ATHENS — Kirby Smart has made it a point this offseason to emphasize the importance of players being willing to stick it out amid challenging circumstances rather than exit a program via the transfer portal.
Smart has said the new one-time transfer exemption has made his job a “nightmare,” and he has explained it’s not good for players, either.
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Smart’s point should hit close to home with fans who root for Georgia football and the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta finally ended its 11-year draft drought of not drafting a UGA player when it selected Justin Shaffer and John FitzPatrick on the final day of the 2022 draft.
Shaffer, an offensive guard, was selected in the sixth round with the No. 190 overall pick.
FitzPatrick, a tight end, was also picked in the sixth round with the No. 213 overall pick.
Smart recently revealed that Shaffer and FitzPatrick were two of the players who benefited by sticking it out with the Bulldogs after considering leaving the program.
It was already documented that first-round NFL draft pick Quay Walker attempted to leave Georgia via the transfer portal before being talked out of it.
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Smart, who played at UGA himself, shared there are challenges most young men face after leaving home for the first time and being challenged to fight their way up the depth chart.
“Justin Shaffer, I had a long conversation with,” Smart said during an SEC Network Sirius XM interview. “He was ready to leave because he was the second guard after spring practice going into his second year.
“And I was like ‘this is just normal, you’re going to get better by going against good people. They will find you if you’re good enough.’ "
Shaffer worked his way into the starting lineup his final two seasons at Georgia, just like FitzPatrick.
Early on, however, FitzPatrick found himself buried on the depth chart behind Isaac Nauta and then incoming transfers Eli Wolf and Tre’ McKitty.
“I know Quay Walker, I know John FitzPatrick, I know there were guys that had doubts and thought about leaving,” Smart said.
Reflecting on the Bulldogs’ NFL record draft class, with 15 Georgia players picked, Smart said two-thirds likely considering leaving the program at some point.
“I look at kids that were on that stage the other day for us, there were 15 guys drafted, they were pretty successful for us,” Smart said.
“I would bet you that 10 of them had thoughts in their mind, somewhere around their first or second year … "
Georgia had 11 players exit the program via the transfer portal this year, including four former starters.
But most all of the key players are returning, and Smart likes their odds at success based on the recent draft.
“In the end, it really worked out for the guys that stayed,” Smart said. “And I’m not saying it doesn’t work out for the guys that leave, I can’t say that.
“But I’d just say it less often does than it does if you stay.”