Georgia’s Kelee Ringo intent that ‘The Play’ not be his only great play

Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo intercepts Alabama and returns it for a touchdown for a 33-18 lead and victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis.  “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia defensive back Kelee Ringo intercepts Alabama and returns it for a touchdown for a 33-18 lead and victory over Alabama in the College Football Playoff Championship game on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

ATHENS — Kelee Ringo, author of Georgia’s most famous play since Lindsay Scott caught that pass from Buck Belue, is a man of a few words. Asked what was going through his mind as Bryce Young’s pass was descending from the ceiling of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Jan. 10, the freshman cornerback said, “see ball, get ball.”

“That’s something that coach (Kirby) Smart teaches us every single day, being able to find the ball in the air,” Ringo said after Georgia’s practice Tuesday. “I mean, like, I just turned around and was able to catch the ball. It was just like backyard football. When I caught it, I just felt like I was on offense, and my teammates were right behind me trying to help me.”

ExploreMore AJC coverage of the Bulldogs

Actually, most of Ringo’s teammates were in front of him. He was able to use them like a convoy of truckers to create a wall between him and Alabama’s desperate pursuit. As seemingly every sports fan in the country knows now, Ringo made it all the way to the end zone with nary a finger-touch.

The 79-yard “pick-6″ interception put an exclamation point on the Bulldogs’ 33-18 win over the Crimson Tide and secured Georgia its first national championship in football in 41 years. It also made Kelee Ringo a household name.

Not only is the play forever fire-forged as an iconic moment in Georgia football history, but so have been moments within that moment.

  • There is Ringo “high-pointing” the football to secure the interception.
  • There is Smart achieving perhaps the greatest sideline vertical leap of his career only about 10 yards away on the Georgia sideline.
  • There is Smart running alongside Ringo, mistakenly screaming for the defensive back to “get down, get down!”
  • There is that convoy of teammates, with safety Christopher Smith taking out the pursuing Young and launching him into the Georgia sideline. Then, Smart and the other Bulldogs helping up the devastated Bama QB.
  • There is safety Dan Jackson, acting as a human shield and getting obliterated by Alabama’s Agiye Hall, then popping right back up as if were a gymnast tumbling across a mat.
  • And, finally, there is Ringo, virtually alone crossing the plane of the end zone and signaling a No. 1 with his forefinger hoisted toward the heavens.

Every one of those moments has been preserved in some form or another. There are oil paintings, posters, T-shirts, sweatshirts, miniatures and sculptures. Thanks to NIL and Ringo’s own marketing savvy, apparel with his likeness and the phrase “Seal the Deal” have brought him and his family a tidy sum.

And, then – spring practice.

Entering the ongoing 15-workout spring session earlier this month has been a back-to-earth gravitational act for Ringo and the Bulldogs. This is a good thing for all concerned.

The reality beyond that monumental play is that Ringo has just turned a sophomore. He is one of only three starters back from a generational defense that paved Georgia’s way to the coveted oblong-shaped, golden trophy. And Ringo also is very much an unfinished product.

Playing opposite senior cornerback Derion Kendrick last season, he was picked on like the middle-school little brother at the high school gym. It even could be argued that Ringo was beaten on the very play that made him famous. Alabama’s Traeshon Holden, the intended target, was 3 yards behind Ringo on a deep route when Young unleashed what was an underthrown ball.

Nobody is more aware of that than Ringo and Smart.

“What he can’t do is let that play distract or deter his development,” Smart said Tuesday. “He’ll be the first to tell you that he made an outstanding play, a play that will live in glory and be great. But he also had some plays in the game that weren’t so good. He’s also got some tackling situations that he has to improve on. What makes me so proud of Kelee is that he is taking (instruction) out there to the field.”

Ringo is trying to grow in other ways, too. With Kendrick and Lewis Cine now bound for the NFL, he and Smith are the elder statesmen in Georgia’s secondary. As such, they are being asked to provide leadership for a back-third that will have to find three starters out of a group that either is just arriving or almost never played.

That might be the tallest task of all for this man of few words, who ventured from Tacoma, Wash., to make his mark with the Bulldogs.

“Definitely,” Ringo said. “Being one of the older guys on the team, I’m definitely in a leader role. It gives me a lot more confidence being able to help my teammates. I’m getting more comfortable being a vocal leader.”

While making one of the iconic plays in Georgia football history certainly is cool and has come with some fringe benefits, most of Ringo’s goals remain in front of him. He came across the continental U.S. as a five-star prospect to pave a path to professional football and NFL riches for him and his family. Ringo certainly is on schedule in that regard, but he knows he’s not there yet.

So, the focus for Ringo and the Bulldogs is to make sure “The Play” won’t be his only memorable play at Georgia.

“He can let that play live in infamy, or he can decide to make a lot of those plays, go be a great player and go make money to play in the NFL and develop,” Smart said emphatically. “I think that’s the route he is taking. I know this: He’s going to get a lot of encouragement from me to go do that. I push Kelee because I know he can be a really good player.”

Said Ringo: “Yes, that was a big play in a big situation. But I feel, like, ‘Man, what’s next?’ I’ve seen plenty of players do big things in big situations, and they’re now on top of the mountain. So, I feel like continuing to stay consistent and just continuing to do things that will help my team win, that’ll set me off straight.”

It will, for sure. Meantime, for Ringo and thousands of fans everywhere, there forever will be that one exhilarating moment in Lucas Oil Stadium. Nobody can take that away.

Dawg Tags: The AJC presents a daily look at the one thing you need to know about Georgia athletics today.