ATHENS — Nakobe Dean left no doubt about his mindset with the Georgia football opening game fast approaching.
“I feel like the emotions are going to be crazy, everybody is going to be excited,” Dean said on the Bulldogs’ Tuesday night post-practice Zoom call.
“We’re ready to hit somebody else besides us, so I feel like as long as we control our emotion and put it out on the field, we’ll be great.”
Dean, a former 5-star prospect from Horn Lake, Miss., figures to be in the middle of the greatness at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Arkansas.
The 6-foot, 220-pounder stood out as a freshman, coming in on third downs and providing blanket coverage and sound open-field tackling.
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is most often sparse with compliments when asked about defensive players.
But Smart couldn’t say enough about Dean on Tuesday night.
“Nakobe has had a really good fall camp, he’s extremely intelligent, he’s extremely competitive,” Smart said. “He loves football. He is a great leader. He has made himself a better player.
“He came in a really polished, really well-coached player, and he’s only gotten better in our system. I expect him to have a really good year and be a successful player for us. He sets the tone and makes a lot of calls for us in our defense.”
No doubt it was Dean who first said at the start of fall camp that the 2020 defense hasn’t done anything on the field and had to prove itself.
Dean admitted at the conclusion of his freshman season that he needed to come out of his shell and become a better communicator.
Senior middle linebacker Monty Rice said earlier this week Dean has done just that.
“He comes to work every day and he leads,” Rice said. “(As a ) sophomore, you’re not necessarily comfortable with checking somebody, but from what I’ve seen being around him, he’s very comfortable in that role.”
Dean said he knew it was part of becoming a more effective player.
“Last year, I knew I had to step into a leadership position this year,” Dean said. “That’s one thing I had to step up my game in, and I’ve just been pushing myself.
“Holding people accountable is the thing I’ve done since high school. Last year, I didn’t do it probably as much as I should, but I want them to hold me accountable, so I have to hold them accountable.”
Rice provides a good example, Dean said.
“Basically, I look at him on how to lead some people,” Dean explained. “Different people need to be led differently, and (Rice) knows how to do that.
“For me, I’ve just been looking up to him on how to do it …. we all just kind of look up to him and see him as the big dog.”
Rice, no doubt, is considered the heart of the defensive front.
But Dean has quickly won over the coaching staff, and perhaps most telling, a senior leader like Rice.
“Nakobe, he’s special,” Rice said. “For him to be that young and be able to pick up stuff the way he does …. I think I’m pretty smart but he’s on another level.
“He’s a young dude, but the way he plays and his mindset, you would think he’s a lot older than what he is.”
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