If you have watched player interviews since Kirby Smart became head coach of the Dawgs, you have likely observed a gradual shift toward a more articulate and passionate roster. To be clear, I am not suggesting that earlier recruits were less intelligent. It is evident, however, that player buy-in levels have soared in the latest recruiting classes. The next logical question is, “Why?”
Kirby Smart often talks about “The Why.” Different folks respond to various motivations. For many college football players today, money in the form of NIL is their primary motivation for choosing one school over others. Those recruits will not be at the top of Georgia’s list of potential Bulldogs. Smart is seeking the highest-quality players for future campaigns, but UGA’s estimate of recruits’ quality includes an element of receptiveness and the ability to accept coaching. One can hear evidence of that buy-in when players respond during interviews.
Recently, Jalon Walker, a sophomore who appeared in all 15 games as a freshman, met with the UGA beat media. Walker’s enthusiastic and articulate performance reflects the confidence that has imbued the squad from starters to walk-ons:
“I feel like it is very competitive. Having that opportunity to be on the field for myself, I take every day not with a grain of salt. I take every day with pride. I take every day knowing that you don’t know when your last snap is. And I take every day with a hardworking, positive attitude so that when I have that opportunity, I can seize it and attack it.”
The phrase “there is no I in team” has been around sports for 100 years, but the essence of that cliche has become gospel in Athens since Kirby’s return from his years in the wilderness west of the Chattahoochee. Here is an example from Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint when asked about the possibility of a three-peat in 2022. Note both the use of “we” rather than “I” and the focus on the opener rather than another national championship:
“That is something that we are not even worried about right now. We are worried about UT Martin. We are worried about the first game and then the next game and the next day. We are not worried about a three-peat – that’s not what we are focused on. We are focused on winning today and attacking the day today. I know everybody wants to talk about the three-peat, but that’s not what we are focused on. We are just focused on ourselves and getting better.”
And a final word from Jamon Dumas-Johnson:
“I’m worried about our team. Team success brings individual success. That’s what I’m worried about.”