Ben Cleveland: Kirby Smart makes you want to ‘run through a brick wall’
ATHENS — Kirby Smart has a way of firing up players like few other coaches, and outgoing offensive lineman Ben Cleveland indicated that’s part of Georgia’s success.
“It’s like your favorite pregame song,” Cleveland said, asked about Smart’s motivational talks. “It makes you want to put your helmet on and run through a brick wall.
“You get that every day at practice, you are bound to be successful.”
Cleveland will be putting his power, explosiveness and agility on display at UGA’s Pro Day combine next Wednesday. He makes no bones about it, Cleveland is going for the NFL combine bench press record.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, are scheduled to open spring football practice next Tuesday, the first of 15 group workouts culminating with the annual G-Day Game on April 17 at Sanford Stadium.
The competition within the team will be intense, as it is in every workout.
Cleveland, a Goliath of a man at 6-foot-6 1/2 and somewhere between 345 and 354 pounds, depending on his training regimen explained how Smart has proven himself an effective leader his first five years as head coach.
“It’s getting guys to buy in — he takes suggestions from the leadership on the team and gets a feel for what we want to do,” Cleveland said, echoing the sentiments Jamaree Salyer expressed last fall.
“We’ve been around it, maybe not as long as he has, but we’ve seen some things, played against some guys and kind of know what to expect. So we’re able to have that input and he would take that into consideration going into our game plans. He’s able to get guys to buy in because he would listen to what the leadership wanted.”
And, Cleveland said, the Georgia football players know it comes from Smart’s heart. The Bulldogs’ head coach once wore the same red and black uniforms, earning All-SEC honors at safety in 1999.
“You can watch some Kirby Smart highlights on some game films,” Cleveland said, agreeing that Smart’s former player status is noted by current players.
“Coming back coaching for your alma mater, you’ve got a little more grit in you to be successful, and maybe beat one of those teams he didn’t beat back in the day,” Cleveland said.
“So it’s a little more motivation. Not only for him, but for us as well, wanting to be successful so we can go out there on Senior Night and look back and say, ‘Yeah, we kicked their butt, and we didn’t hold anything back.”