The jury is still out on who will have the brightest career of the recently assembled UGA recruiting "Dream Team." While most of the attention has gravitated toward the nations No. 1 high school running back recruit, Isaiah Crowell, he is not necessarily going to be the prize DAWG after five seasons when Georgia fans look back.
For example, Christian LeMay could have quite possibly been the No. 1 ranked quarterback had he not been suspended for his senior season. It is not impossible to believe that one day he could be the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL.
Then there is Ray Drew. Drew is not only a tremendous talent but has that Tim Tebow-type leadership and personality. I could continue listing players from the 2011 recruiting class, but that is not the point of the article.
While players like LeMay and Drew might end up with the the most successful UGA careers, the biggest needs filled (this recruiting season) were at running back and defensive tackle. The signing of Isaiah Crowell and Big John Jenkins were expected to have the biggest impacts on the 2011 football season.
The thought, by most, was that the running back play for UGA was spotty at best and they needed a true gap filling DT for the defense to take the next step. These needs are the reason that two infamous statements were made by two separate UGA coaches.
The first statement, and most notable, was when head coach Mark Richt made the following statement on ESPNU: "I expect him to come right in and compete right away. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him running that rock in the (Georgia) Dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do."
If you have followed the UGA program at any length, you know that this was not directed at Crowell as much as it was at the current UGA running backs at the time. Not only had they been a disappointment on the field, but they had done an equally disappointing job off of the field. Hence the last part of that statement, “if he does what he's supposed to do.”
Junior-to-be running back Washaun Ealey had been arrested for a hit-and-run prior to the start of the season, despite warning for him not to drive on his suspended license from the UGA staff. Moreover, senior-to-be running back Caleb King had been arrested for failure to appear on a traffic violation and had fallen short of his academic commitments, ultimately leading to his being benched for UGA's bowl game.
The second statement, well, really statements, was made by current UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who repeatedly gushed over the possibility of having Jenkins join his line. He made several statements like, "Size does matter, and he does help fill a need for us" and "He fits in with our system, and I think he'll help make an immediate impact."
Bulldog nation came alive with the prospect of Jenkins leading this defense back to being a top-tier SEC defense once again and Crowell bringing back the much needed home run threat that departed with Knowshon Moreno in 2008. After a miserable 2010 football campaign, hopes were high once again in Athens.
Former UGA star and NFL player Thomas Brown, who recently joined the UGA strength and conditioning program staff, cited the lack of positional competition as the main reason UGA has struggled over the past two seasons. Brown knows something about competition. While he was at UGA he shared the backfield with three other running backs: Knowshon Moreno, Danny Ware and Kregg Lumpkin, all three having also made it to the NFL.
That type of competition seems to be back on its way at UGA.
However, it is this kind of competition that shows the character of a player. Not that all players are going to wait their turn like DJ Shockley waiting behind David Green. However, the top-tier players will embrace the process and it will make them better players.
With that as a long introduction, now bring on the two main case studies for this article, Washaun Ealey and Kwame Geathers. Both men were faced with the same scenario. They both had contributed last season only to see two big-name recruits brought in to replace them.
Though the backdrop might be similar, the response was not. Ealey became puffed up and refused to embrace the system. There had been prior reports that Ealey had both a bad attitude and lazy work ethic. Those two rumors I am unable to comment on because I was not there. What I do know is when he was challenged with competition, he did not respond in the proper manner, and when he was disciplined, he decided not to show up for his punishment runs. He would be suspended and later decide to transfer. In other words, the kitchen got too hot so he picked up his toys and left.
On the other hand, in opposite fashion, Kwame Geathers embraced the process. He put on over 25 lbs while dropping a large percentage of body fat. His hard work showed in the spring where he went from a non-factor in the fall to the defensive MVP for the spring. No longer is it a forgone conclusion that Jenkins would start over Geathers. Coach Richt was quoted as saying, "He probably heard Big John Jenkins was coming into town to take his job. That probably lit a fire under him."
Instead, the UGA NT position has gone from a glaring weakness to being potentially their strongest position. Geathers said after his domination performance in the spring game, "It was motivating. I’m ready for him to come in. He’s going to help this team out. Even though he’s coming in to compete with me for a job, he’s going to help us as a team. But it did motivate me a good bit."
That is what you call embracing the process, and UGA will be better for it.