Jon Richt settling in at Mars Hill

MARS HILL, N.C. -- Like any other player, Mars Hill College quarterback Jon Richt left school last spring after his freshman season with a list of goals to improve his game.

But his offseason plans also included a task not on the to-do list of many college football players: getting married.

The son of Georgia football coach Mark Richt, Jon begins his second season at the Division II school in the mountains of western North Carolina this weekend with a busy schedule that includes trying to find time to be with his new bride.

"We see each other at lunch in the [cafeteria], at dinner and when we go to bed. And that's about it," said Richt, 20, who married Anna Cearley, 20, on May 8.

"We've been practicing, getting ready for the season and [Anna, a volleyball player who transferred from Gainesville State) has been in two-a-days getting ready for her season.

"It's a challenge, but it's been a fun ride. We are getting to know each other better through a different type of lifestyle. It's not like coming from work at 5 and saying, 'Honey, I'm home.'''

Anna and Jon, who live in an apartment near campus, began dating during their freshman year at Prince Avenue Christian School in Athens and didn't let their athletic careers, college plans or ages get in the way of wanting to be together.

"It was a decision we both prayed about a lot and we got a lot of support from our family and friends," Anna said. "We both believe this is what the Lord wants for us."

"It's a unique situation, but they are unique people," Mars Hill football coach Tim Clifton said. "They are mature young people who have their lives and priorities in order. I walked into my office the other day and Jon was watching film and Anna was sitting on the couch.

"I asked what they were doing and Anna said, 'I'm studying. This is Football 101.'''

Anna said her new friends at Mars Hill like to kid the newlyweds.

"They call us the old married couple and we call ourselves that as well," she said with a laugh. "It's true. We are early-nighters. The typical reaction is, 'You're so young.' But this is what we both want."

A transfer from Clemson, Richt was Mars Hill's starting quarterback as a freshman last season (81-of-173 passing, 1,188 yards, six touchdowns, nine interceptions) but shared time with junior Luis Cruz (four touchdowns, five interceptions in nine games). The Lions finished 6-4 and were in position to earn the program's first NCAA postseason berth before losing their last two games.

Richt, a 6-2, 210-pound redshirt sophomore, has been chosen as the starter for Saturday's opener at home against North Greenville (S.C.) and said he feels much more comfortable under center.

"Last year was rough at the beginning," Richt said. "I didn’t know the system, the checks or the reads. I didn’t know much at all. Now I have a year under my belt and I need to pick up where I left off. I need to step it up and play better to help this team win.

"I'm more comfortable, I know the guys better and I've played with them for a year. Luis is a great quarterback, so one of us has to take control of this offense and lead the team."

Richt said he talks almost daily with his dad, who plans to make the four-hour drive from Athens to get to Saturday's game.

"He tells me that I've proven that I can play and now it's time to fine-tune my game and show that I can dominate and lead my team," Richt said. "He's a great dad to have as a valuable resource for football."

Jon's mom, Katharyn, had to choose last year between Mars Hill and Georgia games on autumn Saturdays and usually made the drive with Anna to watch Jon play. But dad thinks the change in marital status should alter that plan.

"[Georgia] has a scrimmage in the morning and our game is at 1:30, so I think he's going to try and get here," Jon said. "Dad's trying to argue that since I have a wife now, Anna can come to my games and Mom can go to his. I'm not sure who's going to win that one."