NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kirby Smart remembers getting his head shaved at Georgia in 1994 as a freshman, and how “dramatic” that felt to him.
So when the Bulldogs’ head coach was asked at the SEC Media Days about the hazing reports coming out of Northwestern he had plenty to say.
“That’s one of the things we talk about each other,” said Smart, who spoke on Tuesday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. “Not so much hazing as it is welcoming the freshmen.”
Indeed, because Georgia recruiting at a high enough level that several of the freshmen contribute, and the majority are mid-term enrollees.
Smart shared how UGA has adjusted its team operations to adapt.
“I think every coach would say at the beginning of the year you have a certain checklist you go through, and what’s happened uniquely is that most of your roster is turning over in January,” Smart explained.
“So a couple years ago when we had 18 or 19 mid-years, we began doing an August session of this is our new team, these are our new players, these are our team rules, and here’s the policies we go by.
“And then we have to do in January now; whereas in the past 10 years ago, eight years ago we never did this in January, but our team is turning over in January, so we do twice a year.”
Smart makes it a point to have a strong voice in this area, as he said stressed how team “connection” has been a key in the Bulldogs’ past two CFP Championships runs.
“We do education, we go through, and I lead that session because it’s important to me that they hear it from me, and our entire staff is in there and our entire players are in there,” Smart said.
“I remember being a freshman and having to carry people’s trays and getting your head shaved when I was a freshman back in 1994. I just thought that was so dramatic.”
Not to mention counterproductive to the culture Smart insists on his program having, and the efficient use of talent needed to compete for and win championships.
“Those freshmen, the guys we sign, they have to play,” Smart said. “So when you create this separation of they have to do this and they have to do that, they’re not ready to play. They’re like a different team.”
Georgia has had several impact freshmen throughout the Smart Era, including the past two championsip teams.
It’s fair to argue the Bulldogs might not have won last year’s title without the production from safety Malaki Starks, team sacks leader Mykel Williams and punter Brett Thorson.
Indeed, rising senior Ladd McConkey points to Starks’ TD-saving tackle of the season against Missouri as pivotal.
“They broke a long run and they were about to score and Malaki chased him down and tackled him at like the 1-yard line,” McConkey said in a recent Players’ Lounge interview.
“I feel that play was a huge impact, in that game and the rest of our season, because if he doesn’t make that play I don’t know where we’re at. I don’t know if if we win the national championship or get an opportunity. I think that was a moment that was a huge part of the season.”
The season before, freshmen Brock Bowers and Adonai Mitchell made game-changing plays in big moments, including the 33-18 CFP Championship Game win over Alabama when they accounted for UGA’s two offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the comeback win. Kelee Ringo, a redshirt freshman, sealed the game with a Pick-6.
“So we do more of a brotherhood, take this guy in, he’s at your position,” Smart explained. “Can you go out and teach him and walk him through, embrace those guys and make sure they understand that hazing will not be tolerated, and if it is, they need to let us know.”