ATHENS — A year ago, Tavarres King wasn’t ready for SEC football. He didn’t exactly realize it at the time, and when an ankle injury in late September forced him to redshirt, King was disappointed.
Looking back now, however, it should have been obvious. He needed to add some size and strength. He needed to better learn the playbook. He needed to run crisper routes. He simply need more time to develop.
As King readies for the start of fall practice this season, it’s not about just wanting to play anymore. This time, King knows he’s ready, and Georgia’s coaches know they’ll need him.
“The speed of the game has slowed down to me,” King said. “Everything’s coming in a little slower. I can focus more. I can see what’s coming, reading coverage. Coach (Tony) Ball’s done a good job helping us open our eyes and see what he wants us to see.”
A year ago, King was a luxury among a group of receivers with plenty of talent and experience. This season, he’ll be considered a veteran despite owning just two career receptions.
With the graduation of three seniors from last year, the departure of junior Tony Wilson and a season-ending injury to senior Kris Durham, Georgia opens 2009 with just six scholarship wideouts, two of whom arrived on campus for the first time just a few weeks ago. Only senior Michael Moore and sophomore A.J. Green have made significant contributions on game day.
That means King won’t be able to start slow and learn on the fly this season. From the start, he’ll be counted on for production, a role that both energizes him and intimidates him.
“I’ve got a long way to go, and I see that during pass (drills),” King said. “It’s eye opening every time I do something wrong that I’ve got a long way to go. But I’m feeling more comfortable, I’ll say that.”
King arrived at Georgia a year ago along with Green, and both figured to make an immediate impact. That held true for Green, who had a breakout freshman season, but King struggled to stay healthy and earn playing time.
He caught two passes in Georgia’s first four games, including a 41-yard reception against Arizona State, but an ankle injury sidelined him for several weeks after that, and coaches eventually decided to redshirt him.
With all the time away from the field, King developed a better understanding of what he needed to do to find the same success Green had already achieved, starting with adding a few pounds to his lanky, 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame.
A new diet and extra time in the weight room has King up to 184 pounds, an eight-pound increase since this spring. He hopes the additional size will allow him to handle the physical pounding of playing in the SEC, but more importantly, it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down in the process.
“Everybody worries about losing your speed. You always want to be the fastest guy at your position, the fastest guy on the field. So it’s very important and it’s very frustrating at times,” King said. “I’m happy right now. I feel like I can run and control this weight pretty well, so if coaches are fine with it, I’m fine with it.”
So far, the coaches have been pleased with King’s progress, and he has been thrilled about what the coaching staff has done for him.
Ball, who took over as the receivers coach in January, has spent most of his time working with the receivers on fundamentals, a back-to-basics approach that helped King fill in a few of the gaps he missed the first time around.
From there, it has simply been a matter of putting it all together and performing with the same consistent approach over and over.
“He’s ready to take the next step, but right now he’s just working on his consistency,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “He’s got every bit of ability anyone could need to play. He’s working as hard as he can right now, and he realizes this is his big chance to step up and play. He wants to do it, and he’s been showing a lot of improvement out there this summer.”
That’s what the past year has been all about, King said.
When he first got to Georgia, there was no standard to measure his game against. He had talent, so naturally he wanted to play.
But 10 months after his last reception, the difference in King now is striking. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, and he’s better prepared. In a word, he’s ready.
“I see myself playing a big role,” King said. “I think we’re all going to have to play big roles. There’s only six of us, so everybody’s going to have to step up and contribute.”