July 19, 2018 Atlanta: South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp holds his SEC Media Days press conference at the College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday, July 19, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Georgia-South Carolina will be a ‘hot’ matchup between familiar faces

When Georgia and South Carolina take the field for a crucial SEC East matchup in Week 2, it will be something akin to a family reunion. 

Kirby Smart and Will Muschamp’s friendship dates to the 1990s, when both wore the red and black. A couple of years later, their lives intersected when Smart joined Muschamp on Valdosta State’s coaching staff.

The two joined forces again four years later under Nick Saban at LSU, and their ensuing run-ins seemed inevitable as both made their living in the SEC. Now, as head coaches in the same division, they attend an annual meeting that could make or break the other’s season. 

But that connection isn’t the only reason the game feels a bit like a tiff among relatives. Bryan McClendon, a staple on Georgia’s sideline under Mark Richt, will call the Gamecocks’ plays on offense, and 24 players on Carolina’s roster are from the Peach State. 

Junior defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum was recruited out of Stone Mountain by McClendon and has a history with multiple Bulldogs. 

“I played against a lot of those guys … in high school,” he said. “Just growing up with some of those guys, it’s pretty cool to be able to play against them. I’m looking forward to the Georgia game.”

When asked about playing the defending SEC champions so early in the season, Wonnum said it would be a “big weekend” for the Gamecocks. 

“We got to come out with our ‘A’ game,” he said. “Each game means a lot to me, but Georgia is just more of a spark.”

South Carolina got within a touchdown of the Bulldogs in the first half of their most recent meeting, but Georgia maintained a lead to seal the 24-10 victory. Muschamp assured that this year’s installment “will be hot,” but spoke highly of his former teammate and colleague when addressing the past. 

“I got tremendous respect for Kirby and his staff,” he said. “They had a complete football team last year. Offensively, defensively and special teams, they were tough in all three areas. They were well-coached. They had good players, and they've continued to recruit at a high level.” 

The praise comes after former Carolina receiver Torri Gurley guaranteed that the Gamecocks would pull out a win against the Bulldogs on Sept. 8. 

Wonnum said the team heard about the comment and wants to “live up to” Gurley’s prediction, adding that he stands by what Gurley said “100 percent.” 

If South Carolina wants to capitalize on the buzz calling them the dark horse in the East, they’ll need to put the past behind them and prove Gurley right — no matter which friends, former teammates or previous coworkers might be on the other sideline. 

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