Surprise player emerging for Georgia at backup quarterback

semerson@macon.comNovember 15, 2012 

ATHENS -- Parker Welch, standing in his customary spot a few inches from the field, saw Aaron Murray hit the ground. That happens a lot. Welch watched as Murray remained on the ground a few moments. That happens occasionally.

Then Welch saw Murray lay his head back on the ground.

“And I was like, ‘Uh oh,’ ” Welch said.

Everything ended up being all right. Welch replaced Murray as Georgia’s quarterback for just one play Saturday at Auburn before Murray returned.

But the moment again highlighted one of the curiosities at Georgia. Why is Welch, a walk-on, ahead of Christian LeMay, a highly touted recruit two years ago, in the pecking order at the most important position?

“Parker had a little better handle of the offense, of what we’re trying to do,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “Just learning and being able to function in what we do. It’s a process for guys learning and feeling comfortable that those other 10 guys gotta believe him, and he’s gotta believe in himself that he can run what we’re doing.”

But Bobo added that it’s not a large gap between Welch and LeMay; in fact Bobo opened the competition back up this week in practice. So LeMay could be the first man in Saturday if Georgia pulls away from Georgia Southern enough to send in the reserves.

The fact it’s even a competition, however, is notable.

LeMay was a consensus four-star prospect coming out of high school in North Carolina, where he was that state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009. He was invited to quarterback prospect camps, and Rivals ranked him the third best quarterback in his class.

What held LeMay back, and still might be hurting him now, is that he was dismissed from his high school team and didn’t play as a senior. So he enrolled early, going through spring practice in 2011 and redshirting last year.

Welch also had his senior year at Wayne County derailed, because of injury, which also caused scholarship offers to go by the wayside. So he walked on at Georgia and spent the 2010 season on the scout team. Then he appeared in two games last year in mop-up duty, serving as the third-string quarterback behind Hutson Mason.

When Mason decided to redshirt this season, most figured LeMay would step into the prime backup role. But after the third week of the season, following a win over Florida Atlantic, Bobo started putting Welch second in line during practice drills.

“It’s truly a blessing,” Welch said. “I’ve worked my tail off since I’ve been here to do it. It’s been my goal since I got here to move up the depth chart. I still have goals to earn more playing time and make more plays and have opportunities.”

Welch hasn’t had a chance in games to show his wares. In four games he only has attempted three passes, completing one for 15 yards. But if Murray does get hurt and Welch has to see extensive action, he said he won’t just play it safe.

“You can’t play cautious,” Welch said. “Coach Bobo tells us all the time. He tells Murray, ‘When you throw the ball, throw it with confidence.’ He said I’d rather see you throw a pick throwing it in there really confident, than real timid.”

So if he was good enough to be a backup at Georgia, should be have gone somewhere and been a starter?

“It crosses my mind every now and then,” Welch said. “But I don’t regret it at all. I love this place, The people around here, the university.”

As for LeMay, he says all the right things. He swears that being behind Welch on the depth chart hasn’t been frustrating.

“Parker’s been here, and Parker is a really good quarterback, as we all see,” LeMay said. “He has a great grasp of the offense, as well. I’m proud of Parker for what he’s done and the good things he’s gonna continue to do.”

In order to gain the trust of the coaching staff, LeMay said he just has to “keep improving” and keep working hard.

“That’s all you can do,” he said. “I don’t wonder. I trust in the coaching staff. And I know that we go out there and work hard. We compete every week, and you’ve just gotta go out there and compete and do your very best. That’s all that they ask for, and that’s all that you can ask for out of yourself.”

If an emergency occurs -- in other words, if Murray is out at a critical time -- Mason will most likely have the redshirt pulled. Otherwise, it remains a competition between the four-star recruit and the walk-on.

Bobo said he has talked to LeMay and told him to keep his head up and work hard. It’s a similar conversation, according to Bobo, that he has had with receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Chris Conley when they weren’t playing as much as expected.

“And quarterback’s a tough situation,” Bobo said. “You’ve just gotta constantly preach that your opportunity is every day to impress. And then when that opportunity comes you’ve just gotta be ready to show what you can do.”

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