HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia will open its SEC schedule Sept. 23 against Mississippi State, and there will be just a few angles there as former assistant coach Todd Grantham, and former players Jonathan Abram and Chauncey Rivers, return to Sanford Stadium for the first time as visitors.
Grantham, of course, already faced his former team, in the 2014 Belk Bowl, when he was in his first year as Louisville’s defensive coordinator. But that was on a neutral site. September will be the first time Grantham stomps on the sideline of Sanford Stadium, where he was the home team’s defensive coordinator from 2010-13.
After three years at Louisville, Grantham was hired away by Mississippi State this offseason, marking a return to the SEC. And when Mississippi State linebacker Dez Harris was asked about his new coordinator, his description rang familiar.
“He’s a very emotional — not emotional, but [a] spirited guy,” Harris said. “He’s always brought juice and energy and all that to practice every single day. And he’s always showed us and told us that we could do anything as long as we’re willing to put the work in, and to sacrifice and do everything we need to do in order to win.”
Grantham is tasked with improving a Mississippi State defense that ranked 12th in the SEC and 110th nationally last year in yards allowed. Louisville’s defense ranked 14th nationally last year under Grantham, two spots ahead of Georgia.
“It was great to get somebody of his level to come to Mississippi State and run our defense,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
While it’s been three years since Grantham left, Abram and Rivers haven’t been gone that long. They left under different circumstances.
Abram, who started seven games at safety in 2015, elected to transfer after Jeremy Pruitt was not retained as defensive coordinator. On the night former coach Mark Richt was fired, Abram walked by media members and shouted, “Keep Pruitt!” When Pruitt left, Abram did too and headed to a junior college, then to Mississippi State.
Abram already has made an impact at his new school, though in a different way: a jarring hit he made caused a halt to Mississippi State’s spring game.
Rivers played sparingly in 2015 as a freshman, then was dismissed from the team the following spring after his third marijuana-related arrest. He also went the junior college route before enrolling at Mississippi State.
Both players are immediately eligible to play, though they will have to compete for playing time.
“They came in from Day 1 and worked their tails off, and did everything, and anything that was asked about them. So I’m just ready to see them play every game, not just [against] Georgia,” Harris said. “I don’t know about inside info, but I know it’ll be a lot of emotion for each of them. Chauncey and John each started their careers out there. I’m sure it’ll be pretty fun for each of them being back in that stadium.”