ATHENS -- A strange thing happened the other day when Chris Conley had a media session.
Someone asked him about football.
“Something new,” Conley said, nodding and smiling.
He has produced his own Star Wars short film and is starting work on another. He is a student representative to the NCAA. He was a sensation at SEC media days. He routinely uses big words like “symbiotic” and, in an interview for this story, worked in “retrospectively” and “introspectively.”
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He’s the ideal student-athlete. But, by the way, he’s a pretty good football player.
Last season, he was Georgia’s leading receiver (45 catches, 651 yards) and stands a decent chance of repeating this year. He was the favorite receiver of quarterback Hutson Mason at the tail end of last year, and if Malcolm Mitchell is out for the start of the season, Conley and fellow senior Michael Bennett will be the main targets.
When you watch Conley on the field, you also see close to the whole package: 6-foot-3 and a little more than 200 pounds, good hands, runs good routes and has enough speed to be an NFL prospect. And yes, he wants to play in the pros, which gets lost in all the hub-bub regarding Conley’s off-field exploits.
But when Conley is asked if there’s a part of him that wants to pull back and remind people that he’s a football player, he says no. He’s more than fine with all the off-field press.
“I embrace it. Because all of those things are who I am,” Conley said. “I think people can put so much emphasis on those, because it’s atypical to see a football player do that. It’s atypical to see a football player who plays well do something like that. And so I embrace those things, I never want to pull back.
“It’s just every single time I move on to the next phase I want to make sure people know that. So when it was time to make films, I want people to realize, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be a true filmmaker, I wanna do this.’ ”
Conley is referring to the Star Wars lightsaber film (“Retribution”) that at last check has a little more than 385,000 views on YouTube. Conley organized the filming, helped direct it and recruited actors. Head coach Mark Richt and star teammate Todd Gurley had cameos.
“A lot of guys when they talked about it said, ‘Aw that’s just gonna be a lame movie,’ ” junior linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “But when they watched it, it was like, ‘Oh wow, this is actually a pretty good, pretty amazing thing he did.’ And, after that, I think people actually respected Conley and the stuff he does even more.”
Jenkins and other teammates say there is no resentment at the positive press and attention that Conley gets for his off-field endeavors. A big reason for that, they say, is that Conley doesn’t bring it into the locker room or the football field.
“No, not at all,” Jenkins said “People respect him. He made his own movie. To do that while playing football and taking classes, that’s an amazing feat.”
Said senior safety Corey Moore, “Outside of football, I think he’s doing a great job. On the field, he takes care of business.”
Football is a sport known for not being tolerant of so-called distractions. But Conley said he has never heard any blowback, whether from teammates or coaches. Again, he credits the fact he separates it from football.
“I never bring my film stuff into the building,” Conley said. “I’m not trying to blast it everywhere. I’m not trying to get announcements printed after practice about that. That’s separate.
“Everything I do is 100 percent. When I do my football, when I’m here in this building, when it’s time for football, I’m completely focused 100 percent. No social media, no emails, none of that stuff. All the business ends, and now it’s time for football business.”
So what are his football goals this year? Conley said he’d like to get more consistent at “the little things” and put himself in position to be in football for more than just this year, or just the next few years after that.
That’s really what the difference is in a two-year league player and a guy who stays in the league for a long time. It’s all the little things,” Conley said. “Now it’s time to play football, now it’s time to remind people again that, hey, this is what I do.”