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Posted: 3:02 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 2013

Seniors talk about last game 'tween the hedges 

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By Chip Towers

Like I do every season when it gets about this time, I've talked to a bunch Georgia seniors about their feelings as they prepare to play their final home games in Sanford Stadium. It's always an interesting proposition hearing what they have to say and what they'll remember and what they've learned.

Of course, I am able to share for public consumption only a tiny percentage of what I hear. As I'm sure you'll understand, the primary focus of my story advancing Saturday's game against Kentucky and Senior Night is on quarterback Aaron Murray. There's just no avoiding that considering his accomplishments over these last four years and his most recent performance last Saturday against Auburn.

But every one of the 28 seniors that will be honored Saturday has a story to tell and all of them made contributions to UGA football, great and small. So I'm just going to kind of empty the notebook and share as many and as much of the interiews as I can that I conducted this past week.

I'll leave you with coach Mark Richt's comments on the group, which heads into Saturday's game with a four-year record of 34-17, played in 15 contests decided by five points or less, won two SEC East titles and came five yards from playing for a national championship.

"The main thing right now is we want to do our very best to honor our seniors," Richt said. "I think that's very important. I've said it a lot but I think they're worthy of us giving our best effort."

Now to the seniors. (I have a couple more players but will have to add later) . . .

OG DALLAS LEE (Buford)

On three O-line seniors . . .

"Somebody said we’ve gone through 100 career starts together. That’s pretty cool. It’s a bond that a lot of people don’t have with somebody else. I’ve had the fortune of having that with Chris and Ken and that’s awesome, man. They’re two of my brothers.

On Aaron Murray . . .

"He definitely endeared himself more to Bulldog Nation, just the way he’s played and the way he was able to come out in those big games and really show people who said negative things about him how he could play. I love him as a quarterback, I love him as a friend. He deserves everything he gets coming in Senior Day. The records and what he’s been able to accomplish in his career here has been pretty awesome.On Murray. …

On how long he's known Murray . . .

"Met him in recruiting. We both came in early and me, him and Mettenberger roomed together. It was very interesting, especially when they were competing for the starting job that next spring. It was very entertaining. They were real nice to each other, but they were two super competitive guys. It didn’t matter what the contest was. My favorite was their FIFA matches on X-Box. Those were always entertaining."

On parents' reaction to his career ending ...

"They’re definitely sad to see my career come to an end here. It’s been a fun time. We try not to talk about it. I’m sure my mom will erupt on Saturday. It will be a lot to deal with, a lot of emotions for her. But that’s what moms are supposed to do. We’ll see what happens on Saturday."

On remaining college goals . . .

"All I care about now is beating Kentucky, because it’s my last game at Sanford, and beating Tech, because it’s Tech. Nobody at Georgia wants to lose to Tech, and I sure don’t want that to be my last regular-season game, losing to Tech. So my motivation is to go out with a winning SEC record and win the Governor’s Cup. We’ll figure out the bowl later."

DL GARRISON SMITH (Atlanta)

On how things turned out . . .

"These four years, it’s just life man, life. There’s ups and downs man. You’re going to have sunshine, you’re going to have storms. So it’s a rollercoaster. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen, so you’ve just got to deal with it. We’ve had good years and bad years. That’s just life. You’re going to have good days and bad days.

On what kind of season this one was . . .

"It’s not a year of storms. It’s a year where we had a few little thunderstorms. It ain’t no monsoon or nothing; ain’t no typhoon, ain’t none of them. Unfortunately we’ve just had the injury bug and that’s tough. It’s tough for the season but it’s really tough for those players that are hurt. That;’s what’s important. No player ever wants to deal with injuries, and my heart’s out for them guys. It’s hard to win any game when you’re losing so many key players. But you keep fighting and competing in every game, and we were still in every game."

On the defense . . .

"We’ve got so many young guys we’re depending on. They just don’t have the experience. So it’s tought. But at the end of the day I’m proud of everybody. I’m proud of this team and how it fought. So I don’t have any complaints. I’m proud of this team."

On future of program . . .

"This team is on its way up. We’ve got everybody coming back, especially on defense. They can’t go nowhere but up from here. We’re playing with so many freshmen and sophomores, even older guys like Ramik Wilson, this is his first year ever playing. So it’s really a team full of first-year players. So at the end of the day, this year is really going to mean a lot just for the building of this tea. Next year thyey’re going to be really good. It’s going be a special team. I wish I had another year to play with these guys. But unfortunately I don’t. My time’s up. But next year’s Georgia team is going to be all right. Great caching staff and guys are finally learning just how important it is to do their job. That’s going to fall into next year and going to help that team be good"

On his emotions on Saturday . . .

"No telling what’s going to happen. I don’t feel like this is the end for me. I just feel like I’[m entering the next phase of my life, whatever that is. Whatever God’s plan is, I’m just going to let him be in control and deal with whatever comes. But I don’t feel like it’s the end or anything. I don’t want to make it emotional. I don’t have anything to be sad about. I gave my all here. I put 110 percent into everything I did. I can look at myself in the mirror and say I left it all on the field."

OT KENARIOUS GATES (Grantville)

Favorite memory . . .

"My favorite memory at Georgia has been the Florida games, just playing in that environment, knowing the rivalry. Every year it seems like that’s been my greatest moment. There’s just so much excitement. Last year, going down and scoring on that last drive, our team really stuck together and pushed each other.

On fellow senior linemen . . .

"I just heard that we started 100 games together. It’s very exciting. It’s a milestone for me. It’s a great accomplishment, just to stay away from injury, for everybody. But 100 starts for Georgia, playing in the SEC, that’s a great accomplishment. Over the course of the years our relationship grew stronger. We’re brothers now, brothers from another mother, as they say."

On future of O-line . . .

"I’m pretty sure a couple of guys will come in, younger guys that are here now, they’ll fill in the holes, the spots we’re leaving. I feel pretty confident that those guys are going to step up and continue the tradition of the offensive line that we have established."

On thoughts going into Senior Night . . .

"My primary thing is just to go out with a win. It’s my last time in Sanford Stadium playing between the hedges. Play for your school, play for the guys, play for the seniors and get this W. Winning your last home game of your senior year, you’re going to remember that your whole life. So I’m going to go out there and play my heart out for the rest of these guys and try to get this W."

QB AARON MURRAY (Tampa)

Reflecting on the records and offensive production . . .

"The most important thing is the win or loss. Personal performance is definitely the second thing you look at. I wasn’t thinking, 'oh, man, I played well today (against Auburn).' I was thinking, 'I can’t believe we just lost that game.' That’s what was going through my mind in the locker room."

On emotions heading into Senior Night . . .

"We still have to go out there and play football. At the end of the day, we all know we’re extremely blessed. There are so many people that wish they could strap on that 'G' and go out there and play in Sanford Stadium. We understand we are privileged to have that opportunity, especially for these seniors to go out this one last time. I know everybody’s going to play their hearts out. . . . I feel honored every single week to strap on that G and go out there and play for Georgia and represent this university. It’s an unbelievable privilege and I have a lot of fun doing it."

On why he came back for senior season . . .

"I don’t think I was trying to prove anything. I came back to continue getting better as a quarterback, to continue being on this team and to compete and play for Geogia. It’s definitely been a rocky season, up and down, but I’ve enjoyed every single moment of it, every single game. I’m out there with some of my best friends having fun and playing football."

On favorite games of his career . . .

"LSU and South Carolina this year. Two very special home game."

On not reaching championship goals this season . . .

"You have to enjoy it. If you go out there and complain and moan and feel sorry for yourself that we’re not going to be able to play in Atlanta or play in Pasadena or not accomplsh the goals that we set at the beginning of the year, I mean, it’s pointless to go out there and play football. Then you’re just throwin the football around. I take every week in practice to get better and figure out ways I can improve and make sure we’re ready on Saturday."

WR RHETT McGOWAN (Calhoun)

Thoughts heading into last game at Sanford . . .

"It’s crazy that it went by this fast. I’m feeling a bunch of things this week. It’s crazy that it’s going to be my last time playing between the hedges. It’s been a long ride but it went by too fast. I’m just trying to take it all in, make the most of it, enjoy it and go out with a win."

On starting as a walkon . . .

"Brandon (Harton) has been my roommate for four years now. It was me, Brandon, Tavarres (King) and Ben Jones to start with. Now it’s down to just me and Harton, so we’ve been together the whole time. He’s had a great career, too. The guys that started off as walkons in this class, I feel like everyone’s  made the most of it. You’ve got Connor (Norman) and Blake (Sailors), who were great special teams players; you’ve got Hugh Williams, who’s not a fifth year but has gotten on the field this year as a tight end and didn’t even come in as a tight end. So he’s made the most of his time. I’m so proud of all these guys."

On earning a scholarship and becoming a regular . . .

"That’s why I came. To be honest, it wakes you up when you get here. Your mindset changes a little bit once you get here I guess you’d say. I was coming here to play, but you don’t realize how tough it is until you get here and you see all these top plays. It takes a little more as a walkon. I feel like you’ve got to do a little more than the scholarship guys. You’ve got to continue to do it. You can’t just make one polay a day. You’ve got to be consistent and do it over and over before you can even get the coach’s eye. That’s why being a walkon is so difficult. But it’s something I don’t regret at all, obviously. I’m so blessed to be in this situation. I credit Coach Ball for a lot of it. I’ve gotten so much better as a player since I got here and a lot of that credit goes to Coach Ball."

On not going to small college . . .

"I don’t regret coming here at all. If I hadn’t come here I probably would have gone to a small school and played something, basketball if not football. But nothing comes close to playing in front of 92,000 in Sanford Stadium every Saturday. And meeting some of these guys, I couldn’t imagine not knowing some of these guys. I feel like I’ve known them my entire life. I don’t think small-college ball, not putting that down at all, but I’m saying it doesn’t compare to playing at this level."

TB BRANDON HARTON (Reidsville)

Had he decided to go to a small school . . .

"If I would have gone somewhere else, yes, I would have graduated and played and stuff like that. But the friends that I made here and the bonds I have with coaches, teammates, other people around campus that I met, playing in this atmosphere, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything."

On making it as a walkon . . .

"I’m just glad to be a part of it. Obviously it’s a tough journey, with academics and sports. So to come in and stay here all four years through it all as a walkon, as someone who volunteered to do this because I love this sport and this school, it makes it that much more special to leave Georgia with a degree."

TE ARTHUR LYNCH (Dartmouth, Mass.)

On Murray's play . . .

"He’s been awesome all year, the way he’s trusted his receivers and the grit and toughness he’s displayed. He got beat up early in the game and late in the game. His two rushing touchdowns, epscially the one to go up by one late, was one of the giutisest plays I’ve seen. I think NFL scouts will take notice of that as well. There’s not many people who don’t respect for him as a football player, and if they don’t shame on them.

On what makes Murray so good . . .

"I think his ability to show up every day, whether or not we win the game, whether it’s good times here or bad, his ability to show up and prepare each week the same way is impressive. When we went on the national championship run last year, he approached every game the same as he did when we were 6-7. That’s the testament of someone’s true character. Do they prepare the same, do they work as hard when things are bad as when they’re good and it never changes for him. He’s been a constant, consistent figure for this program for five years now. I think he’ll go down as one of the most solid, hard-working, successful people to ever come out of this program. And that’s a testament to his hard work."

On whether he'll be emotional for Senior Night festivities . . .

"Not necessarily. I’m just more excited to get it out of the way and be with my teammates one last time in Sanford. To me, it’s probably the prettiest set-up we have in college football at Sanford Stadium. The whole idea of Athens during the fall and 90,000 will be there and our families will get to watch us play. It’s pretty cool. All I really care about is whether we win the game and take care of business when it comes down to it."

On the disappointing final season . . .

"You’ve got to enjoy it. You can’t really sulk about it because time doesn’t stop for anybody. You’ve got to approach every day like it’s your last and enjoy it. That’s kind of how I’ve dealt with this whole experience, really soak in every moment and enjoy what you’ve got. A month from now I won’t be at Georgia football player any more, but I’ll always be a Georgia Bulldog. I think that’s the one thing you have to take into consideration."

On decision to come South to play football . . .

"Yeah, I came to Georgia to challenge myself on the football field and off it. I could have had a lot of safer routes, going to Boston College or Penn State or Maryland, somewhere up there or in the ACC. But if you want to be the best at what you do, you’ve got to play against the best competition and that was in the SEC and particularly here at UGA."

On adjusting to life in the South . . .

"That was the biggest part of my growth as a person, indulging every part of the Southern culture and really expanding out of my comfort zone. Once I opened up and got used to everything and welcomed difference kinds of people into my life, I think that’s been the biggest asset about coming to the University of Georgia and the state. Football’s been great, obviously. I met a lot of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. But just from the standpoint of growing as an individual, coming down here and taking that risk was the best thing that’s ever happened to me."

On accepting invitation to Senior Bowl . . .

"The Senior Bowl is a nice consolation. It will give me an opportunity to showcase what I can do in front of scouts against some of the top competition. I like that. If you shy away from a challenge you’ll never find out how good you can be and never reach your potential. I had invites to other games, but this is obviously the one you want to go to. This is the best competition in the country and hopefully I’ll have a good showing, get invited to the combine and have a good showing there, too."

OG CHRIS BURNETTE (LaGrange)

On getting over Auburn loss . . .

"We've had to deal with nail-biter games and stuff like that the entire season. It's kind of helped us see the big picture. It was rough, but we know we have to get back to work the next week."

On all the close games . . .

"It's aged my about five years. It's been interesting. Honestly, it's been real exciting. I feel like I'm part of a team that is so resilient and has been something special, regardless of the outcome. It says a lot that I've been on a team that doesn't quit. Regardless of the outcomes, a lot of guys are learning some good lessons from these games. Adversity builds character, definitely, and I've also learned you can never stop fighting. That was a perfect of never quitting regardless of what the situaiton was. The cards have been stacked against us, but we've been able to at least make it a game."

On rationalizing the injuries and other twists and turns . . .

"It's been crazy. But God defeinitely has a plan for it all. It's different than what we had planned at the beginning of the season. I think at the end of the day it's all for His good and our good. We might not agree with it at the moment. But looking back I think we'll understand this was a special season to build and grow men."

WR RANTAVIOUS WOOTEN (Belle Glade, Fla.)

On having 9 catches for 203 yards and a TD in last two games . . .

"I’ve been able to make some plays these last couple of game, but I’ve been trying to help all season in any way I could. It’s definitely one of those things where I’m happy. I’m proud of myself for putting in the work and putting in the eforrt and do the things I  know I can do."

On secret to success . . .

"For me it’s all about having fun. A lot of guys come out and put a lot of pressure on themselves, but you ain’t going to have a fun if you do that. Just go out and do what you do and do the best you can do and help the team in any kind of way you can, no matter what it is. I learned that over the years."

On goals going forward . . .

"I’ve just got three games left. For me it’s just, like, ‘let’s just go play ball. Let’s just have fun and finish on top.’ Why not? We’ve been working since January for this, let’s go do it. Let’s go win these last three games and win and have fun doing it."

On being at UGA for last five years . . .

"It actually feels like I just got here. I kind of feel like I’m still a freshman in a way, except that I just know everything already. It’s one of those things where it doesn’t hit you until you’re in the moment. When I came in as a freshman a lot of those older guys would tell you, ‘it goes by quick.’ But you don’t pay attention to it until you’re a senior, until these moments hit you. That’s when you realize, it’s about to be over and it went by quick. Everything gets blurred. You make memories and you create memories, and then you reflect on it now. Everything went by just like that [snaps]."

On the adversity he has overcome . . .

"I’m appreciative of it all, because it makes me the person I am today. It shapes me and mold me into a great person and great character. It’s one of those things you don’t know how you’ll react to it until you’ve experienced it. Having ups and downs with my career and with the team has definitely been a learning experience. It’s been something I can learn from it and really appreciate that everything happens for a reason."

On Murray . . .

"You have to respect what he does on and off the field. He’s put up the numbers, made the memories and shown tremendous leadership. He’s done a lot of memorable things over his career and I’m definitely proud to say that I played with him and caught balls and touchdowns from him. I wouldn’t trade it for the world."

Chip Towers

About Chip Towers

Chip Towers covers the Georgia Bulldogs for the AJC. Georgia Bulldogs beat blog

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