Last week, before the Bulldogs moved their Sugar Bowl practices here to Atlanta, Richt stopped a group of reporters to show off a photo of himself and Shockley on the Georgia Dome field after the SEC Championship Game. In the picture, of course, D.J. Shockley has a huge smile on his face, having just led the Bulldogs to a conference title and been named the game’s most valuable player.
The pride on Richt’s face suggested it was one of his most prized possessions. In a job where no one wants to play favorites, Richt admits that he’s as close or closer to Shockley than he’s ever been to a player at Georgia.
“We just always had a good line of communication and a trust, and without it, he wouldn’t be here today,” Richt said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Five years after signing with the Bulldogs, Shockley will play his final game in the red and black tonight at 8:30 when No. 8 Georgia faces No. 11 West Virginia in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. It will be an emotional farewell for both Richt and Shockley.
Richt has known Shockley longer than any player on his team. Don Shockley Sr., the head coach at North Clayton High School, was attending coaching clinics at Florida State before his son was in middle school. D.J. attended his first player’s camp in the summer before his sophomore year in high school.
“I was nervous, very nervous, very nervous,” Shockley said. “I had heard so much about (Richt). I was afraid of standing next to him.”
By the time the camp was over, Richt was coming over to stand next to Shockley.
“That first camp, I didn’t (notice Shockley at first),” Richt said. “The dad might have said, ‘Here’s my son,’ but when we did the long ball drill, that’s when I remember him. He was just a little guy man, and he slung that thing. He threw it 55, 60 yards. It might have been more. I don’t know what it was. He threw it farther than anybody out there.”
It was the start of the beautiful friendship. The relationship has been forged through an important pledge, a common frustration and a lot of long talks.
“I think we’ve both just grown so much,” Shockley said. “We have this deep respect for each other.”
Shockley was the first player to make a verbal commitment to Georgia when Richt was hired before the 2001 season. For the next four seasons, he did what Richt did most of his collegiate career, back up another quarterback. That led to the long talks, as Shockley voiced his frustration and talked of transferring.
“(Richt) was always there in my corner and always trying to help me out and say everything is all right,” Shockley said. Richt would say “we love you as a player and we love you as a person, and we really think you can be a great player for us. I could tell it was really heartfelt, I could tell he really meant it. It wasn’t something he was just trying to tell me to keep me happy.”
Shockley’s teammates and Richt’s colleagues have noticed the bond.
“I think the commitment that Shock made to come back makes him a special type person,” offensive coordinator Neil Callaway said. “A lot of people would have bolted, but he hung in here with us, and we’re grateful for that.”
Nobody more than Richt.