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Malaki Starks celebrates a big play in the win over South Carolina

Peyton Manning, ‘Vomit games’ and four-leaf clovers: How Georgia football safety Malaki Starks is smashing the freshman wall

It came in the South Carolina game, which former Jefferson High School head coach Gene Cathcart was watching with his wife. Georgia safety Dan Jackson, whose starting spot Starks took in the Georgia defense lineup, came down with his first career interception.

Cathcart leaned over to his wife to tell her that Starks was going to be right there celebrating with Jackson on the sideline, happier about the play his teammate had made than the interception he came down within the same game.

Sure enough, as the cameras followed Jackson to the sideline, there was Starks, walking stride for stride with Jackson. Starks helped his teammate put on the golden shoulder pads to celebrate the turnover.

Starks has quickly made a habit of making big plays for the Bulldogs. His difference-making tackle in the Missouri game didn’t surprise his teammates, though defensive tackle Zion Logue did say he’d be shocked if Starks wasn’t topping out at 22 miles per hour on the team’s GPS trackers. That’s a number reached only by the fastest players on the team.

When you have a young player making plays like that, it absolutely fires up the veterans in the room.

“It just shows the type of player he is. As a defense, we don’t want to allow anyone in our end zone,” Logue said. “With him showing that as a freshman, it puts things in perspective. If this guy isn’t going to let us down, why should I?”

Georgia has had plenty of 5-star prospects come through its doors since Kirby Smart took over in December of 2015. The list of uber-athletes to sign with Georgia out of high school is about as long as the number of TV shows you need to catch up on.

Starks was the No. 19 overall player in the 247Sports composite rankings last cycle. There was some question as to what Starks would play at the next level. Some saw him as an offensive weapon, others a linebacker. In his time at Jefferson High School he did just about everything for the Dragons. He played quarterback, running back and safety.

He was also limited in his final high school season due to injury. While that time away from the field may have lowered his final ranking, it helped Starks sharpen his leadership skills. He found ways to help his team that didn’t involve him running over opposing players or intercepting passes.

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