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(Photo courtesy of UGA Spike Squad)
Members of UGA's famed 'Spike Squad' always occupy the first row of Section 109 at Sanford Stadium, and increasingly follow the Bulldogs around the country.

Own the East: No group backs the Bulldogs like UGA’s ‘Spike Squad’

Chip Towers

GEORGIA’S OWN NO. 20: THE UGA SPIKE SQUAD

ATHENS – It’s a rebuilding year for the UGA Spike Squad, too. Well, more of a reload than a rebuild.

UGA junior Matt Canada channels his inner ‘Slash’ (lead guitarist from the rock band Guns ‘N’ Roses), when he cheers on the Dawgs as co-president of the UGA Spike Squad. (Courtesy photo)

Like the football counterparts they work so passionately to support, the University of Georgia student-based “Spike Squad” is busy getting ready for the upcoming season. The face-painted, shoulder-pad wearing group is still having to come down like all Georgia fans from what was storybook experience last year as the Bulldogs rolled to the national championship game. But a new season is now upon us and, despite missing some key characters and eying a less attractive schedule, the Spike Squad is anxious to do what they do.

Never mind that the Bulldogs’ season opener is against Austin Peay, they’re ready to rock.

“We’re happy to be back in Section 109,” said Kelby Canada, co-president of the UGA Spike Squad and a two-year letterman with the group. “We’re ready to be painted up and get to the gate before the sun gets up. It’s a whole different atmosphere, the first Saturday of the football season. We don’t have to build any excitement; the excitement is already there, moreso this year than any other year, I think.”

That’s the thing about this year’s schedule. This time a year ago, there was all kinds of buzz about the Bulldogs’ road game against Notre Dame in Week 2 and a schedule that included two Top 25 matchups in the first month. This year the Bulldogs don’t have a preseason Top 25 opponent on the schedule until Auburn comes to town on Nov. 10 and an Oct. 13 trip to LSU is about the only road game creating a stir within the donor base.

None of that dampers the enthusiasm of the Spike Squad. The specter of this unusual fan group has risen steadily since its inception in 2010 and increased exponentially last year in tandem with the Bulldogs’ national attention. A star was born, so to speak.

‘The Joker,’ otherwise known as UGA student Pierce Wallace, was the breakout star for the Spike Squad last year. But he has graduated and moved to Hollywood.

A Spike Squad character known as The Joker – a green-wigged student otherwise named Pierce Wallace – took on lrock-star status with fellow students, Georgia players and network television cameramen. He commanded attention wherever the Bulldogs were playing, and celebratory UGA athletes sought him out as they leapt into stands following their 13 victories throughout the season. He even did some hype videos.

But The Joker has moved on. Following graduation, Wallace packed up his wig and face paint and headed to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. Naturally.

Other Spikers have completed their matriculation as well. It’s not unlike Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith and Lorenzo Carter moving on to the NFL and the Bulldogs’ seeking capable replacements back on campus.

“He was our symbol for a long time,” Canada said of The Joker. “It’s not that we’re trying to move beyond that, but much like Georgia is trying to move on from last season, we’re trying to move on, too. He was a great asset to the squad, but we’ve got to go with what we’ve got now. We’re recruiting a bunch of new people because excitement is already in the air in Athens and all through the state of Georgia.”

Coach Kirby Smart can appreciate the need to new talent. And like those other shoulder-pad wearing Bulldogs, the Spike Squad is having to deal with their own success and popularity.

Typically, the group accepts about 35 to 40 members. That’s about all they can fit across the first two rows of Section 109. But nowadays they’re getting at twice the number of applicants.

“It’s just as much of a dog fight to get a seat every week as it is for the players to get on the field,” Canada quipped.

Accordingly, the Spike Squad doesn’t accept just anybody. There are interviews and a vetting process. Applicants are tested on Georgia sports history. A baseline requirement is they must know the words to the Alma Mater and all the Bulldogs’ fight songs. And, of course, they have to know what to do with red and black body paint and spiky shoulder pads and be willing wear only that no matter what the weather.

Kelby Canada looks like any other student when not dressed out for UGA’s Spike Squad.

“We just eat, drink and sleep Georgia sports. That’s our whole deal. So we just want to make sure whoever we bring in knows that and is ready for that,” Canada said.

The group does not receive financial support from the university or the UGA Athletic Association. When you see Spikers on the road – and the expectation for at least a few to make every away game – they’ve found their own tickets and paid their own way there.

Their presence has come to be expected at all home events – not just football – and is often requested by UGA’s marketing and promotions department if not the coaches themselves.

“The coaches love us because they know no matter whether we’re up 50 or down 50, we’re going to have the same energy and give it our all,” said Canada, known for his black top hat and mirrored sunglasses. “We know our athletes are going to give it their all, so it’s a small thing that we give back. We want to show them that we’ve got their back no matter what happens.”

Which brings us to this football season and that nondescript home schedule. The Bulldogs could be playing Shorter College every week and the UGA Spike Squad wouldn’t care. Yes, they’d prefer every game to be exciting and meaningful like they are in SEC play, but the Spikers are going to show up and be energetic no matter what.

That’s the plan for Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State and UMass this season, just as it is for Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech.

“As a squad, we support Georgia through and through,” Canada said. “We’ve been there through the Hail Mary against Tennessee my freshman year and we were there for double-overtime in the Rose Bowl. We’re there through all the highs and all the lows and we’re going to be there no matter what.”

Having the unbridled backing of the UGA Spike Squad is just one reason the Georgia Bulldogs could “Own the East.”