There are certain jobs that by their nature would seem to demand a take-charge quality: Five-star general, CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a starting quarterback in the SEC.
Matthew Stafford has held the high-profile position of being Georgia's starting quarterback for 21 collegiate games, but the junior often deferred to upperclassmen in the huddle during his first two seasons.
No more. Stafford is now the unquestioned leader of the top-ranked Bulldogs.
Coach Mark Richt has the tally to prove it. After spring practice, players were asked to fill out names for the players they considered to be the guys they follow.
"Matthew Stafford was on probably all but one or two," Richt said. "That's 105 to 130 guys. The players believe he's the leader of this football team. That's crucial when your quarterback does that. Matthew knows that's his role now."
Stafford was one of the nation's top high school quarterback recruits when he arrived on campus from Texas, and he got his first start for the Bulldogs in just his third college game.
He has started every time out since the eighth game of his freshman season, but with guys like Fernando Velasco, Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin on offense, Stafford was content letting others lead until he became more established.
"You don't want to step on any toes," Stafford said. "You've got guys who are seniors who have been doing it for a long time here. I wasn't playing well enough to be (the leader). I was just trying to go out there and play as hard as I could. Just get out there and show the guys I'm giving everything I've got."
"Early on, that's what I feel like you have to do when you're in college. Just show that you're worthy to be on the field."
Stafford has been more outspoken this year away from the huddle and his teammates are responding.
"I think his voice is heard from every person on the team," redshirt junior cornerback Bryan Evans said. "No one questions when he says something. Whatever he says, we try to run with it."
Said receiver Kris Durham: "You can just tell from talking to him that's he's an intelligent guy and just a natural leader. He's just kind of waited his turn and now it's his time to step up, so it's kind of second nature to him."
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has seen Stafford grow into the leadership role just like David Greene and D.J. Shockley did at the position before him.
"Just because you're the quarterback, you're not going to gain everybody's respect as soon as you step under center," said Bobo, who coaches the Bulldogs' quarterbacks. "You grow it through the way you work and way you perform out there at practice.
"David Greene's leadership grew with the way he played on the field and the way he carried himself. Shockley really didn't have that opportunity to show it on the field, but the way he handled himself in the locker room and the way he practiced every day gained the respect of the teammates."
Bobo believes Stafford gained that respect by putting the good of the team before individual glory last season. He gained more respect with the way he led the team through Sugar Bowl practices last season and his dedication this offseason with getting in the best condition of his life.
"Here's a guy that was five-star, had every award given coming into college and at a time of a lot of teams in college throwing it every down, throwing for a bunch of yards and a bunch of TDs, we've asked this guy to step into this role and give us the best chance to win," Bobo said. "What we did last year is to be balanced, run the ball and be a physical team, and he never had one complaint. That carries over to his unselfishness."
Stafford followed the lead of others earlier in his career. Now he's comfortable with others following him.
"Just being around here, being around the guys, they know what to expect out of me, and I expect a certain thing out of them and they know it," Stafford said. "It's good. It's a whole lot easier and it's a lot more fun, really."
|Romans 8:32“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
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