ATHENS – Georgia left tackle Isaiah Wynn was wearing a bracelet on his left wrist this week. It was from Camp Sunshine, the summer camp for kids affected with cancer, which Wynn and teammates visited this summer.
That was a long time ago, it was observed to Wynn.
“Yeah,” he said, laughing and leaving it at that.
The Georgia football team, which entered this season with outsiders expecting good but not great things, has instead put itself on the brink of history and greatness. Coach Kirby Smart told the players several weeks ago that they would remember this year for the rest of their lives – “If you do it right,” a player recalled the coach saying.
So far they have. But the biggest test comes Saturday.
Auburn (7-2) and Georgia (9-0) meet at Jordan-Hare Stadium for a matchup of the No. 10 and No. 1 teams in the College Football Playoff rankings. If the Bulldogs win, they increase the chances they could make the playoffs even if they lose in the SEC Championship Game. If the Bulldogs lose, the margin for error is probably eliminated.
It may be, up to this point, the program’s biggest game in five years. So how are the players handling the moment?
“I think we’re just trying to handle it by not focusing on it and not pressing ourselves with it too much,” kicker Rodrigo Blankenship said. “It’s nice to be in that position. At the end of the day we have to keep doing what we’re doing if we want to achieve the goals we set for ourselves at the start of the season.”
Georgia rose this season through a combination of pure talent, focus and properly channeled emotion. Smart and the team have embraced being joyful after wins and even during games, with defensive players putting safety J.R. Reed on their shoulders after an interception last week.
But it’s easier to play off emotion and joy when a team is the underdog and trying to prove itself. Now Georgia is No. 1, with many already penciling UGA into the playoffs. It already has clinched a spot in the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2012.
So Smart has tried to keep his team aggressive. He called for an onside kick to open he game last week against South Carolina because, he said afterwards: “I want to be aggressive at the University of Georgia and not be hunted. I want to hunt.”
Smart has been more serious at his news conferences lately. After the Tuesday practice, he didn’t make an opening statement, as he normally does, instead just saying he would take questions. That could be a sign of tightening up, or it could just be a coach trying to project a businesslike tone for his team.
Is it important to try to be relaxed, Wynn was asked, or to be the other way, totally focused and serious?
“Everybody’s different. Some more relaxed, some more serious,” Wynn said. “But at the end of the day, we’re all going to come play Saturday. It just depends on the person.”
Speaking after practice on Wednesday, Wynn, said the coaches have been “the same” as always. Nobody is changing, Wynn said.
“We’re good. We’re good,” Wynn said. “This week was a very physical, hard working week. Everybody just looking forward to the next game. Nobody’s paying attention to all the hype that may be around us.”
The hype will be cemented if Georgia comes out with a victory Saturday. A loss will take some of the air out – although not all of it, with the championship hopes still very much alive.
Either way, these pivotal next few weeks, beginning Saturday, will determine if Wynn will have another piece of jewelry to wear on his left hand.