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April 30, 2013

Should Kwame Have Come Back?

Early departures for '13: Jones, Ogletree, & Geathers
-- first rounder, first rounder, & no rounder.
Seems a rather ridiculous question considering the early departure wasn't even selected in the recent NFL Draft, huh?  Still, after receiving an email from a reader wondering if any other early-entrant Bulldogs besides Geathers went undrafted in the past, I suddenly felt compelled to reexamine the case for Kwame.
Updating a post of mine from a year ago when I questioned the early departure of Orson Charles, Georgia has now had 31 players declare early for the draft following the departures of Jones, Ogletree, and Geathers.  Kwame was just the third of these players not to be drafted.  The Bulldogs' early-departed-but-not-drafted percentage of less than 10 percent is rather remarkable considering of the roughly 1,200 early entrants from 1990 through 2013 in all of college football, approximately 36 percent were not taken in the draft (including 21 of 73 in 2013).
Although former Bulldogs who leave early are rarely left empty handed, the notion the UGA football program under Coach Richt is treated by most super-talented players as merely a stepping stone to the NFL continues.  In the 12 NFL Drafts from 1990 through 2001, there was an average of 42.3 early entrants compared to 55.8 in the last 12, or a 31.7 percent increase.  However, at Georgia, five players declared early from 1990 through 2001, compared to 24 from 2002 through 2013, or an increase of nearly FIVE times than before and an average of two early departees annually during the Coach Richt era.
Feeling kind of sorry for Geathers, who signed as a free agent with San Diego immediately following the draft, and especially for a Georgia defensive line (in which two of the three projected starters for 2013 have totaled only a combined three career tackles!), I soon noticed the claim at DawgBark.net that only 4% of players drafted in the 7th Round or signed as undrafted free agents make it in the NFL for more than 2 years.  Further thinking things didn't look too promising for Kwame, I then recalled that of Georgia's late-round picks to undrafted free agentsat least the ones who departed the program earlymost had actually "made" it, so to speak, in the NFL.

A decade ago, Georgia had a similar case to Geathers in linebacker Chris Clemons.  After a respectable junior season of 2002, Clemons was expected to be the lone returning starting linebacker for the Bulldogs in '03.  Instead, he unexpectedly turned pro early.  Although a fourth or fifth-round projected pick by many so-called experts, like Geathers, Clemons wound up not being drafted in the end.  However, he was signed by Washington as a free agent and recently completed his eighth year in the NFL.  What's more, Clemons has been a starting defensive end for the Seahawks the last three seasons and was recently featured online in Seattle as part of a trade from three years ago "that looks more and more like a steal."  Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

A decade ago, Chris Clemons left the Dawgs early and
went undrafted, but he has had a fine NFL career.
Besides Clemons and Geathers, the other Georgia undrafted early entrant was D.J. "don't call me Danny" Ware, who actually had little choice but to leave early following the 2006 season with the return of Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin and emergence of Knowshon Moreno.  For Ware, it was either declare early for the '07 Draft or likely be the Bulldogs' fourth-string tailback as a senior.  In six seasons in the NFL, Ware has been a dependable back, started a couple of games while being on the cusp of becoming a full-time starter, and been part of two Super Bowl-winning teams.

Including these two undrafted free agents, and excluding Orson Charles since he has only one pro season under his belt, I examined the NFL careers of every previous early entrant from Georgia.  I discovered that of the six Bulldogs drafted in the fourth round and lower or not at all, FOUR—Clemons, Reshad Jones, Randy McMichael, and, ironically, Kwame's older brother Robert Geathers—all started for 2-plus seasons in the NFL in at least half of their teams' games.  For the two Bulldogs that weren't starters for 2+ seasons, Ware, as mentioned, has had a serviceable pro career while Terreal Bierria likely would have so if not for getting in a little trouble with the law.

On further examination, 9 of the 14 early-entrant Bulldogs drafted in the third round and lower or not drafted at all became starters in the NFL for at least two seasons.  In comparison and for what it's worth, nearly the same proportion (9 of 13) of the early-entrant Georgia players drafted in the 1st and 2nd rounds became starters in the NFL for at least two seasons.

Ten years ago, Georgia's Chris Clemons surprised much of the Bulldog Nation, including his head coach, by declaring early for the NFL Draft.  "I'm somewhat disappointed and I'm not sure it was the wisest decision in this case," Coach Richt said at the time, "but time will tell."  Clemons went undrafted but, in time, was one of the best defenders on arguably the NFL's best defense a year ago.

I wish Kwame Geathers had stayed with the Bulldogs for his final season and it was probably an unwise decision for him to come out early.  However, based on his 6-6, 350-pound frame, incredible NFL bloodlines, and the fact that early departees from Georgia seem to buck the early-entrant trends of other college programs, don't be surprised if Geathers "makes it" in the NFL and does just fine.

April 25, 2013

Georgia's Path to the Draft

Well, at least he could recruit
high NFL Draft picks...
I was watching TV with a few friends last week when the news broke that Coach Donnan had been indicted for his part in the much-publicized Ponzi scheme. 
"Crook!" a friend shouted.  "What an embarrassment," said another.  "'Big Head D' should be ashamed," mumbled a friend, adding his long-time nickname for the former Bulldog coach.  And, finally and humorously (I think), "Well, at least he could recruit..."

Someone must have quickly shot my last friend a curious remember-the-Donnan-regime-took-Jasper-Sanks-over-Jamal-Lewis look because he promptly clarified his remark, "Donnan could recruit!  At least as far as players that eventually would be picked high in the NFL Draft."
I soon flashed back to an article I had written for a magazine about a month ago regarding Georgia's 1980 team.  In my research, I was shocked to discover only one player from the national title squad was ever picked in the first OR second round of an NFL Draft (Lindsay Scott).  I'm not just talking about the NFL Draft immediately following the championship season in April of 1981, but any player from that team chosen in the first two rounds of any of the subsequent drafts.  What's even more remarkable is in the final 16 NFL Drafts of the Coach Dooley era (1973-1988), Scott was the only Bulldog selected in the first round.  (Granted, if it wasn't for the USFL, Herschel would have been a first-round pick, as well, but even just two first rounders in 16 years is mighty hard to fathom.)  In comparison, and let's say Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are chosen tonight, Georgia would have had 16 first-round selections in the last 16 NFL Drafts (1998-2013).
It's certainly no secret Donnan was able to land high school talent that eventually would become high NFL Draft picks (signed 6 of those 16 first rounders), as has Richt (8 of the 16).  But, what about previous Georgia head coaches, and what if the selections were extended to what is currently the first two days of the draft rounds 1 through 3, or the first 96 picks?
From Wally Butts' first NFL Draft as head coach (1940) through 2012, the following is a ranking of the Bulldogs' last six head coaches according to the number of top-96 NFL draftees each had previously signed for the Bulldogs:
Kendrell Bell was one of the whopping 16 top-
three round picks signed by Donnan (and apparently 
one of the ex-coach's eventual Ponzi victims). 

33- Butts
21- Dooley
17- Richt
16- Donnan
10- Goff
  2- Griffith
On second thought, I thought a better comparison would be each coach's number of high draft picks divided by the number of seasons they coached at Georgia:
3.20- Donnan (16 in 5 years)
1.50- Butts (33 in 22)
1.43- Goff (10 in 7)
1.42- Richt (17 in 12)
0.84- Dooley (21 in 25)
0.67- Griffith (2 in 3)
Disregarding the abbreviated Griffith tenure, there's an intriguing trend concerning Georgia head coaches and their yearly average of high draft picks: Richt, Goff, and Butts all averaged around one-and-a-half top-three round picks per year, which was roughly TWICE as many as Dooley averaged, and less than HALF as many as Donnan averaged.
Notably, of the five coaches who signed at least 10 eventual top-three round picks, Dooley had the lowest yearly top-96 average by far, yet was arguably the most successful of the five.  For this reason, should Dooley be even more celebrated for doing, as they say, a lot with little (i.e., having tremendous success with inferior NFL talent)?  Or, should the hall-of-fame head coach be criticized for not signing the top NFL talent that was landed by Georgia coaches both before (Butts) and after his tenure (Goff, Donnan, and Richt)?
Likewise, should the Jim Donnan coaching regime be more heralded because of its signing of numerous eventual high NFL draftees in such a short period of time?  Or, considering all of that NFL talent, yet Donnan was likely just the fourth most successful of the five head coaches, is it shameful his coaching tenure was only satisfactory?  Regardless, whether Donnan was a Bulldog signee's "path to the Draft," or more so produced little with a lot, he currently has much, much bigger fish to fry.

April 17, 2013

Trip to Clemson Can Bring Unexpected

In '74, Georgia had some difficulty stopping a Clemson ground attack, 
the Bulldogs were unexpectedly defeated, & a rivalry was established.
Last week, I was on the campus of Clemson University for the first time in nearly 30 years.  I believe it was during the summer of 1985 when somehow through a friend of my father's, I unexpectedly got to walk out on the field of Death Valley a pretty cool experience for a 10 year old.  For my recent trip, I was conducting a couple of interviews for a story I'm writing on the namesake of the same field Clemson's legendary Frank Howard.  Although I bleed red and black, I'm a huge enthusiast of the history of college football, on the whole, plus this freelance writer has bills to pay.  Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity to put together a piece on Howard for a Clemson football yearbook due out this summer.
The last time I had been at Clemson, the Bulldogs and Tigers bitter rivalry was in its heyday.  At the time, in my opinion, there was likely no opponent the majority of the Bulldog Nation hated more than Clemson.  This time on campus, I saw a sign in their bookstore promoting the upcoming August 31st meeting as a "Rivalry Renewed."  It got me thinking...  If the approaching game is renewing a rivalry, when did the Georgia-Clemson football game actually become a rivalry?
For a series featuring more than 60 games, the results of the meetings over the years have been rather one-sided to say the least and, thus collectively, could be argued as hardly a rivalry at all.  Georgia won the first three meetings between the two schools played prior to 1900.  In turn, Clemson promptly defeated the Red and Black seven consecutive times from 1900 through 1906, outscoring them 184 to 10 in the process.  From there, Georgia went on a tear, recording a remarkable 26-3-3 mark in 32 games from 1907 to 1973.  Currently, the Bulldogs are on a five-game winning streak against the Tigers, taking each game played since 1991.  However, there was a time when Georgia-Clemson was indeed a real rivalry, and one of the more balanced matchups in all of college football.
Many, including myself, have pointed to the 1977 game as to when the rivalry was really established.  Georgia was coming off consecutive seasons of major bowl appearances, while Clemson had been sub-par to awful for quite some time.  Having not defeated the Bulldogs away from Clemson in 18 tries since 1914, the Tigers pulled a 7-6 upset in Athens.  From then through 1987, the 11 Georgia-Clemson games were decided by an average of less than five points per contest.
As I recently sat with a retired Clemson professor and current campus historian, after discussing Coach Howard, I brought up the one-time bitter rivalry between the Bulldogs and Tigers.  Notably, he first informed me of a time when the two sides, you could say, got along quite well.
"Whenever the Tigers played in Athens when Howard was head coach, he was worried about the well being of the college girls that followed the Clemson team down to Georgia," the historian told me.  "So, the girls were placed on a separate campus away from the UGA male students.  (I must have looked confused at this point.)  And good thing, Howard believed the girls would be fornicating with the UGA males under those hedges y'all got down there," he added with a laugh.
Talk of Georgia and Clemson "relations" soon changed to the schools' football rivalry, and the historian suggested that their meeting in 1974 in Death Valley was when the series changed forever.

No, it's not Herschel... This No. 34 -- 
Andy "Breezy" Reid -- actually scored
a touchdown against Clemson.
The Tigers were fresh off an upset win over Georgia Tech after an 0-2 start to their '74 campaign.  The Bulldogs entered with a 2-1 record, as 10-point favorites on the road, and having not lost to the Tigers in 10 consecutive games over a period of nearly 20 years (1955).
For most of the game, Georgia's offense was rather effective, scoring three touchdowns on the ground: two by Horace King and a third from Andy "Breezy" Reid.  In addition, quarterback Matt Robinson averaged almost 15 yards per pass attempt.  Nevertheless, the Bulldogs had some serious issues on defense throughout the 1974 season, and particularly on this afternoon.  Even Erk Russell's recent switch from a five- to a six-man front to slow opposing ground games couldn't hold back the Tigers.  Two Clemson quarterbacks Mark Fellers and Mike O'Cain were each responsible for two touchdowns while directing the Tigers' Veer offense to more than 300 yards rushing in a 28-24 upset victory in the Valley.
Granted, Georgia would whip Clemson by a combined 76 to 7 score in wins over the Tigers the next two seasons.  However, beginning in 1974 to Georgia's current run of five straight wins, the Bulldogs and Tigers battled to an even 7-7-1 series record.
Finally, my second interview while at Clemson was with Jimmy Howard a pretty cool experience for this 38 year old.  The only son of the late Frank Howard, Jimmy played for the Tigers in the early-60s.  Instead of on campus, he chose to be interviewed from a bar his bar, in fact, located in downtown Clemson.  Jimmy had little to add about the rivalry between the Bulldogs and Tigers.  However, while chewing on a wad of tobacco and drinking a beer  (yes, at the same time), he was filled with charisma, quick wit, and some entertaining stories a tad too crude to reveal here (including a classic about his father, an opposing coach, General Douglas MacArthur, and a glass of urine).
Recently, I was reminded that Georgia's most hated rivalry at one time was being renewed.  Also, including for the Bulldogs in '74, me as a youngster, or again just last week, I was reminded that a trip to Clemson often brings the unexpected. 

April 8, 2013

A Lingering Tall Gator Tale

In '66, it was obviously (L to R) Varnado, Patton, & Stanfill
who drank Gatorade, and not Florida's Superman.
Yesterday, I saw a Gatorade commercial for the first time -- a supposed "true story" -- once again depicting the sports drink's association with Florida Gators football of the mid-1960s.  And, as I've desired for quite some time of the Gatorade-Gators  connection, I just wish everyone would be on the up and up...
Several years ago, I discovered that the account of the drink practically turning around the Gators' program was somewhat exaggerated to say the least.  When I was asked to write I Love Georgia/I Hate Florida, I finally got to expose Florida's fabricating ways.  For anyone who isn't aware, or even cares, I hate to burst your bubble, but the only thing worse than a Gator is an embellishing Gator.  From my book:
Thank goodness for the 1965 Florida football team and a few of the university’s researchers from the time.  Because of them, there have been far fewer athletes affected by the heat and heat-related illnesses; these much appreciated Gators are the reason for the acclaimed sports drink of Gatorade.
In the spring of 1965, an assistant coach approached Dr. Robert Cade, the university’s kidney disease specialist, asking the reason why so many Gator players were “wilting” towards the end of games in the Florida heat.  In response, Cade and other researchers formulated a new beverage to help counteract the players’ debilitating dehydration better than just plain drinking water.

The new drink, Gatorade, was presented to head coach Ray Graves, who agreed that the researchers could try out the concoction on his Gators, but only the freshman team. Legend has it, the first on-the-field tests of Gatorade came in a scrimmage between the freshman squad, or the "guinea pigs," against the superior Gators' B team.

“At the end of the first half, the B team was ahead 13-0. They pushed the freshmen around pretty good,” Cade says. “In the third period, the freshmen, who had been given the solution, came out and began pushing the B team around. They scored two or three touchdowns in the third period and five or six more in the fourth period.”

Coach Graves was instantly sold on Gatorade and asked the researchers if they could supply enough for the entire Florida varsity to use in its upcoming game against heavily-favored LSU.

The very next day, Florida came from behind in the fourth quarter in 102-degree heat in Gainesville to upset the Tigers, 14-7.  Apparently, the Gators had been filled with Gatorade in the second half, whereas LSU had wilted down the stretch.

At that point, according to the drink’s official website, “the Gators began winning… outlasting a number of heavily favored opponents in the withering heat and finishing the season at 7–4.”

With Gatorade in hand, it only got better for the Gators.  In 1966, they achieved a regular-season record of 8-2 while earning the reputation as a second-half team.  Prior to Florida’s first-ever Orange Bowl appearance that season, the Florida Times-Union summed up the Gators’ newly-found success and their secret remedy with the headline: “One Lil’ Swig of That Kickapoo Juice and Biff, Bam, Sock — It’s Gators, 8-2.”

In the Orange Bowl, the Gatorade-filled Gators defeated Georgia Tech, finishing its season with a school-record-tying nine victories.  Word soon spread about the University of Florida’s balanced carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage and how the magic potion brought instant fortune to its football team.

And, as they say, the rest is history: “Orders from other college football programs across the country soon followed, as playing without Gatorade on your sidelines began to be likened to playing with just ten men on the field.”

Let us first start off by saying that your average Bulldog fan does not dislike Gatorade simply because it was created by a group of Gators.  Most of us like the drink, in fact, probably just as much as the next guy.  We’ve even used it once in a while for alternative purposes, like dumping it on our coaches following a big victory.  However, the Gators tend to often exaggerate their football history, while we Bulldogs usually will call a spade a spade.

In 1965, “heavily-favored” LSU was actually just a three-point favorite over the Gators.  Also, Florida did not rally in the fourth quarter to defeat the Tigers as the story goes; the Gators didn’t score a single point in the final quarter and actually never trailed the entire game.

As far as Florida “outlasting a number of heavily favored opponents” that season, in fact, the opposite could actually be said.  Following the victory over LSU, the Gators did not win a single game as a decided underdog while actually losing two games when ranked in the top ten to unranked teams – Auburn and Miami (Fla) – who would both finish their seasons with sub-par records.

The 1965 Florida football team would actually end its season with an overall record that was a little worse than the Gatorade-less Gators from the year before.

Granted, the following season of 1966 was a banner year for Florida.  However, if one was to consider the first three Gator teams that were drinking Gatorade, including the ’66 Orange Bowl champions, and compare them to the three Florida football squads prior to the drink’s creation (1962 to 1964), each group of Gators lost the exact number of combined games – 10 each.

As far as the ’66 Gators earning the reputation as a second-half team, any “reputation” certainly wasn’t earned in Jacksonville, when Florida blew a 10-3 halftime lead to Georgia and was outscored 24-0 in the second half (17-0 in the fourth quarter).  We guess the Gators forgot to drink their Gatorade during the final two quarters, especially the top Gator – quarterback Steve Spurrier, or “Superman” as he was then known as.

Constantly harassed and repeatedly sacked while throwing three interceptions in the second half against the Bulldogs, instead of Gatorade, Superman must have come in contact with some kryptonite.