ATHENS — Xavier Truss sat on a bench in front of his locker deep underneath Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, well after Georgia’s Orange Bowl appearance had concluded. With bass-music blaring loudly nearby, Truss remained in full uniform, his No. 77 jersey still tucked in a 45 minutes after the 63-3 drubbing of Florida State ended. He was soaking in the scene.

That No. 77 jersey does not actually belong to Truss. It simply was his turn to wear the number worn by Devin Willock the previous three seasons for the Bulldogs.

On Monday, Willock will have been gone exactly one year ago. He died at 2:45 a.m. Jan. 15, 2023, in a car crash in Athens the day after celebrating Georgia’s second consecutive national championship.

Of this anniversary, Truss is acutely aware. The senior offensive lineman was Willock’s closest friend on the team. No one could have been prouder to wear the No. 77.

“It’s definitely been special,” Truss, whose actual number is 73, said of the weekly ritual. “It’s been something we needed.”

Truss wore it earlier this season, too. Two times, in fact. But not knowing whether he was playing his last game for the Bulldogs in the bowl game, he really wanted to wear it this time. However, it’s an earned honor based on how one plays on the field and comports himself off it. Fortunately for Truss, his coaches and teammates felt he had earned it.

In the end, Truss and center Sedrick Van Pran each wore it three times. Guards Tate Ratledge and Micah Morris and tackle Earnest Greene wore 77 twice. Guard Dylan Fairchild and tackle Amarius Mims each wore it once.

The “77″ ritual was only one way the Bulldogs honored Willock this past season. His portrait hangs prominently in the offensive line’s team meeting room inside the Butts-Mehre football complex. His front-row seat in the room also remains empty in honorarium. Almost every one of Georgia’s linemen who sport tattoos has one paying homage to Willock. “Do it like Dev” was the 2023 team’s catchphrase.

“It’s been something incredibly difficult that we all had to overcome, especially as a unit,” Truss, a senior from Rhode Island, said of the approaching anniversary of the fatal crash. “I think wearing his number was a perfect way to represent him and keep him with us throughout all over our games. ‘Playing like Dev’ was our way of keeping his memory alive.”

The approaching anniversary of the 2023 tragedy is not being overlooked. Truss said he remains close to Willock’s girlfriend, UGA student Kate Moseley. He said she is planning a video tribute to Willock and has asked Truss to participate.

Back in Willock’s hometown of New Milford, New Jersey, the offensive linemen at his alma mater, Paramus Catholic High, also competed each week to wear the 77 jersey. They do the same thing at New Milford Middle School.

“You have to be an honor student,” assistant coach Christian Maldonado told the UGA student newspaper The Red & Black last fall. “You have to be a guy that’s involved in your community. You have to be a guy that’s a leader, a captain, because Devin was when he was here.”

Truss and Georgia’s other offensive linemen had another idea for honoring Willock as the Bulldogs ran roughshod over their overmatched opponent Dec. 30 in Miami.

“You saw the score out there,” Truss said. “We were trying to hit 77 for Dev. Fell a little short, but Devin’s always with is. and he’s always going to be with us.”

Wearing the the ‘77 jersey

Following is a breakdown of what Georgia players wore Devin Willock’s No. 77 jersey in honorarium this past season:

  • Sept. 2 vs. Tennessee-Martin in Athens – senior guard/tackle Xavier Truss
  • Sept. 9 vs. Ball State in Athens – senior center Sedrick Van Pran
  • Sept. 16 vs. South Carolina in Athens – junior guard Tate Ratledge
  • Sept. 23 vs. Alabama-Birmingham in Athens – redshirt freshman tackle Earnest Greene
  • Sept. 30 at Auburn – sophomore guard Dylan Fairchild
  • Oct. 7 vs. Kentucky in Athens – sophomore guard Micah Morris
  • Oct. 14 at Vanderbilt – Truss
  • Oct. 28 vs. Florida in Jacksonville – Van Pran
  • Nov. 5 vs. Missouri in Athens – Ratledge
  • Nov. 11 vs. Ole Miss in Athens – Morris
  • Nov. 18 at Tennessee – junior tackle Amarius Mims
  • Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech – Greene
  • Dec. 2 vs. Alabama, SEC Championship game – Van Pran
  • Dec. 30 vs. FSU, Orange Bowl – Truss