Cuff could get thrown right into the Fire

ATHENS – Vance Cuff didn't study his playbook this summer - didn't want to get his hopes up.

Instead, Cuff spent most of his down time fretting about his ability to get into school and join the football team. Three denials by the NCAA Clearinghouse did nothing to raise his hopes. Finally, two days before fall practice began, Cuff received a waiver from the NCAA.

It was a feel-good story for the No. 13 Bulldogs, and it was expected to end there. Having missed an entire summer of weight training with his Georgia teammates, Cuff wasn't believed to have any chance to play as a true freshman.

"I thought I was pretty much going to be redshirted," he said.

But the story keeps getting better. With only eight days remaining before Georgia starts the season with a 6:45 p.m. game against Oklahoma State in Sanford Stadium, linebacker Rennie Curran is the only defensive true freshman more likely to play immediately than Cuff, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.

Thankfully for Cuff and for Georgia, he did stick to his workout routine with the help of Colquitt County head coach Tim Cokely, who knocked on the door of his house in the mornings to get him in the weight room.

"He comes from an outstanding program," Martinez said. "I don't know what it is, but his maturity level is not like a normal freshman. He's got high energy. He plays hard. Those are some of the things you look for as a coach from the young players."

Neither the improved competition nor oppressive heat of the last three weeks have discouraged Cuff, a good sign he worked hard on his own before arriving on campus, said Coach Mark Richt

"I assume he was doing something because he really is holding up very well," Richt said."Some kids are just lean and it's hot where he's from so he's used to the heat. He looks good. He's not lost, and he's competing. We didn't even know if he was going to get here. It's been a very pleasant surprise for us and for Vance."

Once Cuff, 5-foot-11, 173 pounds, arrived in Athens, things started going his way. Minor injuries that kept veteran cornerbacks Bryan Evans and Thomas Flowers out of practice forseveral days meant he got more practice snaps. The two-game suspension of Ramarcus Brown means Georgia will be short-handed in the secondary against pass-happy Oklahoma State and South Carolina.

Still, there's no guarantee Cuff will play this year. If the Bulldogs can make it through Brown's suspension without needing Cuff, he still could be headed for a redshirt season, Martinez said.

"You feel really bad if he doesn't play a lot," Martinez said.

For his part, Cuff will be ready and waiting.

"If he's willing to put me in, I'm ready to play," he said. "I believe I can play."

Not that he's a finished product.

"I covered a couple guys who were recruited with me, and I did pretty good on them," he said. "Then I covered (senior Mikey Henderson) and me covering him made me see I have a lot of work to do."

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