Kirby Smart, players discuss what Richard LeCounte means to Georgia

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Kirby Smart, players discuss what Richard LeCounte means to Georgia

Richard LeCounte (2) - 2020 Sugar Bowl - Georgia vs. Baylor 2020 - Postgame - January 01, 2020
Richard LeCounte (2) – 2020 Sugar Bowl – Georgia vs. Baylor 2020 – Postgame – January 01, 2020

Over the past couple of years, Georgia safety Richard LeCounte has had a significant impact on the field, while also being a great advocate for the program.

The Riceboro, Georgia native bleeds red and black and it’s just as simple as that. When on the field, LeCounte is a ball hawk and the leader of the Georgia defense. Around campus and talking to the media, his infectious smile can be seen on display. The senior draws high praise from both his teammates and coaches.

Following Georgia’s 14-3 win over Kentucky on Oct. 31, LeCounte was involved in a motorbike incident that left him in the hospital with a few sustained injuries. His status to compete was unknown early, but now it’s looking like he could possibly return for Senior Day this weekend as Georgia prepares to host Vanderbilt on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST.

What would be more fitting?

Although LeCounte made the trip to South Carolina with his teammates this past weekend, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said it is very unlikely that he gets a chance to step foot on the field.

“There is a chance that Richard can get back,” Smart said Monday. “I don’t know how realistic it is for this week, but he’s doing more. He’s running now and he’s with us. He’s back into things. There is a chance that he can get out there and play by this week.”

Having LeCounte back on Saturday against the Commodores would help the Bulldogs tremendously. This season, many players across the country have opted-out due to various reasons from health concerns to preparing for the NFL Draft. That’s something LeCounte could’ve easily done following his accident, but he recently stated on Twitter that he wants to return if it’s manageable.

So far, no Georgia players have decided to opt-out and graduate transfer tight end Tre McKitty said that his teammates all want to finish the season strong.

“Guys have different reasons why they opt-out,” McKitty said. “Here, right now as a team, we’re just trying to finish out the year strong, you know. We don’t control our destiny or anything like that, so we’re just trying to keep our head down and work hard.”

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In reality, Georgia doesn’t really have a lot left to play for this season, especially since their chances of reaching the College Football Playoff are slim. Although, that speaks to the kind of player LeCounte is if he wants to return this season, and ride out the last few games of his career with his teammates.

Fellow defensive back Christopher Smith said that you can tell when LeCounte is absent on the practice field, although he’s been very vocal from the sidelines.

“He always makes big plays for the defense and always gives us a good kick of energy, things like that,” Smith said. “Since I have been starting in his place, he’s been giving me good tips and things. When he sees something, and I come back on the sideline, and he will tell me what he saw, and I’ll go out and use it to get better on the next drive.”

Senior wide receiver Demetris Robertson and LeCounte grew up about an hour from each other in South Georgia. The Savannah native spent his first two seasons at Cal but transferred to Georgia in 2018. When Robertson arrived on campus, he said LeCounte was apart of the welcoming committee. The pair have been close through their past years while in Athens.

“Richard is my boy, I remember growing up with him,” Robertson said. “He is a true leader, he is a playmaker, a ball-hawking safety … he can come down and hit you. He is infectious in a great way. He just brings the energy on and off the field.”

Smart remembered the first time he met LeCounte while he was the defensive coordinator at Alabama.

“I don’t know if I’m correct in saying this, but I think he was the very first commitment that I received upon getting the job,” Smart said. “I still remember the day that he was an eighth or ninth grader and he visited Alabama with Raekwon McMillan. He came over and I got to meet him then. His personality was so infectious. The whole time I recruited Raekwon, I got to know Richard. That relationship carried over when I got the head job here and he was one of the first to jump on board.”

Due to a rule that the NCAA passed in August, this season is a ‘free year’ and it doesn’t count towards athletes eligibility due to COVID. Perhaps LeCounte could return for another year, but it’s highly unlikely because many draft boards regard him as a top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Regardless, the Bulldogs will have their fearless leader through the rest of this season, even if he doesn’t play another down in a Georgia uniform.

“He has been so loyal to Georgia in an era when that’s not normal. It is normal to decommit, move here, decide late,” Smart said. “He committed early, he was a great player, he stayed an extra year for his senior year, and he loves the University of Georgia. That makes somebody special and people will remember that for the rest of his life.”

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.