An arrangement of lockers in the bowels of Mercedes-Benz Stadium symbolized the makeup of Georgia’s roster this season
First row, offensive linemen: Starting with sophomore left tackle Andrew Thomas (the elder statesman of the offensive line, with senior Lamont Gaillard as the only starter with less eligibility), who was distraught after Georgia’s 35-28 loss to Alabama. Following Thomas, to his right, were freshmen Cade Mays, Isaiah Wilson and Trey Hill.
Second row, defensive backs: Starting with senior cornerback and Jim Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker, followed by freshmen Tyson Campbell, Divaad Wilson and sophomore William Poole.
Back row, linebackers: Starting with senior inside linebacker Natrez Patrick, followed by true freshmen outside linebackers Brenton Cox and Adam Anderson and sophomore Malik Herring.
There were plenty of other spaces in the Bulldogs’ locker room to host a large traveling party on that Dec. 1 evening, but each pattern was the same. The end locker represented the present Georgia’s present — aside from Thomas with two years of eligibility remaining — and the future of the Bulldogs’ program followed.
“We’re not done,” Anderson said. “We have a chance to get better and better.”
Georgia fell to Alabama for the second time in a calendar year and showed that it was one of the nation’s elite. But it fell short of beating the top dog. At the same time, Georgia also showed its plans to sustain.
Kirby Smart said so after the National Championship on Jan. 8, “We’re not going anywhere.” After another season lingering around the Top 10 for the majority, his point was proven valid.
From here on, a few indicators point to things improving for the Bulldogs.
▪ Sixty-three scholarship players are underclassmen, and of the seniors, many of the position groups have only one starter leaving. The obvious guaranteed losses are Deandre Baker, D’Andre Walker and Jonathan Ledbetter. Otherwise, most of Georgia’s major contributors stay.
▪ Georgia recruited the No. 1 prospects for the 2019 class out of Alabama, Florida, Rhode Island and could do the same in its home state. Georgia also has the top-two JUCO prospects signed — Jermaine Johnson and D.J. Daniel.
▪ Johnson, Daniel and five-star offensive lineman Clay Webb are already on campus to gain experience in bowl practices as early enrollees.
▪ Georgia could gain commitments from four more five-stars before the recruiting period ends — running back Trey Sanders, wide receiver and former pledge Jadon Haselwood, offensive lineman Evan Neal and linebacker Nakobe Dean.
▪ Georgia has some uncertainty in its group of draft-eligible players, including Isaac Nauta, Hardman and others. But some key assets within that unit are expected to stay for their senior seasons.
With all the future entails, a Sugar Bowl appearance and a No. 5 ranking serves as a significant marker for three years under Smart. All-in-all, those who wear the uniform are disappointed with not finishing, but hopeful
“As a team, we had a great season in my opinion,” Wilson said. “Everybody played to the best of their ability and gave their ability. We just have to keep working.”
As long as Georgia’s recruiting success continues and the never-relax mentality of Smart lives on, one thing becomes evident in Athens. The days of narrow heartbreak in championship games won’t last forever.
That’ll be put to the test next September, but for now, the Bulldogs are confident.
“We’ve got a damn good football team,” Smart said.