ATHENS — Georgia fans, you won’t be the only ones scrambling to get home from work Wednesday to be with your family for the holidays. So will the Bulldogs themselves.
The team has another full day of practice and preparation ahead of them today for Saturday’s game against archrival Georgia Tech (7-4). But as soon as that business is wrapped up, the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (10-1) will scatter for 24 hours to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with their respective families.
And if they can’t get to their own families, such as the many players who live out of state, they’ll join a teammate somewhere closer Athens or Atlanta.
Including walkons, the Bulldogs have 129 players on their roster. Only about 35 of those players are from out of state. But increasingly they’re coming to UGA from far away.
Georgia has a number of players from Miami and the South Florida area. They also have others Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Illinois. Most of those players won’t have the opportunity to go home.
Junior J.R. Reed, who is from Frisco, Texas, is one of the lucky ones. His family is coming to him.
“My family’s flying out, my sister, my brother, my mom and dad,” said the Bulldogs’ starting safety. “We’re going to my aunt’s house in Covington and we’re going to have a big feast!”
D’Andre Swift and Mark Webb are first cousins who both hail from Philadelphia. They, too, will have their families in town this week. Those that don’t will follow teammates to Atlanta or North or South Georgia.
Wherever they go, players have to reconvene at the Butts-Mehre Football Complex on Friday where they will celebrate Thanksgiving together as a team.
“The players have a 24-hour window,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They get to eat with their families and enjoy. We eat together on Friday when they report back.”
That should not be translated as the Bulldogs have had it easy this week. On the contrary. Smart said their preparations for Georgia Tech and the triple-option offense they’ll face have been some of the most physical they’ve had all season. That’s saying something considering they have been practicing now for 15 consecutive weeks since the opening of preseason camp on Aug. 1.
“We had a pretty physical practice on Tuesday,” Smart said following that two-plus-hour, full-contact workout. “It’s our day to get after it a little bit more today than others. We had some pretty good cuts, had a lot of guys on the ground. I thought our scout team did a tremendous job trying to get us a picture. Certainly (it was not) exactly the speed Tech is going to give us, but we’ve had a couple kids who have been on the scout team for a few years now – (Steven) Van Tiflin, (Willie) Erdman, Prather (Hudson) – those guys are unbelievable at how fast they go out there and try to mow people down. We appreciate their effort and what they do to give us a good picture.”
The other difficulty of this time of year is the players have so much spare time on their hands. NCAA rules still limit how much time they can spend on game preparation and meetings. Meanwhile, school has been on break since this past Friday.
“So it’s not like we get more time,” Smart said. “They have more time, but we don’t necessarily have more time. We have to manage it smart and we try to schedule out our day where we don’t keep them here all day because that’s not fair to them. Certainly, with the team we’re playing, and the offense we’re playing, we have the extra time without class, … it helps the kids who enjoy watching tape and come in and watch extra on their own. They use that wisely.”
Once they get back, there won’t be much time left to prepare for the Yellow Jackets. The noon kickoff on Saturday means an early walk-up call.
The Bulldogs will need to have that turkey out of their systems by then.