No, the Bulldogs won’t run onto the field with black pants on, or any other gimmick that might make the Bulldog Nation cringe. Instead, there will be a host of seniors returning for their final season in Athens.
Even if Odell Thurman, Thomas Davis, and Max Jean-Gilles all leave early to go to the NFL, Georgia will return about 20 scholarship seniors. The most since the program won the SEC Championship in 2002.
That group, Mark Richt’s first group of recruits he was able to spend a full year recruiting, and almost four years getting ready for 2005, will be full of impact players on both sides of the ball.
Next season’s offense will have to depend on a lot on talented underclassmen for offensive firepower. Danny Ware, Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and others will likely fight it out for the starting running back spot in the spring. Those youngsters along with Leonard Pope, Sean Bailey, and A.J. Bryant will probably provide the bulk of Georgia’s scoring for 2005.
But the heart and soul of the team will be its seniors. And boy are there a lot of them. There is a senior at virtually every position. And there’s nothing like a senior in the off-season making certain a teammate at his position is getting it right.
D.J. Shockley will be the leader of the offense for the first time in his five seasons in Athens and Kedric Golston is likely the newly crowned leader of the defense, no matter if the most talented return on that side of the ball, or not.
Not having a load of seniors the past two seasons has hurt the Bulldogs. Senior leadership can not be undervalued. After 2002, the Bulldogs were being lead in bulk by juniors. David Greene, David Pollack, and Sean Jones were the heartbeat of the club. They were forced to step up early because, although it wasn’t yet their time to be senior leaders, they were forced into action. As talented as they are – and they are talented – but they are small in number.
Every season the number one problem college football teams have is replacing talent that leaves either because they have run out of eligibility or because they have left for the NFL. Georgia will lose Greene, Pollack, Fred Gibson, and Reggie Brown – and a few juniors could follow.
But it will be the size and character of the 2005 senior class that will determine how many games are won next season – not the players that have left the program. Seniors will dominate Georgia’s depth chart in the fall of 2005. They are at every position on offense, except the skill positions. They are at every starting spot, literally, on the defense, except defensive end.
The SEC is up for grabs again next season and there is no clear cut leader in the East. If Georgia’s seniors, all 20 or so of them, can get it in gear for battles in Athens, Knoxville, Jacksonville, and beyond, there is nothing written in stone that the year after it’s supposed to be your year can’t be your year.