ATHENS -- Bruce Figgins and his fellow fifth-year seniors arrived at Georgia and were on an 11-win team. Brandon Boykin and his fellow fourth-year seniors began with 10 wins.
They immediately learned the high expectations. Then they experienced a subsequent drop-off. And on the day they play their final game at Sanford Stadium they have a chance to do something no senior on this team has done yet -- clinch a spot in the SEC championship game.
“This group that came in and is about to leave has faced a lot of adversity. But this year has made it all worthwhile,” said Boykin, a cornerback and kick returner. “Being able to go out with a winning record and potentially a shot at the SEC championship. So it was all worthwhile no matter what happened in the past. And a lot of what happened in the past allowed us to be where we are right now.”
Georgia (8-2 overall, 6-1 SEC) has to defeat Kentucky on Saturday to earn the SEC East title and that ticket to the Georgia Dome on Dec. 3 to play for the conference title. And the Bulldogs are 30-point favorites over the struggling Wildcats (4-6, 1-5).
Should the Bulldogs win Saturday, that means they will have at least three more chances (the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech, the SEC championship and a bowl) to win a 10th game.
That would be the program’s first 10-win season since 2009. But when this group of seniors arrived, that was expected.
“It’s been a roller-coaster. We’ve seen some of the highs and we’ve seen the lows,” said Figgins, a Columbus native. “But we’re Georgia, fight hard always, always fought hard. We’re back at the top where we knew we would be.”
Figgins’ career has been up and down a lot, as well. He played as a true freshman in 2007 and appeared to have a bright career as a tight end, catching a touchdown pass from Matt Stafford.
But two years later, he suffered a shoulder injury, which forced him to redshirt in 2009. By the time he returned, he was far down on the tight end depth chart.
He was saved this season by a move to fullback, where he has been first-team all year and caught a touchdown pass last week against Auburn.
“I’ve dealt with my share of learning situations where I had to learn from, situations I had to persevere and overcome,” he said. “But it’s a blessing through all this stuff.”
Boykin and guard Cordy Glenn thought about making last year their final one in Athens. But each ultimately passed on the NFL draft.
Certainly their potential draft position didn’t justify it in their minds, but leaving after the program’s first losing season in 14 years wasn’t ideal either.
Head coach Mark Richt has mentioned the celebration after Georgia beat arch-rival Florida on Oct. 29, when the normally quiet Glenn got emotional.
“I think they both have grown as people, and they have become better football players and learned what it’s like to be a leader,” Richt said Glenn and Boykin.
Boykin has said the performance this season has validated his decision to return, although it’s not quite complete.
“On top of (senior day), winning it would mean we go to the SEC championship. Special,” Boykin said. “People are kind of underestimating Kentucky. But we have to win this game to make the SEC championship, so there would be no drop-off.”
Figgins agreed that the chance to clinch a division only made this senior day more rewarding.
“I wasn’t here when Georgia won it (last time). None of us won a championship here,” Figgins said. “So it definitely means a lot. We’re playing this game just like it was a Florida game, like it was South Carolina or someone else.”