There truly is a new brand of energy around the Georgia football program these days.
Remember the emotion players felt when former head coach Mark Richt informed them he was leaving, and when he said he would no longer be able to coach the TaxSlayer Bowl? That has subsequently, and not surprisingly, been replaced by the notion of better days coming ahead.
After all, since head coach Kirby Smart was hired, only two players have elected to transfer – safety Johnathan Abram and running back A.J. Turman. You can count three if you consider quarterback Faton Bauta, who announced his transfer after Smart’s hiring was reported but not officially announced by the program.
Otherwise, there haven’t been many major departures.
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The change has also brought enthusiasm, with some players have stating how it could benefit the program in the long term.
"It’s a different atmosphere, a different energy," outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. "I love Coach Richt. But it’s just different. You can tell."
Carter likened it to changing seats in a classroom. There’s a new view and a new feel. Richt should certainly be proud of what he accomplished in 15 seasons. But Georgia let him go because of where his ceiling stood after his duration in Athens.
Coming out of the spring, you could sense not only the excitement in the fan base, evidenced by 93,000 fans out for the G-Day spring game, but by the players in how they felt about the direction of the program.
Safety Quincy Mauger agreed that G-Day put forth a statement as to what direction this program is headed.
"There is a lot of energy that Kirby has definitely brought to the table, along with all of the coaches and the leaders on this team," Mauger said.
Of course, some things might never change.
Since Smart was hired, five players have been arrested. There have been other "distractions," as Smart put it in a recent radio interview on the Paul Finebaum Show, ranging from the recent G-day entertainment contract the UGA Athletic Association entered into with Ludacris to the attention the program received as being the predominant influence for a new open records exemption for college athletics departments across the state.
This kind of stuff might always happen at Georgia. When it comes to arrests, campus cops and the Athens-Clarke County police aren’t going to treat the football team any differently than anyone else. Both units should be commended in that sense. That means even for the most minor offenses, such as Juwuan Briscoe’s Saturday night traffic-related arrest, players will wind up in the jail logs, much to the fan base’s displeasure.
But that kind of stuff will be glossed over if Georgia wins on Saturdays. Of all the new head coaches in the country, Smart inherits the most pure talent. Georgia could still be a work in progress in year one.
Based on his statements through the spring as he familiarized himself with the team, it’s apparent he’s used to a different level of personnel at Alabama, where a new group of players would step up and produce in place of top-round NFL draft picks.
It’ll take some time if Smart is to build Georgia the way his mentor Nick Saban built Alabama. But Smart and Georgia have enough in place to be competitive in 2016.
The energy Smart’s infused to the program is a good first start for Georgia. He has galvanized the fan base in his short time back home and is riding a wave of momentum.
"It’s something new," Carter said. "I love it."