Bulldogs’ Senior Day a pointed reminder that experience matters

Georgia's Jordan Davis levels Missouri running back Tyler Badie for a loss on Nov. 6. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
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Georgia's Jordan Davis levels Missouri running back Tyler Badie for a loss on Nov. 6. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

This Georgia football revival tent is supported by many poles. But with a Senior Day celebration being all that’s notable about Saturday’s game against Charleston Southern, let’s concentrate on the lift provided by those players with some real miles on them.

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Those wizened souls on the leeward side of 20, who have made their time count for so much and who never will find themselves repeating Bluto’s “Animal House” lament: “Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the (expletive) Peace Corps.”

If there is a common thread to Kirby Smart’s thus far greatest teams, it is the importance of keeping really good players around for as long as possible, short of house arrest. With players bound to their schools by ever more flimsy ties, that’s a huge challenge for any coach. Especially as the promises of the transfer portal and the NFL draft rival those of any given Axe body-spray ad.

Take the Bulldogs’ folk hero of a nose tackle, Jordan Davis. He could have taken his plus-sized talents to the NFL at the close of last season. Maybe he would have even been a Day 2 selection, which still beats most NIL deals.

Instead, he returned and became a testament to patience, belief and perspective. He now anchors the best college defense in the land for the best college team in the land, and his draft value has soared. Davis can only hope all his life decisions are that canny.

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Georgia linebacker David Pollack.

Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Georgia linebacker David Pollack.
Caption
Georgia linebacker David Pollack.

Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

Credit: Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

David Pollack could have been a first-round pick after his junior season, but returned in 2004 for a final encore, picking up a third All-American designation and rounding out his collection of heavy doorstops presented to America’s best defensive player. For that, he holds a special place among Bulldogs people. That same kind of gratitude grows for Davis.

More parallels please: How about the similarities between the current bunch and Smart’s 2017 team that came so achingly close to winning a national championship? Back then, when a handful of important players opted to return rather than bail early for the NFL, it was a bright signal that those closest to the program knew something special was afoot. The returnees included leaders on offense and defense – running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as well as defenders Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy.

This time around, the Bulldogs’ running game also benefits from a couple of experienced set of legs: Senior James Cook and third-year junior Zamir White. Joining Davis on the defensive line is another behemoth, senior Devonte Wyatt, who might have opted out early for the draft, but wisely remained.

And like that 2017 team, the 2021 incarnation was left with a gnawing sense of incompleteness from the season before. There was some cleaning up to do after a COVID-warped 8-2 record in 2020. The 2017 team was rebounding from 8-5 the season before. This seems to be a powerful motivation.

Taking an extra season of eligibility, guard Justin Shaffer spoke for Bulldogs seniors and “super seniors” Monday when he said, “I feel like I had more to prove. We had two losses last year that we shouldn’t have had. We had to come back and finish the business that we didn’t finish.”

“I'm having the most fun I've had since I've been here."

- Jordan Davis

And as Davis told reporters Monday, not every athlete should be in such an almighty hurry to blow through their college experience. If there are adults out there today who say they wish they had spent less time in college, I haven’t met them. Now here is a very high- and large-profile spokesman for that point of view.

Staying was “definitely worth it,” Davis reiterated this week. “I’m having the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

The definition of what a senior is anymore has been blurred by a pandemic – even those who have spent their four seasons of eligibility can claim one more now because of COVID-19. And what of the junior who has plenty of reason to move on after this season, like linebacker Nakobe Dean? Saturday may well be his last home game, too.

So, let’s pause here just to recognize the everlasting value of putting in your time and sticking it out and investing in the moment rather than being distracted by the future.

It was a senior – Christopher Smith – who got this season rolling with a pick-6 against Clemson. It has been the heralded 2018 recruiting class – think Davis, Wyatt, Smith, leading tackler Channing Tindall, linebacker Quay Walker – making up the spine of a defense that could be Georgia’s best ever. And, of course, it has been a senior – quarterback Stetson Bennett – who has been only the best story in all of college football, like some collaboration between the Brothers Grimm and Grantland Rice.

Senior Day at Georgia is one worth paying special attention to this time around. It is a reminder that sometimes great things do come to those who persist. As well as a gentle nudge that the Bulldogs really need to make the most of this rare collection of seasoned talent.

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