A young man wakes up at 5:30 AM in the morning. He is only 18 years old, but today is the beginning of the dream he has held for his entire life. More than likely he has no idea what is going to be coming at him every day for the next 4, or maybe even 5 years. All he knows and cares about is that he has reached his lifelong goal of being a scholarship athlete at The University of Georgia. Although few see it as such, it is a job. Not only a job, but a full-time job to boot. There is no way he can take on a job to make money for himself, except for a few chances to take random jobs in the summer.
It is Summer, and the Athens heat is boiling so hot that sweat drips down his neck at 6:00 AM on his way to mandatory breakfast, something all players must-do for all four years. A quick bowl of cereal and a check with the graduate assistant to let him know he was there, and off to study hall. Whether you need it or not study hall is mandatory for most of their first two years, it usually lasts about an hour and a half, but maybe today they will let him out a little bit early, considering he has always done well in school. A quick hop on the moped and off to his first class, Geometry, not his strong suit. He meets with the class checker outside of the classroom so the Head Coach can be sure he is attending all of the classes for which he has scheduled. This is pretty much how the day goes on until about 2 PM when in the summer you are in a full sweat just getting to your moped, which likely has a ticket on it thanks to the wonderful parking people at UGA. They are 50$, and most of the ones that are given out are because the parking isn’t large enough to accommodate all mopeds. How can he possibly have the money to pay a 50$ ticket?
Brushing aside the absurd ticket he heads to lunch, where there is another checker ready to make sure you are eating your full meal. If you miss any of the checks, whether it is lunch or study hall, you are rewarded with a 4:30 AM run up the steps at the Track and Field. Perhaps one more class after lunch and then the real fun begins. He uses the Biometric scanner to enter the Multi-million dollar state of the art Butts-Mhere and into the locker room. It’s not the time for practice yet, it’s time to work out for the day. Certainly one of the hardest work out regimens in college football, after lifting weights it is straight out to the field, which in the Athens summer, and with field turf, can exceed 120 degrees. The rubber pellets inside of the turf are black; they can melt the cleats off of your feet. Today’s run: 220’s eight of them, except you, have to take the time in less than 17 seconds or you have to do it over.
After the weeks of summer workouts come the most difficult part of being a football player at UGA begins, Camp. Imagine 2 weeks of a playbook that is thicker than a King James Bible, and then add some more pages and you get a UGA playbook. You have seen it before, you have studied it hard, but it may as well be Chinese for all of the different audibles, routes, blocking assignments, and defensive line-ups you will have to learn. Nervous to do well for all of the coaches you run a simple Y-motion. Nothing more than shuffling across the line behind your O-line to the other side, but before you can finish coach pulls you aside and says, “I know you’re nervous, just take it easy and you will be fine.” Smacking himself on the helmet he scolds himself for being so stupid he couldn’t even perform a motion right. Not even 5 minutes in and the anxiety has already begun.
The camp is mostly done in what they call “Shells”. Which is everything but leg pads and pants; however there is nothing half-speed about it. The play is expected to be just as intense as if you were fully geared up simply without cutting. During camp, however, there is little free time, aside from the hour between the 3 practices a day where you sit in the locker room and get to know your new teammates. After your 3 practices, 2 shells and one full contact are over; it’s back to your dorm at about 12:00 AM. Then the next day the whole thing starts over again. Even though you do not have class during these 2 weeks, it is without a doubt the worst part of being a freshman.
After camp is over you know somewhat where you stand in the depth chart. Whether or not you will be a redshirt and have to be on the scout team to help your brothers prepare for the games. Every single day is the same thing, breakfast, study hall, class, lunch, workouts (yes during the season), practice, then if you are unlucky a tutor for a difficult class. After that you get maybe 5 hours of sleep and do the whole thing over again until the end of December, only to start again in January with Mat Drills, which are by far the most exhausting 2 hours of your entire life for two weeks.
The argument is: “Well they are paying for your education.” Yes indeed they do, and many other things as well. They allow for upgrades to the other athletic teams and to the facilities, and other academic help for athletes. Firstly there is nothing more important than a college education, but there are many ways in which to procure one for free without having to do all of the work that is involved. The hope scholarship pays for pretty much everything except books. These men take these hardships every day because they love the game. There is nothing like the smell of fresh-cut grass on Dooley Field, the feeling of scoring even if it’s in practice, but there is another side that fans never get to see.
When I hear loyal UGA fans booing calls on the field it makes me burn inside. Those players sacrifice their blood, their bodies, their college life as a normal student, and millions of other things a fan never sees. Coach Smart has led this team to the greatest heights it has achieved since the 1980s. There is always a lot of “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.” This weekend UGA lost a close game to South Carolina, who played a phenomenal game. UGA did not. I understand how there can be angry about a loss like that, but don’t ever take it out on the players or coaches. Those guys work round the clock every day to reach the pinnacle of college football, and to demean that by second-guessing coaches who have forgotten more about football than most men have ever learned is not what UGA fans are. The sky is not falling, the world is not over, and we can still make the playoff.
The only thing that matters is the support from the fans, just like with Atlanta United. When fans scream things from the stands, you can hear it on the sideline, and when the whole stadium boos, believe it or not, it brings down the whole stadium. That is NOT how Bulldog fans act. No one hurts more from those kinds of losses than the players and staff, and I promise you there were grown men with tears in their eyes after that game. Having said that, support our boys to the very end, no matter what happens. There is nothing good that will come from degrading a team that puts everything out on the line for the fans. Let the coaches fix the issues, and give back that UGA pride that has been so rampant when we have not lost a game in the East the whole time Smart has been HC. Keep supporting and keep cheering, but if you are going to second guess someone like Kirby Smart or our players who play their hearts out, then keep it inside the house, because these men take it more seriously than you could ever imagine, and pay a high price to wear the G on the side of their head.