ATHENS -- Ray Drew laughs at the memory, because he laughs all the time. Sometimes because hes nervous. Sometimes because a story makes him laugh. This one is both.
It was spring practice last year, during a scrimmage. Drew, the Georgia football teams powerfully built defensive end, made a tackle, then got up and left for the sideline. The player who had come right behind Drew on the play helped up the offensive player. But when Drew got to the sideline, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was waiting for him.
Dont help him up. Youre too nice, Grantham said, according to Drew.
Coach, Im right here in front of you, Im not helping him up, Drew recalled saying.
Then, of course, he laughed and added, Thats what I was, the nice guy.
That gets to the essence of the man seemingly known as Ray Drew, former five-star recruit, who has yet to start a game for the Bulldogs and has just a half-sack to his credit in two years of action.
Hes too nice. Or so goes the thinking. Hes an ordained minister, after all. Thats why he hasnt lived up to his potential. Thats why, even now with a starting spot finally there for him, he might not get it. Sterling Bailey might get it, and the impression will go on that Drew isnt living up to the hype.
But is that fair, or were the expectations just too high in the first place?
It all goes back to that five-star, or four-star, however you want to put it. One thing that I realized is that I didnt ask for any of those stars, Drew said. Shoot. I didnt even know I was good at football, I just went out and played.
He lets out another chuckle.
I dont feel any pressure, he said.
But Drew admits he didnt feel that way at first. When he arrived on campus, one of the most heralded members of Georgias 2011 recruiting class -- which was dubbed the Dream Team -- he felt the weight of being a Parade All-American. He knew he was a consensus five-star player by Rivals, Scout and ESPN.com. He knew USA Today had named him an All-American.
And he knew fans expected him to be a star. So he knows what they might be saying after two years of being a reserve with just one half-sack and just 13 solo tackles.
At first coming in you do have that in the back of your head, OK, I was a five-star recruit coming in. I didnt do much this year, Drew said.
But Drews mother has been urging him not to look too far ahead, not to feel the need to live up to the five-star hype, live for the moment and let Gods plan play out.
It appears Drew also has adjusted his own personal goals, emphasizing just doing his part to maximize Georgias glory and not his own.
Any player would love to have those kinds of honors: All-SEC, All-American, what have you, he said. But as long as I can do enough to contribute to this team and get us as far as we can go and not look back in the future and have regrets about the way I played or what I did while I was here, then Im perfectly fine with that.
Heres the other thing. Drew claims hes not so nice.
I think Ive been in more fights here at practice than my entire life, Drew said. But its all in good clean fun. We beat the crap out of one another and then go back to the locker room, shake hands and say we had a good day of practice. It doesnt carry over.
That also gets to the core of Drew. Below the nice-guy façade there is a battler.
Just like his head coach, Mark Richt, renowned for his even-keel demeanor, but privately capable of being unpleasant.
Absolutely, Drew said. A lot of people look at Coach Richt, and I can honestly say that what you see is what you get. But at the end of the day he still is a coach, and he knows how to get his players fired up, and he knows how to let you know when youve messed up, but he knows how to let you know without M-F this or G-D that.
Right at that moment, a voice from above -- literally, up a stairway -- can be heard yelling down: Ray Drew looks like the pastor of disaster.
Drew looks up, and smiles. Its Richt.
Speak of the devil, Drew said, laughing, and Richt also laughs and walks out of view.
Drew goes back to talking about his coach, saying, Theres also something beneath the surface as well, thats a little spark, or a little flame, that when gas is added to it, it can ignite.
And perhaps, this year, that also means Drew. Or perhaps not. Either way, he will be content.