ATHENS, Ga. - A good chunk of the senior leadership that has helped push Georgia to the brink of its first SEC championship in 20 years did not come to Athens on scholarship.
When Coach Mark Richt talks about his senior leaders, he mentions such players as Jon Stinchcomb, Boss Bailey, Tony Gilbert and Terrence Edwards - scholarship players who made contributions from their freshman seasons.
But Richt also talks about such seniors as Ryan Davis, Bert Jones, J.T. Wall, Braxton Snyder and Cory Phillips. All came to Georgia as walk-on players, all have earned scholarships and all also have played key roles on and off the field.
Davis and Jones are special teams leaders for No. 4 Georgia, which plays No. 22 Arkansas Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Davis also has played a big role this year as a top backup at cornerback and safety.
When Davis was considering his college choices as a senior at Carver High School in Columbus, he had scholarship offers to such colleges as Georgia Southern but instead chose the more difficult path as a walk-on at Georgia.
"From what I've experienced up to this day, I've enjoyed every minute of it,'' Davis said Monday. "I wouldn't trade a thing.''
As proof of the impact Davis has made, he served as one of four game captains for the Alabama and South Carolina games this year.
"To come as a walk-on five years ago and represent the team as a captain made me feel real good inside as a person,'' Davis said.
Davis and his parents shared another highlight last Saturday when seniors were honored before the 51-7 win over Georgia Tech at Sanford Stadium. Each senior was introduced and ran out to greet family members before posing for a picture with Coach Mark Richt.
"My dad, he's not a big emotional type person,'' said Davis of Carver coach Wallace Davis. "But my mom (Ann) never really felt the Georgia spirit until she was out on the field and she heard the Georgia fans and saw the crowd. She and my sister (Alida) enjoyed that experience. They were amazed at 87,000 fans.''
Said Ann Davis Monday: "I'm still on cloud nine.
"To just turn around and look up in the stands and see 80,000 people, that was thrilling to me. To hear his name called and all the applause and hear the announcer say "from Columbus, Georgia" ... it was really amazing, something I'll never forget.''
Ryan Davis knows what it meant to his father, as well, to stand on the Sanford Stadium field and hear the cheers. Davis says one reason his father urged him to "go big'' and attend Georgia as a walk-on is that Wallace Davis did not have that opportunity when he was looking for a college in 1962.
"We all knew Georgia and Georgia Tech were great schools, but I knew because of the times I couldn't go to those schools,'' said Wallace Davis Monday.
Wallace Davis attended Lincoln University and advanced from that predominantly black college in Missouri to a career in the NFL.
Said Ryan Davis: "My dad really pushed the issue to come here. He also wanted to come here but at the time he was playing ball they weren't letting many blacks in the University of Georgia. He always stressed and pushed that if I worked hard I would tough it out.''
Ryan Davis' older sister, Alida, ran track and earned her degree at Georgia Tech. Now Ryan is on schedule to graduate in May with a degree in health and physical education.
The college dreams of one generation have been realized by another, even though for Ryan, taking the walk-on route was not the easy path.
"Of course it's not all peaches and cream when you come on as a walk-on,''
Davis said. "You just don't get the same opportunity as if you were a scholarship player. You have to work a little harder and almost just be in the way.''
Added Davis: "We are the only ones who stuck it out. There were almost 25 of us that came in together as walk-ons, and the majority of them fell off. The few that are here have built strong bonds.''
Highlights for Davis included his first game, against Kentucky in 1999, his first tackle, against Tennessee in 1999, and his first interception, against Houston last year.
Davis also helped set the pace for last year's win at Georgia Tech with a big hit on Tech's Kelly Rhino on Georgia's first punt of the game.
"I think that's what I'm the most known for,'' he said.
Davis has recorded 28 tackles and has broken up two passes this year.
Now comes the opportunity for another memorable highlight Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
"This is all of it, all the big games - Florida, Tennessee, Tech and Auburn - wrapped up in one,'' Davis said.
Georgia already has won its first outright SEC East title, but now comes the chance for the first SEC championship in 20 years.
In the hallway outside of the team meeting rooms at the Butts-Mehre football building is a collection of team pictures of past championship years at Georgia. Now Davis has a chance to make that wall of honor.
Said Davis: "Maybe someday I'll bring my kids back and I can point my picture out to them to show them we were one of the elite teams in Georgia history.''