Defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos, who was officially hired last Monday and spent his first few days on the recruiting trail last week, already had a few fans in the state after his Connecticut team thumped South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl on Jan. 2.
“I didn’t get called out on my accent at all,” said Lakatos, a New Jersey native who spent his entire career in the Northeast. “They were interested in UConn, and some of the guys down here, they know about our program. They saw our bowl game, and they were very receptive.”
Of course, while the big bowl performance may have turned a few heads in SEC country, it was hardly the most memorable part of the Huskies’ season. Unfortunately, the defining memories of 2009 were all about what UConn lost.
Junior cornerback Jasper Howard was stabbed to death in mid-October, leaving Lakatos and the rest of the Connecticut coaching staff to rally their team in the face of tragedy.
“We got that phone call at 3:30 in the morning, and that certainly wasn’t easy to deal with,” Lakatos said. “We had to get our team together. We had great kids at UConn. Somehow we managed to pull through that thing and get turned around and get the season back on track. But it was difficult.”
The Huskies lost three straight games in the immediate aftermath of Howard’s death, but as the initial shock wore off, the legacy of their fallen friend helped turn the season around.
“One of the things that Jasper was is, Jasper was a guy who showed up every day and worked,” Lakatos said. “He loved football, and his teammates knew that about him. They took it upon themselves that, ‘We’re going to approach this thing like he did. Let’s get ourselves ready every day and work.’”
The result was a four-game winning streak to wrap up an eight-win season – including that bowl victory over South Carolina.
On the recruiting trail, Lakatos said he hasn’t heard much so far about the tragedy he helped his team overcome last season, but that doesn’t mean players weren’t paying attention. In fact, while Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said he didn’t know a lot about Lakatos when his hiring was announced, the way Connecticut responded to tragedy spoke volumes about the Bulldogs’ newest hire.
“When I saw he was from UConn, that was the first thing I thought of, the guy getting killed,” Boykin said. “Just the way his team responded and getting to go to a good bowl game and actually win despite all that adversity that happened. The defense played well in that game against South Carolina, which was a great team that put up plenty of points against us. I knew that, and I liked that about him.”
Rounding out the staff
New defensive coordinator Todd Grantham isn’t in a hurry to complete his defensive coaching staff, which still has one more opening yet to be filled.
Grantham said he expects the hire to be another linebackers coach – although he said it could be either an inside or outside linebackers coach – but there isn’t a timetable on the hire. The important thing, he said, is finding someone whose personality fits well at Georgia, and he’s grateful to head coach Mark Richt for giving him some say in making the final judgment.
“When you can have access to the hiring, I think all that’s a positive,” Grantham said. “Because coaching is teaching … so I think it’s important to hire good teachers and good motivators and guys who are on the same page to get things done.”
Of course, the hiring of a linebackers coach puts to rest any speculation about the possibility of bringing in a full-time special teams coordinator. That means Georgia will continue to divvy up the responsibilities for special teams among the entire staff – and that’s fine with Grantham’s first hire.
“I’ve been at UConn and coached on all the special teams except PAT and field goal,” Lakatos said. “I’ve had specific areas up there, so I’ve had access to those things. I did the same thing at Rutgers and was the special teams coordinator at Maine for a couple years. That’s coaching. It’s no different than defense. Make sure guys know what they’re doing and get out there and play fast and execute.”
Close to home
Lakatos is just beginning to get his feet wet on the recruiting trail, but he said the future isn’t likely to take him back to his roots too often.
Although Lakatos spent his entire coaching career in the Northeast at places like Connecticut, Rutgers and Syracuse, he said his priority now is landing the top recruits in his new home.
“If there’s a player up there that’s interested in Georgia that can help us win an SEC championship, then we’ll go back up to New Jersey or Pennsylvania or wherever it is to see what we can do to get them down here,” Lakatos said. “But my knowledge of this area is that there’s a lot of players in the state of Georgia, so if you can get the players in this state to stay here, you may not have to go too far.”
First things first
Georgia defensive end Demarcus Dobbs is eager to see how the Bulldogs’ new defense will look in spring practice, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking ahead too far. With offseason conditioning about to begin, the grueling pace of mat drills remains first and foremost in his concerns.
“In the back of my head, all the excitement and everything is there, but I know we have mat drills coming around, and that’s been the biggest thing on my mind,” Dobbs said. “But as far as anticipation, I’m just excited to see what’s going to happen, and I’m ready to work.”