ATHENS — Every year, Mark Richt asks the same questions of his players during spring exit interviews. Among the queries tailored to each player individually, one of the chief concerns for the Georgia coaches is identifying the team’s leaders, so each year, the players get their chance to vote.
Generally, it’s a pretty predictable outcome. Last year, Richt touted the overwhelming support for veterans like Jeff Owens and Rennie Curran and Joe Cox. This season, the answers weren’t quite so obvious. Owens, Curran and Cox have all moved on, and while there will be a handful of seniors in starting roles, none have been routinely hyped for their vocal leadership style the way their predecessors were.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. As it turned out, Richt was pleased with the diversity of this year’s exit interview responses.
“I think it’s good to have a bunch of names spread out because there’s a lot of respect for our seniors,” Richt said.
In fact, something strange happened this year that Richt had never seen before. Rather than fill in specific names on the response form, a number of Georgia’s players simply wrote, “The Seniors.”
That’s a good sign, Richt said, because rather than a small group of vocal leaders, he hopes this year’s team will have plenty of veterans ready to step into the role of mentor.
Not that there weren’t a number of individuals singled out.
Fullback Shaun Chapas and receivers Kris Durham and A.J. Green were popular responses on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs and linebackers Darryl Gamble and Akeem Dent were mentioned frequently among defensive players.
That’s a big compliment, Dent said. After all the help he has gotten from older players throughout his career, he’s excited about the chance to give something back.
“My freshman year I looked up to seniors, Tony Taylor and guys like that,” Dent said. “For me, I just feel like, I’ve been here long enough, and there’s always somebody watching you. I feel like there is always a young guy watching, so somebody is going to try to emulate you, or somebody is going to try to be like you.”
Some of the names mentioned most often as leaders at the end of spring, however, were the big boys up front who are rarely known for their vocal approach. Again, Richt isn’t so sure that’s a bad thing.
Center Ben Jones, left tackle Clint Boling and guard Chris Davis were picked by numerous players as leaders on this year’s Bulldogs team, and Richt loves the idea of the selfless behemoths up front serving as the trendsetters for the rest of the team.
“Their job is the most sacrificial on your team, so I think that’s good for your team,” Richt said. “Those are a bunch of guys that just work.”
So while this year’s squad isn’t likely to spend the offseason and much of fall camp touting the ambitious leadership of veterans like last year’s squad did for Cox and Curran, Richt thinks the more subtle approach to 2010 might have plenty of merit.
And while the seniors have earned plenty of respect, and the offensive line is providing a strong foundation, even the newest member of the leadership circle has plenty of potential.
Quarterback Aaron Murray has never taken a snap on game day, but by virtue of his position, he knows he’ll be thrust into the role of leader — both on the field this fall and with his teammates during voluntarily workouts during the next few months.
It’s a responsibility Murray is happy to undertake.
“We have a great core of guys, and we have some great leaders on this team as it is,” Murray said. “Being the quarterback, you’re going to be looked on in that leadership role, and I think the more comfortable I get just working with guys over the summer, the more they can trust me in what I’m doing out there and what I know is the right thing. The more trust I get in them, the more confidence they’ll have in me, and that leadership factor will start to build.”