ATHENS – First, let’s go back to the first time Julian Rochester met the media as a Georgia football player. It was last February, the defensive lineman had enrolled early, was cheerily addressing the fact he looked twice his age, and generally seemed the happiest kid in Athens.
Then came perhaps the most eventful nine months of his life. There was an arrest that, while not entirely the worst thing, still dragged his name through the headlines. He dropped more than 40 pounds. He played well, but his team struggled.
And after all that, Rochester walked out for his second media session, and if events had changed him, it was hard to notice: Still smiling, still as gregarious as ever.
“It didn’t affect me at all, because really after I kept my head down and kept working it just really washed itself under the rug,” Rochester said.
He was speaking about his spring felony arrest for shooting a BB gun in and near his dorm room. The case was eventually negotiated down and Rochester was not suspended. (“Why wouldn’t he?” Head coach Kirby Smart said incredulously at a preseason news conference when asked if Rochester would play in the opener.)
Rochester’s partner in arrest – fellow early enrolling freshman Chad Clay, a defensive back – would eventually be dismissed following another arrest. But Rochester stayed straight, and on the field ended up being everything he was supposed to be as a heralded recruit from Powder Springs’ McEachern High School.
Starting in six games, Rochester racked up 34 tackles and two sacks, also forcing a fumble. He was a big part of a young defensive line that generally played well, and showed great promise.
“Best I could. I gave it all I had,” Rochester said of his freshman season. “The stats showed up pretty well, I feel like I transitioned to the game well, I feel like I’m ready, I can’t wait till next season, so I’m just really excited.”
He was excited what the goal was for this season.
“No. 1 run stopping defense in the SEC,” Rochester said, smiling. “That’s my goal. That’s what we see as a whole defense, that’s what we base ourselves on is stopping the run and being very physical. So I feel like next year is going to be really hand-to-hand and go together.”
Rochester was 350 pounds when he came to campus. He was down to 309 by the start of camp. That was for football reasons, not stress over the BB gun incident, which seems a long time ago now.
“People see you do good things, people see how you work, stuff just really goes away from a bonehead decision that was made by me,” Rochester said. “But they really know at the end of the day I am that good Julian, I am a good person, I’m going to ball regardless.”