Personal-growth exercises help Georgia Bulldogs beat complacency

ATHENS — Just in case 100% of the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs are not 100% focused on getting better this week, coach Kirby Smart is making sure they will be.

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The Bulldogs’ seventh-year head coach implemented a mandatory personal-growth exercise this week that’s being followed by every player. Using index cards, each player lists two things at which they intend to get better this week as Georgia prepares to face Kent State on Saturday. They have posted those goals on the doors of their respective position-group meeting rooms.

That’s the easy part. The hard part comes at the end of the week when players have to stand up in front of their teammates to demonstrate and/or explain how they achieved those goals.

It’s something the Bulldogs have done in the past. The fact they’re doing it in the same week that Kent coach Sean Lewis proclaimed Georgia’s 2022 team – a 44-point favorite in Saturday’s game – as “the greatest collection of talent that’s ever been assembled on a football team” is not a coincidence.

“That’s so when they upset us (everybody knows) they beat somebody good,” Smart said of Lewis’ comments.

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More than any time since the Bulldogs won the national championship on Jan. 10, Smart is wary of the profusive praise that is being poured on his team. “Rat poison,” he likes to call it, like his old boss, Nick Saban.

But like an overwhelmed dam, it’s been hard to hold back the praise so far this season. Opening the season ranked No. 3, Georgia not only has moved up to No. 1 four weeks later but now commands 59 of 63 first-place votes in the latest Associated Press poll. The Bulldogs dominated then-No. 11 Oregon 49-3 in the opener and have won their first three games by the cumulative score of 130-10.

Hence, the “exercise.” Smart explains.

“We’re talking about growing this week and trying to find ways to get better,” Smart said Tuesday night after the Bulldogs completed this second practice of the week. “We’ve had each kid pick two things, write them down on an index card, put it up in the team meeting room, and then (later) he has to show them how he did it. That requires growth.”

Smart revealed the exercise while answering a question about how players, such as former walk-ons Stetson Bennett and Dan Jackson, and three-star defensive lineman Zion Logue, had been able to patiently progress into the players they are today.

“It requires growth, and those guys epitomize growth,” Smart said.

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Jackson came to Georgia unrecruited out of North Hall High in Gainesville to become a defensive backfield regular and five-game starter at safety. Logue, a junior from Lebanon, Tenn., took three years to get from scout-team player to starting nose guard for the Bulldogs.

Each was asked Tuesday what they put on their index cards.

“I obviously want to be the best tackler I can be,” said Jackson, who is tied for third on the team with 10 tackles and had his first career interception last Saturday. “So, I wrote down that I’ve got to bring my feet, no bending at the waist and keep my head up. Secondly, is knowing and being more aware of down and distance situations, more specifically third down. That’s what I want to focus on.”

Logue was a little more guarded about sharing his goals.

“I can talk about it a little bit,” Logue said. “Mine was really just playing blocks better, having better eyes, having better feet, staying on my blocks longer so the ‘backers can work a little bit. It kind of plays hand-in-hand with everybody because everybody in every group has something they need to be working on. So, I think it’s a big step for us going into this week.”

Smart often laments about fighting complacency. He has called it the greatest enemy of success. After dominating their first three opponents by the average score of 43-3, the Bulldogs are entering a four-week stretch in which they are expected to be multi-touchdown favorites over every opponent.

That and the “over-the-top” accolades Georgia has been receiving is what prompted him to install the growth exercise.

“We change it up sometimes,” Smart said. “It’s something we’re doing this week. We’ve done it before. But we have different exercises. They post (their goals) and they put them on the door; like a kindergarten teacher, you decorate your door and you see it every day when you go in. Then you’ve got to stand in front of the team and show the video of where you actually did what you said you were going to do.”

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As elementary as such an exercise may seem, it’s hard to argue with the results. Hence, the Kent coach’s comments.

“It’s because of the work that Coach Smart and his staff and the tireless, relentless effort they’ve put into building a program to an elite, elite level,” Lewis said.

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