ATHENS — Georgia’s offensive line began a new tradition Saturday to honor a fallen teammate.

Starting with Saturday’s game against Tennessee-Martin, one of the Bulldogs’ linemen will wear the No. 77 jersey in each week. No. 77 was worn by Devin Willock the past three seasons. A sophomore from New Milford, New Jersey, Willock died in an Athens car crash Jan. 15, in the early-morning hours after Georgia held a parade and celebration for winning its second consecutive national championship. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound athlete started two games at right guard and played in all 15 for the Bulldogs last season.

Senior guard Xavier Truss, Willock’s closest friend on the team, wore the 77 jersey Saturday. Truss normally wears No. 73 for the Bulldogs.

“I just want to start to say how much I miss my man, Devin, man, and how much of a blessing it was to get the opportunity to wear his number,” Truss said after starting the game at left guard. “This is something that (offensive line) coach (Stacy) Searels and us as a group decided we should do. A different player every week is going to try to represent Devin and the way he played by wearing 77. That will be based on who’s playing well and who’s playing their hearts out, like he did.”

Georgia’s offensive linemen had been asked the past several weeks how they planned to honor Willock. Some said they were still contemplating what to do, while others hinted that it was a secret.

“I don’t want to say anything about that,” tackle Amarius Mims said at the end of preseason camp. “You’ll see.”

The Bulldogs paid a nice tribute to Willock during the annual spring game in April. On the opening offensive play of the game, the offense lined up without anybody in the left guard position that Willock usually occupied and took an intentional delay-of-game penalty.

A portrait of Willock hangs inside the offensive line’s team meeting room at the Butts-Mehre football complex, where Willock’s chair remains empty. Several of the players also have gotten tattoos.

Even after all that, the Bulldogs were looking for a way they could visibly honor Willock during the games this season. Though he had been redshirted one season, this would have been his senior year at UGA academically.

“We talked about it as a staff and a team,” Smart said. “We asked the players what they wanted to do and the offensive line felt very strongly about this. Coach Searels made the decision that Truss, who was very close to Dev, should have the first honor of wearing the 77 jersey.”

Willock was one of two members of the football program who died in that Jan. 15 car crash. Driver Chandler LeCroy, an athletic department employee, also was killed when the UGA-leased SUV she was driving left the road more than 100 mph while under the influence of alcohol, according to police. Tory Bowles, another recruiting staffer, was seriously injured, while fellow Georgia offensive lineman Warren McClendon walked about with a cut on his forehead.

Willock’s family is suing the university and was not present at Saturday’s game. Truss stays in touch with the Willocks, but hadn’t informed them of the new tradition and wasn’t sure if they saw on television.

Truss said he wasn’t informed until Friday night at the team meal that he’d be donning the 77 jersey. It was met with a heartfelt ovation.

“It’s a beautiful thing that I hope gets carried on year-after-year,” said Truss, a 6-foot-7, 320-pound senior from Rhode Island. “It means the world to me and this group of guys that I play with every day.”