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Monday, March 16, 2009

Relishing the Role of Underdog

A year ago, Georgia was riding high. The Bulldogs had just wrapped up a Sugar Bowl win, finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country and introduced a strong signing class led by star wide receiver A.J. Green. It was early to make projections, but the prognosticators were already expecting big things for Georgia in 2008.

What followed wasn't pretty: Offseason arrests, a bevy of injuries and a group of players who probably spent a bit too much time thinking about that preseason No. 1 ranking and less time concerned with where they would be ranked when the year ended.

"We definitely had a lot of hype last year, and I don't think we handled it as well as we should have," wide receiver Kris Durham said. "You live and you learn. We learned how to handle that hype, and we've come back in this season to work hard. We seem to have lost our focus last year, and we've definitely gained it this offseason."

Or so they say. Virtually every player in Georgia's locker room has proclaimed this offseason a return to the team's roots -- a claim echoed even by head coach Mark Richt. But Durham knows talk is cheap at this point in the year. With spring practice about to begin and a long and unsupervised summer on the horizon, the focus needs to remain sharp -- something that didn't happen a year ago.

"Right now, everybody's focused because everybody's pushing each other and the coaches are all over us," Durham said. "But once we get to right after spring practice, the coaches really can't be around except for strength and conditioning, and we're going to really have to take it upon ourselves, take the mentality that we've built up so far and take it into the summer."

The Bulldogs promised a similar work ethic last summer. The reports said the leadership had emerged. The leaders said the team was focused. The team began the fall with a No. 1 ranking.

And that might have been a big part of the problem, Durham said. The role of favorites never really suited the Bulldogs, and the hype hindered the effort. This year, that won't be an issue. Florida is the defending national champion and is widely considered the odds-on favorite to win the SEC again. Georgia lost its two biggest stars -- Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno -- from a team that lost three games, including a blowout to the Gators.

Outside of Athens, there won't be too many people picking Georgia to win the East this year, and that's exactly the way the team wants it. Playing the underdog is a role to which these Bulldogs are much better suited.

"When you're the underdog, you always have something to prove, so you go out there and try to prove to everyone that you are the best," Durham said. "Knowshon and Matthew, they're going to be missed. It shows by what they're trying to accomplish right now. But we definitely have people that are fighting for their positions, and I have all the faith in the world in those guys."

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

This concerns me quite a bit.

If we want to be national contenders we have to relish the role of being on top. Is the team suggesting they would rather be an underdog because the role of favorite is just too hard?

Of course it's a lot easier to sneak up on people than to take everybody's best shot, but if you want to be champions...time to act the part!

David Hale said...

I think that's a fair criticism, Anon. Although, I do think Durham's comments were more about internal motivation for the players. Last year, a lot of players seemed to think they'd earned something simply because of the hype. As underdogs this year, the team feels it has something to prove. None of that takes away from your point at all, but just to point out that the problems were more about internal motivation than about sneaking up on anyone.

Anonymous said...

The underdog thing is so overplayed...it's always "nobody believed in us, we had to prove it to the world.." I love Jonny Flynn--but did you hear him trying to sell the idea this past week that SU is a bunch of unrecruited scrappers?

If the only way you can get motivated is to tell yourself that someone doubted you, then yeah, there's a little problem when you are number 1 or earn some other accolade. It's mediocre coaching, IMO. What do USC's players do? Run around talking about how everyone disrespected them?

Anonymous said...

To clarify--
I'm glad they're motivated. But I think how they are getting there is flawed thinking that, taken ad nauseum, culminates in the downfalls of last year.

ArchDawg said...

Anon #1, you're right we do need to learn to relish being the favorite. But last year was the first time that was really the case for us (in the BCS era), and dealing with that for the first time can be difficult--as demonstrated by last year's team. The next time it occurs I expect our team--players and coaches--to be able to handle the hype a little better.