Georgia has provided ultimate do-over for Derion Kendrick



ATHENS – You’ll have to pardon Derion Kendrick if he doesn’t want to spend much time and energy talking about the past this week. Right now, the future is very bright for the Georgia cornerback, and he has a lot going on.

A senior from Rock Hill, S.C., Kendrick was representing Georgia’s defense Monday in the first press conference in advance of the College Football Playoff Championship game. Kendrick was appointed for that role based on his designation as Defensive MVP in the Orange Bowl on Friday.

So, when the first question of the virtual news conference was about the Bulldogs “taking a chance” on him – Kendrick’s words during his MVP acceptance speech Friday – he dispensed of it quickly.

“If you follow football, everybody knows what happened in my situation,” Kendrick said. “Being thrown into the portal, nobody had to take a chance on me at all, but (Georgia) did. And when I got here, I mean, I just fit in. Just doing what I do, I just came in, put my head down and put in the work. They accepted me for who I was and not what happened in the past.”

Fourteen games later, the Bulldogs are oh so thankful to have Kendrick patrolling their secondary. A two-year starting cornerback at Clemson with three years worth of College Football Playoff experience, Kendrick has been a godsend for a Georgia defensive backfield that was completely devoid of anything of the sort coming into the season.

To dispense with it quickly, Kendrick’s story goes as follows: Dismissed from Clemson by coach Dabo Swinney early last spring, Kendrick entered the NCAA transfer portal, only to get arrested in his hometown of Rock Hill a short time later. Kendrick enrolled at UGA in June. The marijuana and gun possession charges he brought with him were expunged via the pretrial intervention/first-offender program in York County, S.C.

Since then, it has been all football and no talk for the 6-foot, 195-pound transfer. His first interview of the season came after he’d recorded two interceptions, five tackles and a tackle for loss in Georgia’s 34-11 win over Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart gushed about his senior corner afterward.

“There is not a player on our team that prepares harder than he does,” Smart said. “He comes to practice every day and gives great effort, takes notes in meetings. I’ve never been around a kid that is so attentive in meetings at the corner position.”

That has translated into Kendrick being as a solid as Stone Mountain granite for the Bulldogs’ defense. He has started all 14 games and leads the team with four interceptions.

As the Bulldogs prepare for Monday’s rematch against Alabama in the national championship game, the wonder is where they would be without Kendrick. For the second time in 40 days, Georgia will be facing one of the most explosive passing games in college football. Featuring quarterback Bryce Young and wideout Jameson Williams, Alabama threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns in its 41-24 win over the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship game.

As the primary matchup for Williams – who had seven catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns – Kendrick was victimized in that contest as well. But having him in the fold to lead an otherwise young secondary is invaluable for a Georgia team seeking to break the Crimson Tide’s stranglehold on this series.

“Just gotta lock in, do what we normally do, don’t try to do too much,” Kendrick said of getting another shot at Bama’s offense. “And just everybody make plays. It’s top collegiate level, so everybody is going to make plays. It’s about what you do next play.”

As Georgia and its considerable fan base descends on Indianapolis this coming weekend, Kendrick stands as the only member of the team who has been on the winning sideline after beating Alabama. Kendrick actually was playing on offense as a freshman wide receiver and punt returner when No. 1 Clemson defeated the No. 2-ranked Tide 44-16 to win the 2018 national championship Jan. 7, 2019.

At this point, Kendrick said he’s now fully indoctrinated as a Georgia Bulldog. That fact was driven home Sept. 4 when he started and played every snap in Georgia’s 10-3 win over Clemson in the Duke’s Mayo Kickoff Classic in Charlotte.

“I feel like it was really God just putting me in the opportunity to play in that big game at that moment,” Kendrick shared Monday. “(Clemson is) somebody that I’ve been with for three years, a great coaching staff. … Just being able to play against them and just being on a different side, it was a blessing.”

Georgia is blessed to have Kendrick on their side this time. And while Kendrick was part of the struggle in the last game, he plans to be part of the solution the second time around.

“Same approach, but different attitude,” Kendrick said. “You’ve got to go out there, do what we do because we didn’t play a good game at all on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got to help the offense out as well. That’s how I feel about it.”

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