Commentary: Welcome home, Kirby
Brad Stephens brings his own Southern flavored sports perspective and humor to Bartow Sports Zone. He is a Bartow County native and has his own law office in Cartersville, but he's mostly a Georgia Bulldogs' football fan. Brad will also be joining Bartow Sports Zone as a color commentator during the 2016 Bartow County Game of the Week as BSZ joins forces with WBHF AM1450 / 100.3FM to broadcast two, live high school football games each week.
When I was in school, I used to pine away for the summer months. Sitting in classrooms staring out the window, ready for long days not filled with algebra, grammar rules and rectangle pizza. No more bus rides, giant literature books, or the prospect of lunch detention for running in the halls. Euphoria would begin as soon as that last bell rang and nobody, not even the teachers, could deny the happiness of crossing the parking lot one last time to head home.
That euphoria no longer exists once you leave the halls of high school or college. You become a cog in the machine of capitalism, where the change in seasons means very little. The advent of summer is just another day and you realize that unlike your school years, June-August will not be spent at White Water or at the golf course. Now, you look out the window of your office and just hope the car is less than 100 degrees when you leave to head home.
For those of us who follow college football, the summer has come to be a time of dread. Nothing good seems to happen and in the case of my beloved Dawgs, we just assume that something awful is bound to occur before kickoff. When Steve Spurrier said that he likes to play Georgia early because we always have two or three key players suspended, people wanted him burned at the stake. His words, while snarky and delivered with the typical Head Ball Coach smirk, are not without truth.
This summer has been marred by arrests and injuries….again. Sony Michel broke his arm riding an ATV. Jonathan Ledbetter has been arrested twice for alcohol violations and will probably go to rehab. Juwan Briscoe is suspended for one game for driving with no valid license. Chad Clay was dismissed from the team before he ever played a down. The once promising Chauncey Rivers is history after the police saw marijuana smoke billowing from his car in a parking lot and arrested him for the second time in less than six months.
Then there was the BB gun incident, which was more comical than anything. The aforementioned Clay and freshman Julian Rochester face felony charges for criminal damage and possessing a weapon in a school zone for shooting solo cups in their dorm room. If the UGA Police investigated the rooms of Creswell Hall during my freshman year, every single one of us would have gone to jail. That was back in the day when UGA was not run by the Dean Wormers and Douglas C. Niedermeyers of the world.
Kirby Smart has weathered the storm and seems to be dead set on moving forward without these distractions thwarting preparation for the upcoming battle with North Carolina in the Georgia Dome on September 3rd. Recruiting seems to be picking up steam and all reports indicate that the team is responding to the new staff in a positive way. A culture change is the pervading theme and Smart’s moniker “Win the Day” has taken a life of its own in Athens. I guess “Finish the Drill” has gone the way of the dodo bird because it is not echoing off the walls of Sanford Stadium anymore.
While I am annoyed that legal trouble reared its ugly head again this summer, I am encouraged. There is a difference in this team, an energy that has been missing for several seasons. Maybe it is the newness of the Smart Era, but the excitement cannot be denied because it is as palpable as the Georgia humidity in July. If you need any further notice, see the G-Day game turnout and the vibe in the stands as the players trotted out the tunnel. Watch the video of Kirby Smart addressing 93,000 Dawg fans with “it’s good to be home.” I get chills just thinking about it.
With questions at several positions and two new coordinators at the helm of the offense and defense, the Dawgs have their work cut out for them. Apparently, the writers agree with me, as Georgia is picked to finish third behind Tennessee and Florida in the East. Smart cannot work miracles overnight and I hope the Dawgnation as a whole comes to grips with that right now. I cannot tell you what the future holds for the 2016 Georgia Bulldogs, but you better believe the hype machine will be in high gear if North Carolina takes a beating.
That begs the question, is this possible? Can Georgia open and close strong? The end of Mark Richt’s tenure was marked by losses at inopportune times to inferior opponents and lopsided blowouts to favored opponents that further illustrated Georgia’s inability to perform on the big stage. Now, they have a coach that has been on the biggest stage of all and won several times. He knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level and he learned from the best.
Smart hails from a program that is a machine. A juggernaut. Alabama’s success is indisputable and honestly, the envy of college football right now. I think Smart is taking the blueprint he learned in Tuscaloosa and bringing it to Athens. Love him or hate him, Nick Saban knows what he is doing.
He is recruiting bigger players, literally and figuratively. The Dawgs are garnering interest from higher rated players and based on the current commitments, sit at number three on Rivals.com’s team rankings. The new coaching staff is hitting the trail with a fervor not seen since Richt’s early days and many recruits remark about the new energy within the Georgia coaching staff. With several five stars still on the table, the Dawgs could move into one of the two top spots.
I remember thinking while watching Alabama warm up in Athens last season, how much larger their players seemed. It was no figment of my imagination and they bullied Georgia all over the field in an embarrassing blowout that saw most Dawg fans leaving in the third quarter. I don’t think the Dawgs will be a small team on Smart’s watch. He has reiterated time and time again how the Dawgs need to get bigger and I do not think Smart is in the business of polite suggestions. So, eat up, fellas.
It is my sincere hope that Georgia can overcome their obstacles and surprise people. I am not expecting any miracles, but what I do expect is a new look and new attitude. One that eliminates our penchant for folding up in the big game and letting inferior opponents hang around. I expect us to fight to the finish and “Win the Day,” no matter what.
Welcome home, Kirby.
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