ATHENS – When the entire Georgia football team holds a meeting, the seniors are given the chairs in the front of the room. It’s occurred to Kirby Smart that not many of those chairs are full.
“Traditionally that’s the team that has 25 seniors, they got a pretty good football team because they’ve been in the program for a long time,” Smart said. “And when we have team meetings in here, I think we got 11 guys across the front row that are seniors.”
And as small as the group may be, they also didn’t exactly come together in traditional fashion.
There are three graduate transfers, two of whom will only be at Georgia one season: Nickel back Maurice Smith and left tackle Tyler Catalina. The other one, backup quarterback Greyson Lambert, transferred in last year.
There’s also one junior college transfer: backup linebacker Chuks Amaechi.
Right tackle Greg Pyke is the team’s only fifth-year senior.
The rest are six fourth-year seniors, survivors of the notorious 2013 class. (Eight players from that class redshirted and have one more year left.)
That’s out of 33 signees in 2013, by the way. Five others moved on to the pros or graduated prior to this year. The rest transferred or were dismissed from the team.
(And one member of the 2013 class will be playing for the other team on Saturday: J.J. Green, who transferred to Georgia Tech after his sophomore season.)
Pyke smiled when asked about the senior class, which took so many different ways to get here.
“It’s definitely a very good group of guys,” Pyke said.
He was asked if there was a singular quality that describes the character of this group.
“I don’t think we even think about that,” Pyke said. “Just a great group of guys that love each other and love playing with each other.”
That might be overlooking some things. This senior group has gone through a bit since the last Georgia Tech game.
There was the firing of Mark Richt, the hiring of Kirby Smart, and the month before Smart officially took over, which included a bowl win. Last year’s seniors – there were 14 on scholarship – helped for that month, but then they left, putting this year’s group in a bigger leadership role.
“The transition was great,” Smart said. “They know that I have a lot of respect for coach Richt, and so do they. They were recruited by coach Richt and his staff, so they understand that. They know that things like this in this business happen, and they respected our staff and our program to the ‘n’th degree. A lot of them have supported everything we have been about. They are the glue that held this team together during some of the adverse times and we appreciate them and we have a chance to recognize them Saturday.”
Then there was the tumult of the season. Georgia struggled to a 4-4 start, punctuated by a home loss to Vanderbilt and then a convincing loss to Florida.
At that point, Smart and the seniors had a meeting where Smart said he “opened up the floor” for them to speak.
“They communicate well. They’re not afraid to speak their mind, which I think’s good in that setting,” Smart said. “But they’re also not locker room lawyers. You know, they understand that they have got a role to lead this team and to keep the demeanor right, and I thought that they all did.”
Now the seniors, who will leave campus without achieving their biggest goals – Pyke was the only one around for an SEC East title, and he was redshirting that year – at least have a chance to finish on a winning streak.
“The most I’ll remember is the guys I played with,” Pyke said. “It’s the relationships you build with your teammates.”