ATLANTA — Georgia football has grown into a national program with recruits flocking to Kirby Smart from coast to coast.

The Bulldogs, however, have maintained a distinctly Peach State flavor thanks to in-state “program” players like Ladd McConkey.

Once considered a project player, McConkey has grown into Georgia’s most consistent perimeter threat and an NFL prospect.

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It’s a sure bet LSU will have UGA’s No. 84 identified on each play with McConkey possessing the speed to stretch the field and the quickness to create havoc in the open-field as a receiver or punt returner.

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs look to keep their season perfect when they play the Bayou Bengals at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I definitely feel like with this being my third year, really being one of the older guys on the team in an aspect, you kind of got to step into that leadership role,” said McConkey, once an undersized, lightly recruited 3-star prospect out of Chatsworth, Ga.

" … need to be someone that the younger guys can look up to and show ‘em how to practice, show ‘em how to do the right things.”

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McConkey has done that at more, leading the receivers with 46 catches for 606 yards with 4 touchdowns, in addition to ranking third in the SEC with a 12.31-yard punt return average.

Smart has certainly taken note and pays McConkey compliments at each turn for his hard work and effort.

“The guy just runs ‘til his tongue hangs out,” Smart said. “We have to temper him in practice. We’ve got to slow him down. He’s going to run himself to depth, and I’m like, ‘We’ve got to check his GPS, check his volume.’

“He (also) blocks well. The guy’s a competitor.”

McConkey was the Bulldogs’ top pass-catching wide receiver last year, too, albeit with only 31 catches for 447 yards, as tight end Brock Bowers led UGA with his historic 56-catch, 882-yard season.

McConkey and Bowers have 46 catches apiece this season and are still catching passes from quarterback Stetson Bennett who is still taking snaps from Sedrick Van Pran and protected by right tackle Warren McClendon.

But there is plenty of newness on this year’s team with different players stepping into starring roles after 15 players were selected into the NFL draft and another 13 left via the transfer portal.

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“We try to look at it as, like, last year’s team was last year,” McConkey said. “We’re a new team this year. There’s obviously a lot of different players on this team, some players that are playing in different roles.

“We want to kind of go make a statement for ourselves and do it for this team and not just last year.”

The fact McConkey has risen through the ranks from 3-star prospect, to redshirt freshman to top receiver the past two seasons is a statement that Georgia can develop talent like few other places.