Bulldogs Excited About New Season But Aware Nothing Carries Over from Spectacular 2017 Campaign

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Bulldogs Excited About New Season But Aware Nothing Carries Over from Spectacular 2017 Campaign

The Georgia crowd lights up Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the National Championship.
The Georgia crowd lights up Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the National Championship.
ATLANTA – You ask the Georgia Bulldogs if the upcoming 2018 UGA edition is going to be able to continue the success the powerful 2017 team achieved and you get varied answers.
Such was the case here Tuesday morning at SEC Media Days as Georgia senior wide receiver Terry Godwin, junior cornerback J.R. Reed and senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter met with the print and electronic media to discuss the fast approaching season which, for the Bulldogs, kicks off Sept. 1 against Austin Peay.
All the Bulldawg Nation, of course, is aware of what those 2017 Bulldogs accomplished … winning the SEC East Division, beating Auburn for Georgia’s first SEC championship since 2005, winning a dramatic Rose Bowl by taking down Oklahoma in overtime and then, agonizingly falling in the national championship game to Alabama in overtime … after leading the Tide for three quarters of the game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Godwin, who made maybe the most sensational touchdown catch in college football last season when he went backwards in the Notre Dame end zone and made a stirring one-handed grab, said he thinks the Bulldogs will indeed carry the same mindset – a singleness of purpose and great focus on the task in front of them each week – into the new season.
“I feel like it’s the same as last year, we’re just gonna go back and improve on what happened last year and try to be the best team we can be,” said Godwin.
But the fact Georgia played Alabama off its feet before the heartbreaking loss in the title game doesn’t mean anything going forward this fall,” Godwin pointed out.
“I mean it doesn’t change anything,” he said of the fact the Bulldogs earned even more national respect following the back-to-back performances against Oklahoma and the Crimson Tide. “We’re just going to come in here with the same mindset as we always did, whether we played there (in championship game)   or not. We just need to do it the Georgia way, play the same way all the time. It was tough because everybody that plays a sport and has that determination, you never want to lose like we did that game. But it’s in the past so we’re just looking forward to this season and this team right here.”
But Godwin, who was the Bulldogs’ second-leading receiver behind Javon Wims last season, said that special season Georgia put up was the very reason why he decided to come back to Athens for his senior campaign.
“We had a special year last year and I feel like we can have another special season this year,” Godwin said. “So that’s one of the reasons I came back and I want to be a part of this Georgia team as long as I can. Last year I wasn’t so vocal so this year I’m trying to work on speaking to the younger guys or even guys my age, trying to be their vocal leader and not just their leader by example. The young receivers that came in they’re looking up to us older guys because they saw what we did last year so they’re trying to improve themselves as well so I’m trying to give them every tool that I know.”
Godwin was asked what the UGA receiving crops thinks about highly-touted transfer wideout Demetrius Robertson joining the team after the Savannah native performed the past two seasons for California. At the moment, it’s not determined if the NCAA will allow Robertson to play immediately in the 2018 season.
“I mean, anybody that comes to Georgia, we’re going to love them,” said Godwin, “no matter who you are or where you come from. And with him coming here I mean it makes it better for us because we’ve got another weapon and it’s very exciting to have somebody else in that (receivers) room.”
Despite the fact the Bulldogs graduated their all-time 1-2 rushing punch in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Godwin doesn’t exactly buy the talk going around that Jake Fromm and Justin Fields will be throwing the football more this season.
“I feel like the offense will be the same this year,” he said. “We’ve got to be that offense that runs first and passes when we need to and be the same hard-nosed, downhill Georgia team we’ve always been.”
Junior cornerback Reed said he’s just happy to be appointed one of the Bulldogs’ leaders this season and be able to represent the team at Media Days.
“It’s just a great feeling to be considered a leader of this team,” he said. “When you’re young and playing at Tulsa then coming in and transferring, you always look at media day. You always want to go to something like this and represent your team. So it’s always been a goal of mine, one of those things when I’m playing college football, I check off my list. So I’m real excited to be here.”
Reed doesn’t think the mindset at Georgia will ever change, as long as Kirby Smart is the head coach.
“It’s just the same mindset as last year, just going in and attacking the day,” Reed said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys so we’ve got to lead those guys in the right direction and make sure this team is on the right track. Coach Smart coaches us very hard, he coaches us really, really hard,” Reed emphasized. “He knows that since last year and going forward it’s going to be on us (defensive secondary) to stop the big plays from happening. Two big plays happened in the championship game that hurt us so he’s coaching us really, really hard.”
Reed said he’s been impressed with the talent of the Bulldogs’ incoming defensive backs as well as the defensive tackle graduate transfer from Notre Dame, Jay Hayes.
“A lot of those young guys, they’re really hungry,” Reed said. “They know they can play this year and know there’s some spots open so that makes them a little bit more hungry than usual. They all got really good talent. It all comes up to learning it and between the ears … what you call your brain.
“And Jay Hayes, that guy comes in and he has an unbelievable motor,” said Reed. “He works hard all the time, he does extra reps, he does extra workouts, he really wants it and he’s a very good player.”
Speaking of his cousin, rising sophomore defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs who played early in his freshman season but then disappeared off the roster the rest of 2017, Reed said Gibbs is ready to be a key contributor to the team once again.
“He’s back and is happy to be on the team and can’t wait to play in a game like the rest of us.”
Reed is also looking for a big season from rising sophomore safety Richard LeCounte.
“Richard has matured a lot, from his freshman year to now,” he offered. “He’s really learning the defense and that’s the main thing. He always had the talent but now he knows the defense and it’s just all about me and the older guys pushing him to be the best, and the other young guys as well.”
Senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, however, says the jury is certainly still out as to how good the 2018 Bulldogs will be and that the success the SEC champions of last season won’t necessarily spell the same for this new team.
“We’ve got to start over,” said Ledbetter. “No team is the same, regardless of whether you’re at the same school or not. Every year the team changes and you’ve got to figure out how to get that chemistry, to get where you need to be… where everybody is working as one, where everybody is one machine and there are not individual players out there and everybody sacrifices for the guy next to them. That’s the way to play football.”
Ledbetter said he has watched the tape of the excruciating Alabama loss only one time, and that came soon after that night in Mercedes-Benz.
“I watched the Alabama game just after the game and I’m glad I did,” Ledbetter said. “We graded the tape and saw what things we could have done better. Then we talked about it, how many guys were hungry and want to go back in there and do more.
It’s no secret that the 6-4, 277-pound Ledbetter went through troubles off the playing field early on in his UGA career. But because of those trials, he’s evolved into one of the Bulldogs’ strongest leaders, as evidenced by Smart selecting him to come to Media Days, along with Godwin and Reed.
“My career here has been like a roller coaster,” acknowledged Ledbetter. “You go along for the ride and you never know where it’s going to take you but you’ve just got to keep the faith and that’s what I did. I went through a lot of trials and just kept my head up. I stayed prayed up, talked to God and Kirby and my family when I could and that kind of stuff keeps you grounded. It’s really cool to see how far I’ve come and there’s really no looking back. I wouldn’t change anything,” Ledbetter said. “Everyone has to grow up and mature, from a young adult to a grown man and see for yourself. Coach Smart stands behind you no matter what and it’s just something that goes beyond football to see a coach like that.”

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.