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Curtis Compton / AJC
Georgia sophomore receiver George Pickens is coming off an amazing MVP performance in the Sugar Bowl as he enters the 2020 season.

Georgia football receiver George Pickens shares secret to Sugar Bowl success

ATHENS — Georgia sophomore receiver George Pickens harkened memories of a most famous college speech from legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler on Friday: “The team, the team, the team.”

Six times, Pickens mentioned “The Team” in his first public media session of the 2020 season.

Pickens brushed off difficult questions about his roller coaster freshman year like he sheds defensive backs in press coverage. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Hoover (Ala.) product stayed focused on completing answers with a positive note.

“I just have to stay calm, and (us) play as a team,” Pickens said on the Zoom call on Friday. “This year I’m focused on the team, because I see the team can win a national championship, the team can win the SEC Championship.”

Pickens is UGA’s leading returning receiver (49 catches, 727 yards) and will be a central figure in the Georgia offense regardless of which quarterback is under center.

But Coach Kirby Smart wants to see Pickens become more of a leadership figure in the locker room.

“He’s got to do a great job of making sure he’s handling all the things he’s got to do on and off the field,” Kirby Smart said last Tuesday. “George is growing up, as all players do, and we need him to grow up faster, we need him to lead more.”

Pickens said he planned to do just that. The fact he went out of his way to compliment freshmen WR talents Jermaine Burton, Marcus Rosemy and Justin Robinson was evidence.

I just want to take everybody under my wing and coach everybody up,” Pickens said.

As for controlling his own emotions, Pickens indicated his elevated role has helped him grow.

“When I say team guy, I’m a little bit older now,” Pickens said, “and I know that I’m a big part of the offense.”

Smart doesn’t want to take Pickens’ passion away, but the Bulldogs can’t afford for him to get baited into extracurricular activity after the whistle.

RELATED: Georgia players react to Georgia Pickens’ suspension

What makes George great is his love for the game, and you just can’t let that be a weakness,” Smart explained. “You have to make sure it’s a strength.”

Pickens said new offensive coordinator Todd Monken has worked in concert with receivers coach Cortez Hankton to improve his receiver game.

More tricks and tools during route-running,” Pickens said, asked how Monken, a former receivers coach, has elevated his game.

“He’s told me things and tools he took from the Browns, with Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. He’s showing me, and it helps every day.”

Specifically, Pickens said he’s improved on his route-running depth from a season ago. Pickens said he has also gotten bigger and faster having had a year of collegiate level conditioning.

It’s hard to imagine Pickens looking any better than he did in his Sugar Bowl MVP performance when he caught 12 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown.

Pickens was quick to reveal the key to his success against the Baylor Bears.

“From the Sugar Bowl on until now, I’ve been focusing on the team,” Pickens said. “That’s how I got good at the Sugar Bowl and how I had the number of catches I had, because I was focusing on the team.”

The team, the team, the team.

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