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Brock Bowers (19)

When Vance Leavy suggested I write about Georgia’s grittiest players in the 2022 Season Preview issue of Bulldawg Illustrated, I immediately consulted a dictionary. “Showing courage and resolve” was the first definition I found when searching the word “gritty,” but one could easily argue that most, if not all, college football players meet that definition. An alternate suggestion is “courageously persistent,” I think Kirby Smart would like this one – neither courage nor persistence alone is enough.

Being gritty is the core of Kirby Smart’s coaching philosophy; team leaders must inculcate that grit – that courageous persistence. A winning program is not about winning a game or even a championship; instead, it is a culture of success, accountability, and performance. Grit is at the heart of that calculus, according to Smart in his post-G-Day press conference:

“…There was some really good accountability in terms of holding each other accountable this spring that I was shocked by, that I was like, man, there’s going to be a void in leadership, how can we create leadership opportunities, and from the day one they were pushing each other, they were cheering each other on the sideline. I’m like, man, it’s almost like they wanted to emulate those other guys. I’m talking about it from a leadership standpoint now. They can’t emulate what some of those guys do on the field. They can emulate the standard, though, and I thought they really did that for 14 of the 15 practices. Man, I was like, dude, they had a great attitude, they worked really hard today and we made it tough, and they did it. We’re going to have to have a little different personality. We’re going to have some grit, some toughness because it won’t just be talent. We were really talented last year, and not that we’re not talented now, but we’re going to have to win in different ways.”





Here are my nominees for Georgia’s grittiest players as the team prepares to defend its national championship:

Stetson Bennett: If you have seen a grittier player than Bennett, please tell me who it is. He has fought off 5-star challengers, taken hits, shaken off bad decisions, transferred out and back, and led his team to the top of the college football world. All of this while listening to pundits chatter endlessly about his lack of size, speed, and arm strength. His detractors are still at it, but Bennett carries on with his leadership. I saw an article this week that listed the top 10 returning quarterbacks in college football; guess who was not listed? Yep, omitted was the quarterback of the defending national champ. Just flash the ring, Stet.

Brock Bowers: What can one say about this young man’s freshman performance? WOW, comes to mind. Let’s see some of his stats as listed by
• 56 catches for 882 yards (15.8 avg.) and 13 TDs
• Established UGA tight end records for single-season receptions (56), receiving yards (882), and TDs (13)
• Caught a career-high and SEC Championship Game record (for a TE) 10 passes vs. Alabama
• He had a 77-yard TD catch and run vs. Georgia Tech, one of his two scores on the day Great stats, but not necessarily gritty, one might say. Then remember that Bowers played at the end of the 2021 season with a torn labrum, delaying surgical repair until the off-season. That’s true grit.





Christopher Smith: 2021 was the fourth year in the program for the Hapeville Charter product and his best statistical season. He finished the year with 35 tackles, four pass breakups, three interceptions, and two QB pressures. Smith qualifies as a gritty performer on several fronts. He is a team leader who does not shy away from those responsibilities, but it was his performances in the first and last games of the season that stuck out to me. At the Duke’s Mayo Classic opener, he snagged his first career interception, and what a time to deliver! Smith returned that INT 74 yards for the winning score. In the season finale, he executed one of the critical blocks on Kelee Ringo’s pick-six that iced the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Ladd McConkey: If there was ever a player who has outperformed his recruiting rankings, it is Ladd McConkey. The three-star receiver from Murray County redshirted his first year in Athens but burst into UGA Football lore in 2021. Georgia’s roster has McConkey listed at 6 feet,185-pound. An undersized player competing head-to-head in a world of comparative giants makes him worthy of inclusion on my grittiest players list. McConkey didn’t just compete; he made spectacular plays that belied his size.

Sedrick Van Pran: Any list of grittiest players that does not include the starting center is not worth a read. Centers have blocking responsibilities just like the other four down linemen. Additionally, he must “ID the Mike,” pointing out the “Mike” or middle linebacker, which sets the blocking scheme for the offensive line. Van Pran went through some growing pains but was on top of his “quarterback responsibilities.”

Of course, the center must get the ball to the quarterback every play. Most of those snaps in today’s game are short passes thrown backward between his legs without looking at his target – then executing a block against an SEC defensive lineman – no mean task.

Van Pran played more snaps than any other Georgia Bulldog, including every snap against Clemson, Arkansas, Auburn, Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, and Alabama.





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Greg is closing in on 15 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.