SAVANNAH - It's been almost six months since Georgia fell five yards short against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, but for head coach Mark Richt, what happened on the field in the Georgia Dome is still somewhat difficult to comprehend.
"In some ways it's like it never happened," Richt said prior to Thursday's Georgia Day festivities at the Charles Morris Center in downtown Savannah. "Some people look at it like it's the greatest game I ever saw, some people see it as we were that close winning a national championship or at least playing for it. On the other hand, it feels like
we lost an opportunity to win the SEC, just like the year before we did. I'd like to win the SEC again."
Yes, the pain of the Bulldogs' 32-28 loss to the eventual national champion still lingers, but as Richt looks ahead to the start of preseason drills in August, his fingers are crossed that coming so close will keep his players hungry for another title run.
"I hope so. I think the older guys, especially when you try to tell the younger guys how the clock is ticking, you don't know how many chances you're going to get," Richt said. "It doesn't always resonate as much with them as it does for the seniors. They know that this is it for them. I think true freshmen come in and are like 'Hey we're coming here to win' so I think they're excited any time they're coming in but I think the seniors more than anybody might feel a little different."
Speaking of seniors, last year Richt leaned on a large senior class - along with Jarvis Jones - to provide the kind of leadership every team needs to have.
This year, the choices aren't so obvious.
Left end Garrison Smith is the only senior defensive starter with any extensive experience as compared to the offense where quarterback Aaron Murray will try and make sure the offense is focused on getting back to the Dome for a third consecutive year.
So who does Richt have in mind?
"We're about to find out. When you're smaller in number it's tougher. But I'd rather have 10 good leaders rather than just two great ones," Richt said. "It's hard to do, but if you've got 10, at least at each position group, got some maturity in there and there's some synergy among the leaders that gain more confidence as you go, I'd rather have that than a small group. You don't have to be a senior to lead. We're going to have to find some leadership from some of our underclassmen."
Junior Damian Swann and Smith come immediately to mind.
Those are the two that come to mind at the very beginning," Richt said. "Mike Thornton hasn't played a lot but he's a very mature guy and a guy who we may look to so I think you start there. I'm kind of waiting to see."
NOTES: Richt said during the question and answer portion of Thursday's event that that 32 players are currently going through Maymester at UGA and that the entire team will be on campus once summer school starts in June.
When asked what role junior quarterback Hutson Mason would play, Richt said the former Lassiter star is without question is No. 2 quarterback and "really hoped" to get him some playing time this fall because "he deserves it."
Richt said he's hoping that redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley can take some of the deep-threat responsibilities held last year by Tavarres King.