Former Georgia football players hope to ‘bring light back’ to UGA campus

Jake Camarda (left), a punter for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his wife Kinsley, and Josh Moran, a UGA law student who was Camarda’s teammate when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, have teamed up with a campus ministry group to organize something they’re calling “Unite Georgia.”

Credit: Photo courtesy of Jake Camarda

Credit: Photo courtesy of Jake Camarda

Jake Camarda (left), a punter for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his wife Kinsley, and Josh Moran, a UGA law student who was Camarda’s teammate when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, have teamed up with a campus ministry group to organize something they’re calling “Unite Georgia.”

ATHENS — A couple of former Georgia football players – one of them an active NFL player – believe they have a solution to the “sadness and darkness” that has enveloped the University of Georgia campus in the wake of recent tragedies.

Jake Camarda, a punter for Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Josh Moran, a UGA law student who was Camarda’s teammate when he played for the Georgia Bulldogs, have teamed up with a campus ministry group to organize something they’re calling “Unite Georgia.” The free event, scheduled to take place on the night of April 3 at Stegeman Coliseum on the UGA campus, invites “as many people as we can possibly get there” for a night of Christian worship, prayer and motivational speaking.

“Something really, really special is coming to Athens,” said Camarda, who earned All-American honors while playing for the Bulldogs from 2018-21. “Like, we want everybody there. I joked with Josh about how coach (Kirby) Smart, when he first got here, he had ‘93K Day’ for the spring game. That’s what we are envisioning, for this event to be something big like that.”

Not including floor space, Stegeman Coliseum seats only 10,523, but Camarda’s point is well taken. They intend to pack the house.

That the event will take place barely a month after one of the worst weeks in UGA history is a coincidence. Two UGA students died in separate incidents, including the first murder on campus in more than 20 years, according to police. Nursing student Laken Riley, 22, was killed while jogging near UGA’s intramural fields Feb. 22. UGA freshman Wyatt Banks, 19, died a day earlier at Brumby Hall. A suspect was arrested in Riley’s death and charged with murder.

“Not to use those tragedies in any way, but there is a sadness and darkness on campus and this would be something that, if you’re looking for some hope or community, we sincerely would love to have you there and pray over you, be with you, worship with you,” said Moran, a first-year law student from Alpharetta. “As absolutely horrible as that is, we do want to bring some light into what is probably one of the darker times that we’ve ever had in Athens.”

Said Camarda: “It is a sad time, especially when you look at the past couple of years at Georgia and everything that has happened with some tragedies and death.”

Camarda referenced the fatal crash that took the lives of a Georgia football player and athletics department employee and injured two others on Jan. 15, 2023. He said the news of Riley’s death broke just hours after he and Moran went public with their plans for Unite Georgia.

“That was just crazy,” Camarda said. “Here we are announcing something that’s going to come to Athens and hopefully spark revival in a city that needs it. Then we find out a couple of hours later that something so terrible had happened.”

The actual planning for Unite Georgia began weeks ago. It was inspired by an event called “Unite Auburn,” which was held last September on that campus and drew nearly 10,000 people to Neville Arena. Organized by Tonya Prewett, the wife of Auburn assistant basketball coach Chad Prewett, that event resulted in more than 1,000 individuals being baptized in a nearby lake. Many of the baptisms were performed by men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, football coach Hugh Freeze and baseball coach Butch Thompson.

Georgia’s event will offer a similar program. It will include live music performed by Atlanta-based Passion Music and Christian messages delivered by New York Times best-selling author Jennie Allen and Harris Creek (Texas) pastor Jonathan Pokluda, who is also an author and hosts a popular podcast for young adults. Camarda and Moran also will have roles.

Tonya Prewett is credited with founding the “Unite movement.” Her non-profit Unite Us is headquartered in Auburn and has a website that explains its mission.

“They’re kind of facilitating things,” Moran said. “They have connections everywhere and that is very helpful. They’re the ones who help bring in the speakers and the band and do a lot of the grunt work.”

“Unite FSU” was held Feb. 15 on the campus of Florida State. There also will be a “Unite Bama” event March 27 at on the Alabama campus before UGA’s event.”

Moran brought the movement to Camarda’s attention last fall, and they have been working to organize an event at UGA ever since. As one might guess, it’s not a simple undertaking.

Basically, Stegeman had to be rented. After determining a date the home for UGA men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics and volleyball might be available, there is a meticulous approval process overseen by the UGA’s office of student affairs. Camarda and Moran reached out to Brook Whitmire, the public-address voice of Sanford Stadium, and Ben Brandenburg of the UGA Athletic Association to help navigate the bureaucracy. UGA’s Wesley Foundation is underwriting the affair and soliciting donations to help defray costs.

As for Camarda and Moran, their friendship started in the Georgia football locker room.

“Our lockers were right across from each other,” Camarda said. “Josh invited me to a Bible study probably a ‘kajillion’ times, and I said ‘no’ over and over and over. I finally said yes, and it ended up being the best decision I ever made.”

Their athletic journeys are quite different. Moran was a walk-on receiver from Milton High who had to transfer to New Mexico State as a senior to finally earn some athletic financial aid. He was injured there, however, and transferred to Delaware, where he finally got some real game action for the Blue Hens. He caught five passes for 61 yards on offense and recorded six tackles and a forced fumble playing on special teams.

But Moran made academic honor roll every semester throughout all his stops. He was accepted into UGA’s law school last fall with undergraduate and graduate degrees in business and finance.

“After my last year at Delaware, I was, like, ‘OK, I have to grow up now,’” Moran said with a chuckle. “I really enjoy school.”

Camarda’s athletic road has been decidedly different. He was highly recruited out of Norcross High and earned the job as Georgia’s starting punter as a freshman. Playing in every game of his collegiate career, Camarda earned All-American and All-SEC honors with the Bulldogs, left as the career record holder in punting and earned a national championship ring on the 2021 team. He became a rarity among professional punters by getting drafted in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft.

Last year, Camarda averaged 50.05 yards on 77 punts for the Bucs. Two weeks ago, he married the former Kinsley Barga at a ceremony in Chattanooga.

“I’ve been very blessed,” he said humbly.

Now, Camarda and Moran are hoping they can bless others through something that started mostly on a whim.

“The goal is simply to bring light back into the city, and it definitely needs that right now,” Camarda said.

Georgia punter Jake Camarda (90) during practice in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

Credit: Mackenzie Miles

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Credit: Mackenzie Miles

Tampa Bay Buccaneers punter Jake Camarda (5) against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

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Credit: AP