Kirby Smart’s team-building philosophy wasn’t best shown on Kelee Ringo’s game-sealing interception. Nor did it happen when Jalen Carter blocked a field goal. There was a moment even more telling about the Georgia program than when former walk-on Stetson Bennett threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to 3-star freshman A.D. Mitchell.
The play that best shows what Smart wants and installed on his team came on a 24-yard completion to Alabama receiver Agiye Hall.
Georgia and Alabama though aren’t the only schools with talent. Plenty of schools sign top-10 classes, only to go 6-6 and play in some middling bowl game. It takes a lot more than just good high school relations to get to a national championship game.
It takes buy-in from players. It takes them going on early morning runs in the offseason in Sanford Stadium. In straining and being connected a team.
“It was all the work we put in in the off-season, getting to know each other, all the connection pieces, just everything we’ve done just this off-season, it’s been like no other that I’ve had,” linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “That’s kind of when I knew this team could be special and get the job done, and it had the group of guys to do it.”
Related: ‘Put it on us:’ Jamaree Salyer position change opens up offense in National Championship win for Georgia
Dean had a moment similar to Walker’s. The junior linebacker broke up a sure touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Latu, despite Channing Tindall getting in his way. After the play, Dean got in the face of Tindall and demanded accountability. Tindall responded by sacking Young on the next play to force a field goal.
Some might cringe at the way Dean spoke to Tindall. But Kirby Smart said all season this was a player-led team. That moment from Dean and the tackle by Walker are what that looks like.