Georgia football-seniors-national championship
011022 Indianapolis: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart kisses the trophy while Zamir White (from left) Jamaree Salyer, Nakobe Dean and quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrate on stage winning the College Football Playoff Championship game over Alabama on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

‘This group made it right:’ Georgia seniors’ sacrifices lead to national championship

INDIANAPOLIS — James Cook and Zamir White split carries throughout their entire career. Jordan Davis ceded pass-rushing snaps to the younger Jalen Carter. Jamaree Salyer had to move from left tackle to right guard during the national championship game.

All four players elected to come back to Georgia for the 2021 season, bypassing the NFL draft. They all likely would’ve been picked last season. Instead, the group, along with a number of other veteran players on the Georgia team elected to come back to Georgia to try and leave their mark, temporarily passing on an NFL paycheck.

Those sacrifices were validated on Monday night with a 33-18 victory over Alabama. The win gave Georgia its first national championship since 1980.

But not on Monday. Not when Cook ripped off a 67-yard that helped flip the game. Or when White powered into the endzone for Georgia’s first touchdown. Or when Stetson Bennett threw two fourth-quarter touchdowns to power Georgia to a win.

“We came back for a purpose, and, I mean, we worked hard as older guys. We led the right way,” Cook said. “Just the whole off-season was special, how we connected, like the reason why we’re here today talking to you guys. I mean, we just came together as brothers and got the job done.”

Georgia players could tell pretty early on this team was going to be special, with the early morning team runs in Sanford Stadium or skull sessions. Smart often said this year it was his most connected team.

That showed up when Georgia played its best quarter of the season in the final quarter of the 2021-22 college football season. The Bulldogs scored 20 fourth-quarter points. In their last six games against Alabama dating back to 2012, Georgia scored a combined 14 points in the fourth quarter.

This team and group of seniors peaked at the perfect moment.

“It was really priceless, man, like just seeing him and just seeing all of my teammates just happy and crying. Yeah, like it was all great,” White said. “I loved it.”

Davis added he wanted to lead the right way and lay a foundation for future Georgia classes. A national championship cements that and this team’s place in history. That the win came against Alabama made it all the sweeter for this group of veterans who elected to come back.

With the season over, players will go their separate ways. Close to a dozen guys, if not more, will be drafted in the 2022 NFL Draft. Next year’s team will have a different look and feel to it.

Smart will be back. So will other key contributors. They’ll know what it takes to win a national championship because of this group of veterans.

Related: Jalen Carter does it all for Georgia football in National Championship victory: ‘The guy is a stud’

“It’s probably one of the most special things I’ve ever done in my life,” Salyer said. “Just understanding the work that it took, honestly, it’s kind of one of the crazy things, just understanding how much work, manhours and how many reps. It’s kind of crazy to look back on it.

“I only got this opportunity once in four years, so it’s even more special for me to be a senior and to be able to do it that way, too. It’s just a lot of things make it really special for me, but God is good.”

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