There was a time, though, it looked like its legacy would be something very different.
Of the team’s 19 scholarship seniors, at least six have been arrested during their time in Athens. Five have been suspended for at least one game for a violation of team rules. Three made headlines by selling their SEC Championship rings from the 2002 season. And one was dismissed before he got a chance to see the finish line.
“There was a time this class was all over the place,” admitted senior cornerback DeMario Minter. “You could feel it (from the coaches and other players), here we go again. I’m glad our coaches stuck with us, and, hopefully, we’re paying them back right now by going out and fighting for them.”
Including walk-ons, twenty-six players will be recognized before the 12:30 p.m. kickoff against the Wildcats (3-6, 2-4), and Coach Mark Richt has lauded the group more than once this year for its exceptional leadership.
He acknowledged, though, that there times as this class came up through the ranks that he wondered what kind of example they would set, particularly following the likes of seniors David Greene and Reggie Brown and David Pollack.
“I wasn’t sure,” Richt said. “Most of time adversity molds your character. It’s very difficult to grow and mature if everything goes real smooth. We’ve had some of those life lessons, but I feel like these guys are ready to go out in society and really be productive people and be really good family men and be men of good character.”
If Georgia wins Saturday, this year’s seniors will guarantee themselves a third trip to the SEC title game in their career. No Bulldog had ever played in the game before their arrival. The seniors already have won one SEC Championship, the school’s first in 20 years.
“A lot of the seniors have been on an SEC Championship team, but a lot of them didn’t really feel like they did a big part,” Richt said. “They’d like to see what it feels like as a senior leader, so I really think that’s going to help us.”
The No. 14 Bulldogs’ seniors are 41-8 in their career. Three more victories will make them the winningest senior class in school history, surpassing the 43-4-1 mark established by the 1983 seniors.
“Hopefully, we’ll be remembered as winners,” center Ryan Schnetzer said. “This last game will have a lot to do with that.”
An argument could be made that they’ve already won a very important battle. After a rough start, thirteen members of the class are on track to graduate in December. Plus, they’ve simply persevered.
“Four years ago, if you’d asked me if I was going to be here, I would have said probably not,” Minter said. “This class has been through a lot of stuff and we’re all stuck by each other. It’s very emotional that we stuck together and made it through these four years.”
Richt added, “Some of those guys certainly had some bumps and bruises along the way growing into a leadership role, but now that they’re here, I’m real proud of them.”