ATHENS -- Georgia's football team will play its final home game of the season Saturday night, and for 23 players, it will be their last game in Sanford Stadium.
"I'm hoping not to cry," said Geno Atkins, a big and tough defensive tackle. "I might tear up a little bit. It's going to be pretty emotional."
Georgia, 4-1 at home but 2-3 elsewhere this season, will close its home schedule with a 7:45 p.m. game against Kentucky. Still to come: a Nov. 28 game at Georgia Tech and a postseason bowl, the stature of which might be enhanced by a victory against the Wildcats.
The seniors playing their last game between the hedges include quarterback Joe Cox, who hopes to start a college-coaching career next year; the defensive-tackle trio of Atkins, Jeff Owens and Kade Weston, all likely bound for the NFL; and a wide range of other Dogs, from starters to rarely used walk-ons.
All will be honored in pregame "Senior Day" ceremonies, running through a gauntlet of underclassmen before being met by family members and coach Mark Richt for a photo.
"It went by really fast," Cox said of the seniors' Sanford Stadium careers. "People tell you that [will happen] when you first come to college, but you never believe them. ... It's crazy how fast it goes.
"I know it's going to be an emotional day for all of our seniors, and we really want to finish on a good note."
A win would clinch second place in the SEC East for the Bulldogs, even if they do seem light years behind division-champ Florida, and would send them to Bobby Dodd Stadium next weekend on a three-game winning streak.
Some of the seniors have been in the UGA program for five years, others for four. The fifth-year seniors were mostly redshirts on the 2005 team that won the SEC championship; the fourth-year seniors will finish their college careers without a championship, although their class has a cumulative 36-13 record (3-0 in bowl games).
"I was lucky enough to win [a championship] my first year," said safety Bryan Evans, a 2005 redshirt. "After that, I was thinking, ‘I got four more years. I can at least win it one or two more times.' But unfortunately it didn't happen like that.
"Just looking at that ‘05 season, me being on the scout team, kind of satisfies me to know that I did help in some way to get that championship ring."
One of the seniors, Owens, will enjoy his second "Senior Day." He went through the ritual last year, when he was injured and unsure whether he would return for a fifth season of eligibility or enter the NFL draft.
"But this time, it is final," Owens said. "I don't think they'll let me do another one."
Ask the seniors their fondest memory of their years in Sanford Stadium, and you'll get one prevalent answer: the 2007 "blackout" victory over Auburn.
"The atmosphere was amazing," Atkins said.
"The loudest I've ever heard Sanford Stadium," Evans said.
"Probably the fun-est game I've played or been a part of in my life," split end Mike Moore said. "The overall atmosphere, the way we dominated the game -- that was probably the one game you could say everything went right as a football player."
There's no inkling that tonight's game will rise to such a level, although both teams are trying to finish the season strong. Kentucky (6-4, 2-4 SEC) has won four of its past five games. Georgia (6-4, 4-3 SEC) has won three of its past four. Both teams are bowl-eligible.
Kentucky will be seeking its first win in Sanford Stadium since 1977, and the Georgia seniors will be seeking their last win there.
"It's going to be my last time running through the hedges," said Atkins, the defensive tackle who's hoping not to cry. "It's going to be bittersweet."
And when was the last time Geno Atkins cried?
"It's been a while," he said. "I can't remember."
Farewell to the hedges
Georgia's senior players who will be honored in pregame ceremonies before Saturday's game:
• DT Geno Atkins
• QB Jonathan Batson
• DE Rod Battle
• FS Stephen Braue
• QB Joe Cox
• DT Ricardo Crawford
• LB Darius Dewberry
• FS Bryan Evans
• FB Justin Fields
• LB Devin Hollander
• PK Andrew Jensen
• SS Andrew Johnson
• CB Prince Miller
• SE Mike Moore
• OT Casey Nickels
• CB Christian Norton
• DT Jeff Owens
• C Kevin Perez
• WR Vernon Spellman
• OL Vince Vance
• DE Marcus Washington
• DT Kade Weston
• DT Brandon Wheeling
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