UGA safety Richard LeCounte is one of the most likable players on the team.
If there was a “mayor of the Bulldogs,” it would be LeCounte. He’s vocal and uplifting with his teammates during practices and games. He’s active on social media, and often has a lot of motivating things to say. He’s popular with the media, because he’s charismatic and insightful with his comments.
Nevertheless, LeCounte has also had his bumpy moments in the spotlight, like any other high-profile player.
Last season, the junior safety caught some grief on Twitter about missed tackles. And he also got challenged publicly by UGA’s coaches last summer for his inconsistency.
“Richard loves it at Georgia, and I told him when he was going through that rough time with fans and Kirby getting on him — that was just the nature of the beast,” said Kirk Warner, the former UGA football player who coached LeCounte at Liberty County High School in Hinesville, Ga.
“I told Richard that (Smart) is trying to motivate you because he knows what is in you. I told him when he was with us: ‘If the coach stops coaching you, that’s when you need to be worried. As long as a coach is chewing your tail out and trying to get you better, you just respond to it positively and move on.’ And Richard did.”
Smartest DBs have the shortest memories
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound LeCounte also was criticized on social media for missed tackles. While he led UGA in tackles with 74, he was also No. 1 in missed tackles with 15. LeCounte would probably be the first to say that his tackling needs to improve, but the criticism seemed harsh at times.
“It was like that in high school — he’d make a 1,000 plays and the one play that you don’t make, that’s the one play some people tend to remember,” Warner said. “So he should be used to that type of stuff.
“Like we’ve taught him from an early age – DBs got to have a short memory. You make a good play, you’ve got to forget about it. You get beat on a play, you’ve got to forget about it and play the next play. I think he’s done that very well.”
The 5-star talent is there
There’s great expectations for LeCounte this season. While on one hand, LeCounte is being pushed by Otis Reese for the starting position, he’s also appeared in several NFL mock drafts as a candidate to leave early. There’s never been much doubt about the raw talent of the former 5-star recruit.
“I knew once Richard learned the system, and learned what to do what Kirby wanted him to do – the athletic ability has always been there. You know, sometimes you have to make adjustments to the coaches’ way of doing things. Richard had to adapt to the college life and I think he has done that well, and we expect a big season from him this year.”
After last year’s SEC Championship, there was some iconic photos of LeCounte on the bench during the final seconds of the heart-breaking loss. While there was chaos around him with fans and photographers, LeCounte had a steely look on his face. It was a mixture of rage, disappointment, and focus.
“He’s a competitor; It doesn’t matter what’s he playing, whether it’s cards or H-O-R-S-E, he plays to win,” Warner said. “It’s just the competitor in him. He’s always been that way, since I saw him playing in the rec leagues.
“He works his tail off. He’s like most of the elite athletes. Most of the elite athletes hate to lose, and they do whatever’s in their power to keep from losing. He was disappointed (about the SEC Championship), and I’m sure that motivated him to work even harder in the offseason.
“Hopefully we can get over that hump this year.”
What’s LeCounte’s coach’s favorite story about his star pupil? It’s one that doesn’t even have to do with football. But it does involve LeCounte doing whatever was in his power to avoid losing.
“I was an assistant basketball coach when we won the state title game (in 2015). We were playing Jonesboro, which had who many said was the best player in the state, MJ Walker (now at Florida State). With Richard being a DB, he asked to cover Walker. Richard locked him down.
“That was the competitive nature of Richard. We laugh about that all the time – how Richard can get in the opponent’s head and get them frustrated. He definitely had (Walker) frustrated that night.”
Back to football: With a fresh influx of new players on defense for this season, LeCounte will yet again be counted upon to be a team leader. As much as LeCounte loves to communicate, he also works hard to back it up with his actions.
“Richard has always been one of the hardest workers on our team, and I’m sure he’s carried those same traits to the University of Georgia,” Warner said. “He’s a natural-born leader, and a great interview for the media. People just sort of gravitate towards him.
“He leads by example. He doesn’t just talk; he walks the walk. He’s going to be grinding in the weight room as hard as the next man, and leading by example.”
“(The UGA coaches) … they love Richard. All the coaches always talk positively about him. I played at Georgia (with Director of Player Programs, Bryant Gantt). He always talks about how personal and friendly he is off the field.
“They always ask me if I have any more kids like Richard. I tell them ‘I wish.’”