Through the Wynfrey Hotel’s front revolving door stands a mob of fans in a roped-off section of the lobby. Some old, others young. Most of them are Georgia fans for the morning session of SEC Media Days.
They sit and wait. A young girl sat crouched in her No. 11 Jake Fromm jersey patiently hoping for the Bulldogs’ star quarterback to greet her while exiting. A man stood motionless with his grizzled beard, a throwback Georgia shirt and a pair of binoculars. He stared at the adjacent escalator. Who would come down next?
One fan asked this reporter about the team’s status after 9 a.m., and Georgia recently got started on the ballroom floor. Nearly two-and-a-half hours passed before they filed out and head coach Kirby Smart finished his last interview on radio row.
The aforementioned man stood outside the lobby with a young child, seemingly in a mood of disappointment of missing an autograph opportunity: “Well, we gave it a good shot and stayed as long as we could.”
That’s the craze around SEC football in a nutshell, and the media days event serves as its epicenter in mid July.
All of the Bulldogs’ action, however, occurred upstairs as they hopped from ballroom to ballroom. They were peppered with questions, many of the same, but smiled while strutting flashy attire around the hotel.
Georgia ‘excited’ to have services of wide receiver George Pickens
One of Georgia’s biggest additions on the Feb. 2 signing day brought some fuel to a rivalry of bitter SEC foes. On that Wednesday afternoon at Hoover High School, five-star receiver George Pickens wore a Georgia hat to announce his signing with the program. Auburn, a recipient of his long-time pledge, found itself spurned.
Pickens at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, became an important add for the Bulldogs’ freshman class and a feature piece in a highly-acclaimed recruiting effort. Smart indicated Tuesday that Pickens visited Georgia throughout the process, and knew the style of offense the out-of-state product preferred to play in.
“He saw an opportunity when he saw two guys declare early for the draft, there was a lot of touches there available,” Smart said. “and I know he wanted to have an opportunity to play with a quarterback like Jake Fromm.”
Pickens engages in a thick wide receiver competition, one that Smart says will be approached “by committee.” A few weeks before beginning practice and working against the returning talents of Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers, Tyler Simmons and others, the newcomer is off to a good start.
“We’re excited to have George,” Smart said. “He’s come in this summer and worked tremendously hard. He’s been there from day one, grinding with our guys. We’re excited to have him. We’re looking forward to seeing him work and earn his opportunities.”
D’Wan Mathis OK, per Smart
Georgia’s freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis suffered an offseason scare. Fortunately for the Michigan native, he is inching closer to a return to football activities. Mathis underwent surgery to remove a brain cyst after experiencing severe sinus pain in May.
“D’Wan is doing tremendously well,” Smart said. “(Georgia senior athletic trainer) Ron Courson and his staff managed him well with things they’ve done. He’s back in classes, back in workouts and has done a really good job for us.”
Mathis chose Georgia over Ohio State on signing day and was expected to engage in competition with Stetson Bennett IV to back up starting quarterback Jake Fromm. As to when that’ll resume, there’s no certain answer.
“As far as putting a date on his return, I don’t know when that’s going to be,” Smart said. “I can’t even speculate with the surgery he had. We’re certainly going to be very cautious.”
Halting Georgia-Florida chatter
Seemingly, the chatter has been endless about the Georgia-Florida rivalry and whether it will remain in Jacksonville, Florida. Over the past couple of seasons, it has become a hot topic of discussion in regard to contractual matters and the recruiting disadvantages to the neutral-site contest.
But Smart is ready for it to be silenced, at least temporarily.
“I’m for what’s best for the University of Georgia and as a group and as a staff and as administration,” he said Tuesday. “We’ll look at that internally and make decisions based on what is best for our student-athletes and the university. I look at it from a perspective of 10,000 feet where I say: What is best for our program? It’s that simple. We’ll make that decision as a group and go with it.”
There’s ongoing talk about the on-field results in the rivalry, too, which is interwoven into the logistical matters. Georgia has won consecutive games, including a 36-17 victory last season which was closely contested until the final few possessions.
“I feel like honestly we just need to keep playing our game and never get too compulsive really,” Florida running back Lemical Perine said. “We need to come out and make sure we don’t make any mistakes, and then I feel like we have a chance to beat them.”
The nature of the rivalry brought on plenty of back-and-forth on social media. Smart said he isn’t “caught up in the affair of social media and trolling.” His players echoed that statement as J.R. Reed chuckled before answering.
“Have they (been talking)?” he asked. “I have no idea. I’m not worried about that.”