2011

A chance for redemption



Heading into this season, Georgia punter Drew Butler was concerned whether or not his senior class would be remembered most for what went wrong with the Bulldog football program.

After starting the preseason in 2008 ranked No. 1, Georgia finished 10-3, before dropping to 8-5 in 2009 and 6-7 in 2010.

Following opening week losses to Boise State and South Carolina, the future for 2011 didn't appear much brighter.

But lo and behold, eight straight wins and 13th-ranked Georgia (8-2, 6-1) has an opportunity to do something that hasn't been done by a Bulldog team since 2005 - win the SEC East.

For Butler, that would be the perfect way to cement a legacy more positive than many thought it would be.

"Hopefully, we'll be remembered for just turning things around. Back in 2009, that wasn't the season we wanted to have, and obviously in 2010 we lost and went 6-7. That's the depths of Georgia football in the past decade for sure," Butler said Tuesday. "But because of the leadership, we grew together, and the fact we drove everyone in one direction. It would definitely be a good legacy to be able to say we got back to Atlanta."

Senior tight end Aron White admits the journey has been long, albeit with one very important step that needs taking this Saturday (12:21, SEC TV) against the Wildcats (4-6, 1-5).

"We've scratched and scratched…gosh… a legacy," White pondered. "For some, we're probably going to be remembered as a team that jeopardized it for our coaches, the program to a degree, but we let some people go, banded together and I think that's going to speak a lot to how we're remembered - a group of guys that never gave up, and always relied on the people who are in the room. We're a very close group of guys."

Head coach Mark Richt agreed.

Addressing the media during Tuesday's weekly press conference, Richt cited the team meeting room where the press session is held to give an example of how far he thinks his senior class has come.

"They sit in the front row of this team meeting room every time we meet. Our seniors always sit in the front row. Sometimes they can't believe how fast they got to the front row. When you're in the front row you have to lead, and you know it's on your watch. You know it's basically your team and it will be the memory that you'll have for the rest of your life," Richt said. "Right now they are very optimistic about how their senior season can finish. We all know it wasn't a tremendous start, but through their leadership and their play and perseverance, we've found a way to battle back in this thing and turn this thing into a season that might be one that everybody will remember real fondly. I'm proud of them. They've been through a lot. They've been through some rough moments, but they're here and they're in a good place right now."

Butler was asked why the leadership from this year's class had the desired effect, where Georgia's recent senior classes weren't able to rise to the occasion.
"I think just getting everybody on the same page, getting that team vision and driving everybody in the one direction," Butler said. "That's what leadership is, to focus on one goal and I think that's exactly what we've done."

Junior cornerback Sanders Commings suggested there's been a bit more to it than that.

"The seniors we have now, those guys have really taken over this team," Commings said. "We hold each other accountable. This is the biggest difference between this team and past ones."

Once the team started winning after starting 0-2, that's when the confidence started to grow.

While there have certainly been some huge victories - Georgia's 24-20 decision over Florida and last week's 45-7 whitewashing of Auburn, for example - Butler traces the team's current run of success back to that first win - Coastal Carolina.

"We hadn't won a game in 10 months and having the opportunity to win and just to feel again what winning is like was huge," Butler said. "Once you start winning, the excitement level goes up and people really enjoy that. I think for sure when we started winning a lot of football games, people started to believe what Coach Richt was saying, what the seniors were saying, and people were getting driven in the right direction."

Richt says Sturdivant's future still undecided

Trinton Sturdivant is scheduled to walk with the rest of the senior class prior to Saturday's game, but does that mean his playing days are over?

After suffering his third ACL tear in preseason, Sturdivant still has a year of eligibility remaining should he decide to come back.

"I've talked to him over the course of the season and they've kind of bounced around a little bit, like a lot of guys his age, trying to decide what's best. It's been anything from continuing school to maybe getting out and getting some work experience as he tries and prepares to get into law school," Richt said. "I know he has a tremendous interest in athletic administration also. He's kind of bounced around a little bit. He's just a real smart guy, who has a bright future, and we are going to help him realize whatever goals and dreams he has. He was talking about playing tight end too, so who knows?"

This and that

Saturday's Dawg Walk is set for 10:40 a.m. … Richt says there's a chance he may keep alternating kickers Blair Walsh and Brandon Bogotay for the rest of the year. "It's possible. So far it's been good. It's been good for Georgia." … Richt was asked if he felt like the pressure on his job had been removed with his Bulldogs needing just Saturday's win to advance to the SEC title game. "I don't know. I've been so focused. I knew the best shot we got was for everybody to just do your job. You focus on doing your job. Don't focus on anything swirling around - good or bad. Just do your job. So I kind of have been in that mindset and I'm still in that mindset right now," he said. "I'm not sitting here saying that there's been any moment in time that I've had some kind of weight lifted. I'm just trying to finish the drill. I'm trying to do my job."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports
and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.