ATLANTA — The loudest Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium got on Saturday was not on one of Stetson Bennett’s four touchdown passes. Nor was it after one of Georgia’s defensive stops against the overmatched Yellow Jackets.
The loudest ovation came after a 5-yard screen pass. The raucous cheers were because of who was on the receiving end of that Bennett pass.
“First of all, the people that thought he was just going to rehab and go to the league don’t know George at all,” quarterback Stetson Bennett said. “It’s kind of funny to hear those people talk because they don’t know how much he loves football and loves his teammates and how hard he’s attacked every day, rehab-wise, to get back to play with us.”
Pickens is that talented to where he could’ve made the decision to depart Georgia and begin rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. He led Georgia in receiving yards, catches and touchdowns over the past two seasons and likely would’ve heard his name called on the second day of the 2022 NFL Draft even with the injury.
The junior wide receiver though very much loves his teammates and the Georgia program. Time and time again, coaches and players praised the way Pickens attacked his rehab process and made a clear effort to be a part of a Georgia football team that is 12-0 for the first time since 1980.
That was also the last time Georgia won a national championship.
“We’ve known guys on the team who have had ACLs, it’s a mental injury as much as it is a physical injury,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s taxing; it’s draining to sit there and watch all your friends go out and play in the spring, play in the spring game, play in the fall and you’re sitting there doing rehab all the time. George loves football, he’s always wanted to get back and have the opportunity to get out there.”
The last time Pickens played at Georgia Tech he was ejected for fighting. In 2019, Pickens was asked to carry the Georgia passing offense due to the dearth of receiving talent. That same burden doesn’t exist this time around, with Brock Bowers topping 100 yards again and Bennett’s first nine completions going to nine different pass catchers.