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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Catching Up With... D.J. Shockley

My first real job out of grad school was covering Georgia for the Albany Herald in 2005. It's not that I hadn't dealt with big names before -- I'd interviewed Jim Boeheim, covered the Big East tournament, even done some groundbreaking reporting with a former "Amazing Race" cast member. But I started my job at the Herald in August, and two days later I was in Athens to pen my first story on the Bulldogs. Prior to that, I probably couldn't have picked Mark Richt out of a lineup, but I knew who D.J. Shockley was, and I'll admit, I was more than a bit intimidated.

I've grown past all of that for the most part (though if I ever get the chance to interview Mark Grace, I may shed a tear or two), but that first day talking to Shockley, I was pretty in awe of how far I'd come.

Five seasons later, my boss still teases me about my D.J. Shockley infatuation. He overstates the issue a good bit for comic effect (I believe the phrase "man crush" gets thrown around a little too loosely) but I make no bones about the notion that talking to D.J. still reminds me of those first moments when I thought to myself, Wow, I'm a legitimate sports writer.

(Now, whether or not the term "legitimate" should have been applied to anything I wrote after that is still a matter of debate, but it was my moment, so don't ruin it.)

So I have no doubt after my boss reads this, I'll get a humorously written email (likely with poor grammar) teasing me about stalking the former Georgia quarterback. That's fine. After five years in this business, I have a thick skin. But more to the point, with all the comparisons between Georgia's current starting quarterback and the one who led the Bulldogs to their last SEC championship, I figured there wasn't anyone better to chat with at this time of year than D.J....

David Hale: A lot of Georgia fans are drawing some obvious parallels between yourself and what Joe Cox is doing this year. As someone who waited so long to start, what are the biggest obstacles for Joe to overcome in getting ready for this year?

D.J. Shockley: I think the biggest thing is just the mental aspect of being thrown into that situation -- the whole, everything's going to happen right now, and you only have this one year. That's all you get. And that's the biggest part of it. Once you get over, OK, I'm not going to force everything into this one year, I'm just going to go out and play and let things happen, then you're a lot further along. So I think the biggest thing is the mental part of it. He's been through the physical part of it, dealing with that. He's just got to make sure he's mentally strong before the season.

DH: You played a year with Joe. Did it seem even back then like he was the type of guy who could really step into a situation like this and rally the team around him?

DJS: I think that's the first thing that you have as a quarterback is those leadership qualities and capabilities in you already. When he first got there, you could definitely see it just pouring out of him that he was a born leader. He had it in him to lead the offense, lead the team and lead at a place like University of Georgia. It's nothing new. I knew he had it in him way back when.

DH: I remember talking to you the week before your first start and you telling me how you were having trouble sleeping and were sort of overwhelmed with excitement and nerves. Have you prepared Joe for all those emotions?

DJS: I already know it's going to be one of those things where it's going to be one of those things where he can't sleep and things like that, but I've just been trying to let him go through camp and let him have his time and get his mind wired in and focused in on leading the team. But I'm definitely going to hit him up within a week or a few days of that first game and see how he's feeling.

DH: Even as highly touted as you were coming out of high school, a lot of fans were concerned about how you would do as a starter when you finally got your shot. There probably weren't the highest of expectations for that 2005 team, and you guys won an SEC title. Can you see some parallels between that year and this season for Georgia?

DJS: I think the biggest thing is Coach Richt is always going to bring guys in who want to compete and give everything they've got. They have a lot of talent over there now and they can definitely get them to where they need to be. There's a lot of parallels between this team and the team we had in '05 just because everybody said, hey, this team doesn't have much, they may finish third in the East, pretty much what they're saying this year about the guys. With Knowshon and Stafford leaving, they're not giving them much of a chance, which is the same parallel as we had in our 2005 season.

DH: OK, enough about Georgia. Let's talk about D.J. Shockley and the Falcons. What's your relationship like with Matt Ryan? Is it a good locker-room dynamic between the two of you?

DJS: It's been great. We're both likable guys and we like to joke on each other. We're both competing, we both like to work hard, and it's all for the team. I've definitely learned things from him, and he's learned things from me, so it's a great mutual relationship that we have.

DH: Maybe it's sort of bad luck for you, but you were at Georgia behind David Greene. You arrived in Atlanta behind Mike Vick. You got hurt the one season when there might have been an opening for you, and now you've got a guy like Matt Ryan as a franchise QB ahead of you again. What has that been like? How much did what you went through here at Georgia help you get through it?

DJS: I think that whole situation prepared me for what has come now and helped me mentally with how to handle this situation entirely, as far as how you handle yourself on and off the field -- how you handle yourself in the meeting rooms, how you prepare. I think the biggest thing is that it allows me time to watch more film, to understand the game, understand what's my role. I think just what I did at college has helped me more than anything else could.

DH: OK, well if Mark Richt and Georgia helped you so much, can you chip in with some inside scoop for them on how to beat Bobby Petrino in Arkansas in Week 3?

DJS: I don't know much, man. I think Coach Richt is going to have a good game plan, a plan for those guys, and who knows what's going to happen but hopefully the Dawgs are going to come out on top.

DH: Alright, that's a politically savvy answer. Back to the Falcons, the common refrain I hear the most about the them is that old stat that they've never had consecutive winning seasons. After surprising so many people last year, what makes you think that you can break that streak this season?

DJS: I think it's the same work ethic as we had last year, just going out and preparing for one game at a time and not really concerning ourselves with our opponents as much as making sure we're doing the right things ourselves and making sure we're in a position to play well. I think a lot of guys have that passion, they're working hard, putting in the extra time to be better and get better.

DH: There's a lot of buzz surrounding Mike Vick's efforts to get back into the NFL right now. Have you talked to him much lately, and do you think he's ready to get back into the spotlight that comes with playing in the league?

DJS: I talked to him a little bit after he got out of jail, and we've talked a few times and we've texted. He's just anxious. He's definitely changed his life. He has a different mind-frame on life. He's definitely ready to get out, get back into the league and get back to a normal life of an NFL football player. He's definitely changed, and he's ready to get back in.

DH: You're an Atlanta guy, you played at Georgia and you're with the Falcons now. When fans see you out somewhere or come up to you for an autograph, do they approach you as D.J. Shockley, the former Bulldog or D.J. Shockley, the quarterback for the Falcons?

DJS: It's a little bit of both. It just depends on who it is, but they always appreciate you. We have so many great fans throughout the area, and they love Georgia football. It's always a pleasure to meet people who've seen me play, and people who have a little respect for what you've done. It's definitely a pleasure, and it's very much appreciated.

DH: So I'm assuming you follow what's going on at Georgia still. What are you most interested in seeing in the next few weeks? Do you have any big concerns for this season?

DJS: I'm just excited. Being from there and knowing Coach Richt and how he goes about things, I really respect him, and I know he's going to put the best team on the field. I can't put any numbers on it, but I fully expect them to be back in a big game.

DH: OK, one last question. David Pollack is covering the SEC now and doing radio stuff in Atlanta. David Greene is going to be doing radio for the Bulldogs this season. Bryan McClendon is now on the coaching staff at Georgia. Is it odd to see so many of the guys you played with just a few years ago back involved at UGA?

DJS: Not really. Georgia's a great place to be. It allows those guys to give back and be around the Bulldog Nation. Guys just love being around there, being around the university, so it's not weird to see so many guys doing that.

DH: So does that mean we'll be seeing you around here soon?

DJS: Yeah, absolutely. You try, and whenever we have a bye week I try to get back and get a game in. I think this year is the LSU game. We've got a couple guys talking about it already.

1 comment:

Bernie said...

I'm not ashamed to admit, if DJ asked me to wear orange...I'd consider it.