Along with all the things Georgia’s quarterback juggled last year as a true freshman, add acting to the list. There were plenty of times last year, Stafford can admit now as the 2007 season begins, that he had to bluff his way through.
“I knew the plays,” he said. “It’s not like I was out there calling a play and walking up to the line going, ‘I have no idea what everybody is going to do.’ I think more of it for me was not knowing what the defense was bringing.”
Defensive schemes often affect segments of Georgia’s offense and those changes on the fly were the tough part last year, Stafford said.
If the defender plays this type of coverage, what route does my receiver run? Those are tough decisions for a newcomer to make in less than a second, but Stafford is a seasoned sophomore now, and not just acting like one.
When the Bulldogs took the field Saturday for the first day of practice, Stafford had eight starts, 1,749 passing yards and seven touchdowns under his belt. The nuances of the offense are second nature now, and he’s the unquestioned leader of the offense.
“It’s a whole lot easier when the words coming out of your mouth make sense,” he said. “I’m definitely not faking it anymore.”
Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt ran into Stafford in the practice facility’s hallway this week and the quarterback had his playbook.
“He said, ‘I remember last year, I studied this thing three hours a night, and I still didn’t know what I was doing,’” Richt said. “He is so much more comfortable in the system now.”
Stafford’s teammates were shocked to hear he was anything other than calm, cool and collected in 2006. There was “never a time” senior running back Thomas Brown thought he was being bluffed, Brown said.
“From the first day he came in, he had this kind of swagger about himself,” Brown said. “From Day 1, although he may not have known the offense the way he knows it now, he’s always been confident.”
“He sure faked me,” center Fernando Velasco said. “He needs to go to Hollywood.”
Stafford already has a taste of the paparazzi-chronicled life after pictures of him modeling with a beer keg at a NASCAR race made their way onto Web sites and then into newspapers around the South.
“I tell you what, it helps you realize how much you’ve got to have your guard up all the time no matter what you’re doing or where you are,” he said. “It kind of ruins your personal life, which is fine. I’d rather be playing football and not have a great personal life than have a great personal life and not be playing football.”
All Stafford’s experiences through year one – those on and off the field – have helped him develop into the face of the team, Richt said.
“I think it toughened him,” Richt said.
The transformation was evident in spring practice.
“You could see him out there telling guys what to do, putting guys in the right place,” Velasco said. “You can really see this year that he knows it’s his spot. He knows it’s his team.”
It continued this summer. Georgia’s offseason workouts, which are organized by the starting quarterback, probably were the best-attended of the Richt-era, Richt said.
“He’s been through the fire, and everybody who has played football knows how hard it is to be the quarterback,” Richt said. “For the most part, not many guys who don’t play quarterback want that responsibility, so I think they have a high regard for anybody who lives through it.”
Stafford is more comfortable in this year’s position, Richt said.
“He wasn’t used to being the rookie,” Richt said. “He’s used to being the guy everybody was looking to, winning state championships, breaking records. I think he’s moving a little closer to that guy he’s used to.”