McClendon stepping up big

ATHENS -- Bryan McClendon's father Willie was a standout tailback at Georgia and the SEC Player of the Year in 1978, but he had nothing to do with his son becoming a Bulldog.

ATHENS -- Bryan McClendon's father Willie was a standout tailback at Georgia and the SEC Player of the Year in 1978, but he had nothing to do with his son becoming a Bulldog.

Georgia fans have McClendon's mother Susan to thank for that.

"I'm a real homebody, a real momma's boy," the sophomore receiver said. "I've got to be close to my momma, that's why I picked here."

The "momma's boy" is expected to get his second start of the season Saturday when No. 4 Georgia (6-1) faces UAB (3-4) at 1 p.m. His first start, in the place of injured flanker Fred Gibson, was a rousing success. He entered the Vanderbilt game without a catch in eight straight games dating back to last season and only one multiple-catch game in his career but finished with six catches for 108 yards, the best performance by a Bulldog receiver this season.

"I've gained a lot of confidence in his ability to make plays," Coach Mark Richt said.

So has McClendon, who admitted feeling out of place in the first half against Vanderbilt but settled in nicely with a five-catch second half.

"This week you can see a lot more confidence," receivers coach John Eason said. "He had been practicing extremely well, and he's picked it up even more."

McClendon was recruited by the Bulldogs as an "athlete," which means,

"I didn't know what I was going to play, and they didn't know what I was going to play," he said. He started his first fall as a defensive back but injuries left Georgia thin at wide receiver and McClendon was moved to offense.

Two years later, that looks like a great move as McClendon has grown into Georgia's second-best flanker, behind Gibson. The flanker position is generally reserved for the Bulldogs' big-play receiver.

"You have to have some guys with a little bit more ability to separate from a defensive back," Richt said. "Until a guy does it in a game, you're not sure he can do it and he's not sure."

The Bulldogs know McClendon can do it now, but they want to see him do it more consistently before they get too excited. It's too early to say McClendon is the heir apparent for Gibson's spot, Eason said.

"The jury's still out on that," he said. "It's just one ball game. He'll have to prove himself the remainder of the season."

He also has a ways to go to match his father's impact. Willie McClendon rushed for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1978 and went to play for the Chicago Bears. He now operates a real estate business in Atlanta, his son said.

"He's been everywhere I want to go," Bryan McClendon said.

McClendon wore his father's number, 36, during his freshman season but switched to No. 16 this year. The move had nothing to do with distancing himself from his father's legacy, he said. He wanted 16 from the beginning, but senior quarterback Cory Phillips had the number in 2002 so McClendon had to wait.

Willie McClendon never pushed his son to come to Georgia, or even to play football, Bryan McClendon said.

"My dad totally left it up to me," he said. "He never really forced me to play or took me outside and made me practice three hours a day or anything like that."

He did fuel his son's competitive instincts, though, constantly reminding him that he was the best athlete in the family, Bryan McClendon said. As a child, Bryan was always trying to prove his dad wrong by racing him, he said. Their last showdown came when Bryan was in the seventh grade in the street in front of their house and resulted in a narrow Willie McClendon win, Bryan said.

"He won't race me anymore," he said. "He said that was my last change because I came too close."

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