ATHENS — Georgia football players have been reuniting since the start of June, getting set up for a return to action via NCAA-approved voluntary workouts.
It all starts today, Monday (June 8), with players working out in groups of seven, having already undergone COVID-19 tests.
The Bulldogs are taking aim at a fourth-straight SEC Championship Game appearance, with visions of another College Football Playoff run.
Like any team, Georgia has its leaders and locker room catalysts, players that set the tone and reinforce the coaches’ direction. But also, those leaders help guide and direct teammates off the field.
Leadership positions are earned through hard work and setting the example. Ideally, the best players are also the hardest workers, and the most self-disciplined off the field.
But it doesn’t always work that way.
That’s where the concept of being a “self-led team” becomes even more important.
Kirby Smart preached it, and has invested into it.
This, after a rash of off-field issues and the dismissal of key receiver J.J. Holloman in the spring of 2019.
Still, there were more issues last December, with unspecified suspensions that accounted for a handful of the 12 former starters missing the Sugar Bowl.
There’s not much margin for error if Georgia is to win a national championship this season.
The offense lost several key players including permanent captains Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas.
The most inherent football leadership position of all — quarterback — is largely undecided, even five months after Wake Forest grad transfer Jamie Newman arrived at UGA.
Leaders must emerge during these voluntary workout sessions under the guidance of strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair.
Indeed, Sinclair has never been more important than he is now.
The defense brings back 80 percent of its production and 9 of 11 starters from the Sugar Bowl.
There’s ample player leadership at each level of the defense.
Here are three UGA players that will likely be key from the jump, as they will set the tempo and expectations with their leadership and energy:
1. Monty Rice
It’s Monty in the middle — in the middle of the huddle, in the middle of the defense, in the middle of the plays and in the middle of the locker room.
Rice will be a third-year starter, and the senior from Huntsville is primed for another big season after leading the Bulldogs in tackles in 2019.
Georgia has a young and talented inside linebacking corps, and Rice can be counted on to provide inspired play on the field, and leadership off of it.
Already, Rice let his teammates know last season’s effort and result wasn’t good enough, calling out the defense for being “complacent,” and not dominant.
— Monty Rice (@RiceMonty) May 25, 2020
2. Richard LeCounte
No one was playing better than LeCounte at the end of last season, when he played a role in six turnovers in the last six games.
LeCounte has been Smart’s Frankenstein, the head coach seemingly staying on him more than any other player, setting the bar at an elite level.
LeCounte has embraced the leadership role, saying “it’s something bigger than football,” last December.
“If you’re weak,” LeCounte said, “you’re not going to survive this.”
LeCounte is the only UGA defensive player who was selected as preseason first-team by Athlon Magazine.
There has only been one freshman game captain in Smart’s four years as a head coach, and it was Ojulari.
The Bulldogs felt they needed a big performance out of Ojulari at Tennessee last season and that was the week he went to midfield for the coin toss.
The result? Ojulari had 10 QB Hurries and 2 sacks in the 43-14 win.
Somehow, Ojulari remains one of the most underrated and under appreciated playesr by SEC media.
Ojulari was one of 7 Freshman Player of the Year semifinalists last season, but was snubbed on the All-SEC Freshman team, and he failed to make Athlon’s preseason first-, second- or third-team.
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