ATHENS — In the end, it’s really just the beginning.
For tight end Arthur Lynch, his announcement that he would play football at Georgia marked the end of a long journey and the accomplishment of a dream he had worked toward for as long as he could remember. It also marked as the start of a new chapter. From that moment on, he was a member of the Georgia Bulldogs, and his life wouldn’t be the same.
“I’m living the dream right now,” Lynch said. “It was always my dream to be a big-time football player, but it comes with responsibilities and knowing your surroundings, just knowing that everything you do is under a microscope now.”
The recruiting letters stop piling in, the phone stops ringing as often and the daily barrage of interrogators stop asking where players plan to spend the next four years of their lives. But it is only after the nation’s top recruits decide where they’ll play college football when the real glare of the spotlight is felt and the biggest part of the journey begins.
While most of the Bulldogs’ 2009 recruits won’t arrive in Athens until June, Georgia’s coaches begin laying the groundwork for life in the SEC immediately. From their first playbook study sessions to a detailed weight-room agenda to a heightened awareness of the attention a big-time college player receives off the field, head coach Mark Richt makes sure all of his future Bulldogs know exactly what they’re in for when they arrive.
“Once you get them here, you don’t have a bunch of guys wondering what happened,” Richt said. “If there’s a big difference between how you recruit them and how you treat them on a daily basis, it’s hard for them, and they start to wonder if you were being truthful with them to begin with.”
So Georgia’s coaches don’t hide the early morning workouts or the intensity of mat drills or the immense pressure that awaits them when the new recruits arrive on campus. From the beginning, Richt said, the newest Bulldogs are taught the Georgia way of doing things.
That message was driven home last week when the school released linebacker recruit Dexter Moody from his scholarship following an altercation at his school.
An internal e-mail from the university showed that Moody was involved with an incident with a chemistry teacher at Emanuel County Institute, and the altercation was enough to keep Moody from joining the Bulldogs this summer.
When the news broke, Lynch said he was surprised at the decision. Lynch had met with Moody several times and never guessed he would run into off-field problems.
“To me, he never gave me any hunch,” Lynch said. “He’s just a quiet, humble kid. I was shocked when it happened. At first, I was kind of upset that they didn’t give him a fair chance, but I heard that some of the things that he did were just not the Georgia way, as they say.”
That’s the bottom line, Lynch said. The Georgia way begins the moment a player agrees to join the Bulldogs, and the expectations both on and off the field immediately rise. While coaches don’t spend hours discussing behavior, the guidelines for representing the school are clear.
While Lynch was surprised at the swift justice levied by Richt and his staff in releasing Moody, fellow Georgia recruit Orson Charles said there shouldn’t have to be warnings.
“That’s just common sense,” Charles said. “You’ve got to set an example. Everybody’s watching, everybody’s looking to see what you do. You’re setting an example for little kids that look up to you. That’s just common sense not to do some of that stuff like having a fight with your teacher.”
The incident with Moody was a stark example of the increasingly thin line of tolerance for behavior problems, but Lynch said he learned early that the spotlight on college players shines brightly, and even the small decisions a player makes can have significant repercussions.
Lynch’s high school teammate, Jordan Todman, is a freshman running back for Connecticut, and he offered some firsthand advice for the future Georgia tight end about life at a big-time college football program.
“He said the pressure will be there and just remember that not everyone is on your side,” Lynch said. “I know what it is, and I think my mom raised me well enough to keep my nose clean for four years. But I do understand that, especially at Georgia, that’s a high-profile program, that you do have to watch your back a little bit because you never know who could be watching.”
While the coaching staff doesn’t spend hours explaining the basics of good behavior, the glare of the public spotlight is something they want to ensure their players consider.
There’s a big difference between high school and college, said Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon, and anything a player does has the potential of raising eyebrows once they become a Georgia football player.
“The biggest thing that you try to relate to them is, you’re a Bulldog now,” McClendon said. “Anything positive or negative you do, it’s going to be amplified that much more because you just jumped to a whole different stage of fame. If you get pulled over for speeding or if you win first place at a track meet, it’s going to get amplified that much more just because you signed with the Georgia Bulldogs.”