Even though he was holding an undergraduate degree from Tennessee, Eli Wolf didn’t participate in the Volunteers’ Senior Day activities last November in Knoxville. But he’s more than happy to have that opportunity with the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday.
Wolf, who joined the Bulldogs as a graduate transfer this year, will be among 20 players represented on Dooley Field on Saturday for Senior Day.
“This will be my Senior Day, too,” said Wolf, a 6-foot-4, 236-pound tight end from Minster, Ohio. “I’ll be walking with my parents. I know I’ve only been here a year, but they’ve taken me in like family here, so it’s going to be an exciting moment for me.”
Wolf graduated from Tennessee last year with a degree in marketing. He’s pursuing a masters in sports management at UGA. He’s also playing some pretty good football.
Heading into Saturday’s home finale against Texas A&M, Wolf is leading Georgia’s tight ends and ranks sixth on the team overall with 12 catches for 147 yards. He caught his first touchdown pass of the season – and only the second of his collegiate career, in the Bulldogs’ 21-14 win over Auburn on Saturday.
Wolf has played in every game this season on offense and also plays on special teams. Most notably, he’s excited about finally getting to play in the SEC Championship game after missing out the past three years with the Vols. Georgia is making its third consecutive appearance as the Eastern Division champion.
“I’ve never been an East champion,” Wolf said. “Around here, I know our goals are much higher, but we definitely don’t take it for granted. Winning the East is not an easy thing to do. Our goals and aspirations extend beyond this, but we took it in realizing it’s not something that’s easy to do.”
While Wolf can only rightfully lay claim to one of those East titles, this senior class gets credit for three. On the field these past four seasons, Georgia’s seniors have won 78.8 percent of their games while logging 41-11 record so far, 20-3 in SEC play, with three division championships, one SEC championship and a national championship game appearance.
With as many as five games possibly left in the season, starting with A&M on Saturday, the seniors have a chance to finish as the Bulldogs’ class with the most wins of all time. That distinction currently belongs to the Class of 2005, which went 44-9 and claimed a pair of SEC championships.
Some of this year’s seniors came in as part of Kirby Smart’s first recruiting class in 2016, while a few others were holdovers from coach Mark Richt’s last class and redshirted as freshmen. That’s the case for two of the biggest stars on this team, safety J.R. Reed and place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
The other Senior Day honorees include: defensive tackle Michael Barnett, walk-on defensive back Tyler Beaver, wide receiver Lawrence Cager, defensive tackle Michail Carter, defensive tackle Tyler Clark, linebacker Tae Crowder, walk-on running back Ian Donald-McIntyre, offensive lineman D’Marcus Hayes, running back Brian Herrien, defensive end David Marshall, defensive back Tyrique McGhee, long snapper Steven Nixon, wide receiver Tyler Simmons, walk-on quarterback Jess Sutherland, tight end Charlie Woerner and defensive end Justin Young.
“Just proud of everything they’ve meant to our program,” Smart said. “Some of those seniors are part of our first class. A few of those, the Tae Crowders and Mike Barnetts, were already here. So, it’s a unique group. It's the first group that we’ve had for four years, and I’m happy for them. I want them to be able to enjoy the moment, but also understand that there’s a very emotional game following it up.”
It’s uncertain whether senior defensive tackle Julian Rochester will be involved. Smart revealed this week the Bulldogs are seeking a redshirt for the longtime starter, who has played in only two games this season because of his recovery from offseason knee surgery.
For those going through the emotional pregame ceremony, it can be a bit concerning before a game the magnitude of the one Georgia will play Saturday against Texas A&M. The Bulldogs need to win it to keep alive their College Football Playoff aspirations.
But before that battle commences, they’ll be recognized on the field along with their parents and family members. Smart will present each one with a football signed by the team and their Georgia jersey framed.
“It’s really emotional; it feels kind of surreal,” said Crowder, who began his career as a running back yet is a Butkus Award semifinalist as a senior. “But we’ve got another game, and we’ve got to take it like that. But I’ll definitely cherish those moments.”
Smart said he hopes Senior Day not a distraction, but can never be sure how the players will process such an event.
“It's always an interesting dynamic for those guys, mainly because they go out and have a different routine before the game,” Smart said. “But they've meant so much to this program. I just want them to know that our university and our alumni will be here for them forever, regardless of where they go on to, that we're going to help them.”
Georgia’s non-seniors insist it will be nothing but motivation for them.
“I want to take it out for my brothers like Tyler Clark, Brian Herrien, all my boys,” junior guard Solomon Kindley said. “Because, coming in, those were like the first people I even met when I first got to Georgia. So, there are going to be some emotions because I know it’s their last game. … I would put it all on the line for those boys.”
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