Kirby Smart produced and developed 16 draft-eligible players this year. A feat of this nature truly speaks to the direction of the program, as the Georgia Bulldogs are impacting the game beyond the collegiate level. The Bulldogs’ elite production is leaking over into the pros, and it is no accident. On March 16, the University of Georgia put on its annual football Pro Day and continued to shatter records in the process. Georgia exhibited 16 draft-eligible players in front of a record-breaking six NFL head coaches and a total of 122 NFL personnel in attendance. Just days prior, the Bulldogs led the nation with 14 players invited to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. UGA’s success in getting its players into the NFL will only continue once the NFL Draft takes place at the end of April. Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs have been in the limelight for some time now, and while that may startle some institutions, it does nothing to the resolve that Coach Smart has instilled in his players.
Besides the obscene number of NFL professionals in attendance at Pro-Day, there were also younger and mid-year Georgia players who watched as their teammates put their athletic abilities on display. They weren’t watching to fill out a scouting report sheet or take notes to pass on to their general manager. They were watching because they know that sooner or later, it’ll be them on that field. They know that they have to work to get there. And they know that they can’t be the next Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean or George Pickens. Instead, those young men know that they have to make a name for themselves so that they can leave their own legacy, and they understand this offseason is the first step to getting to where those guys are right now.
This spring practice is essential so that the team can regroup and re-up at positions that lost starters. The team, having seen 25 players go to either the draft or transfer portal, is searching for a new identity. Last year it was all about the “generational” defense and the “walk-on third string” quarterback leading his dream school to a national championship. And while that’s all good and great, it’s also all said and done. That era of Georgia football is over. The team knows that. In a spring practice interview, starting center Sedrick Van Pran said he put winning the national title behind him as soon as he went to class the next Wednesday morning. The team knows and appreciates the legacy that the guys before them left, but it’s time to begin a new chapter. You can’t live in the past and neither will the Georgia Bulldogs. “[You] can’t let what we did last year define what we’re going to do this year because it’s a whole different team,” redshirt senior Kearis Jackson said. And what he said is true. The Dawgs will field their fair share of fresh faces this season, and everyone has something to prove. As the season progresses, these will be the new faces of Georgia Football. These guys are slowly but surely ushering in a new identity for the team, and the world has to wait until fall to see it in its truest form.
Players who didn’t have the chance before now have the opportunity to emerge as stars after having less featured roles. When thinking about the defensive line, Zion Logue has been the talk of the town. Not only has he shown flashes of quality play on the field, Kirby Smart has also complimented his growth as a young man. Amongst the linebackers is senior Nolan Smith who isn’t necessarily a lesser-known name, but he now has the opportunity to become the leader he’s always wanted to be. Wide receiver Adonai Mitchell gets another season to try and put up gaudy numbers with, not a third string, but a national championship winning quarterback in Stetson Bennett. The team has changed (as expected given it’s a new season), so fans shouldn’t be too attached to the team that played in Indianapolis just a couple of months ago.
As mentioned earlier, all eyes are on Athens. Everyone’s wondering what’s next? The people have high expectations for this team, but none of that matters to the actual players suiting up on Saturdays. At the end of the day, no one outside of a select few, has any actual say on what the Dawgs will or won’t do. The only thing fans can expect is that a very different team will walk out of that tunnel next season. A team with a new identity, new leaders, and new coaches, but with the same goal: to win.