ATHENS — Georgia fans know all about Terry Godwin nowadays, the ear-to-ear infectious smile, the slow, Southwest Georgia drawl, the close-knit family man, the sticky-as-fly-paper hands. They’ve come to know him well over these last four years as he matriculated through UGA and has gone from highly-touted, 5-star prospect to experienced, veteran leader and soon-to-be college graduate.
It has been a long road, as even those who have never had the blessing of landing a full athletic scholarship to a state university that plays Power 5 college football at the highest level might guess.
“Just looking back at it, it feels like it was yesterday,” Godwin said of leaving Hogansville to enter UGA as a freshman. “It’s like the blink of an eye and now I’m a senior. So time really does fly.”
As a senior, Terry Godwin often serves as a team spokesman for the Georgia Bulldogs at media events. (Kristin Bradsham/UGA)
On Saturday, just before Georgia tees it up against Georgia Tech in another football game that will feel as though the world is riding on it, Godwin will take his place among 24 fellow seniors and graduate students to be honored for their service as UGA student-athletes the last several years in Senior Day festivities. It’s an annual rite of passage that is both emotional for the participants and almost blase for the ravenous fans that have shown up to see the outcome determined in a high-stakes athletic competition.
And so players like Godwin — an integral contributor on a team still competing for the game’s ultimate prize — alternates between sentimental reflection and stoic focus on the day’s task at hand.
“I think back to my freshman year, just to think where we were then to where we are now,” Godwin said. “I mean, it got here in a blink of an eye. It’s like day and night.”
The Bulldogs are in the second year of being in position to play for it all. No. 5 Georgia (10-1) long ago clinched the SEC’s Eastern Division, and so will play No. 1 Alabama next week in an SEC title game in which the winner is expected to advance to the College Football Playoffs. But for the Bulldogs, that won’t happen unless they first defeat archrival Georgia Tech (7-4) in the regular-season finale.
And though Georgia enters as a 17-point favorite, the Bulldogs were also double-digit favorites the last two times the Yellow Jackets came to Sanford Stadium — and lost. So making certain that doesn’t happen a third time is foremost on the minds of Georgia’s seniors, Godwin included.
“It’s important, but I’m not just playing for me,” Godwin said of beating Tech. “I’m playing for my other seniors and my other brothers. But to send this senior class out with a win in our last home game will mean the world.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart reflects fondly on this particular senior class. This was the group he inherited from Mark Richt when Smart became head coach in December of 2015. So he had to win them over — and change their ways.
“Since we arrived, rather by transfer, by grades, by dismissal, it seems like that class has really shrunk,” Smart said this week. “I don’t know the official numbers but the ones that have stayed, the ones that have pushed through, the ones that have bought in, have really helped our program and have a chance to be one of the top four senior classes to ever play here, which is pretty incredible when you have an 8-win season in there.”
After beating UMass 66-27 last Saturday, the 2018 seniors have 41-11 record as a group, which is tied for the fourth-best record by a class in school history. The record for most wins by a class is 44, which is held by the 2005 contingent that won two SEC championships.
Godwin has been a big part of that transformation. He found himself benched as a sophomore in Smart’s first year, going from nine starts as a freshman to four as a second-year player. It seems the coach was not pleased about Godwin’s dedication to practice or to the art of downfield blocking.
As a senior, Godwin is a leader on both fronts.
“Terry has grown as a kid,” Smart said. “When I first got here his practice commitment wasn’t there, and he got better at it and he got better and he got better. And he worked at it. He’s gotten a lot better as a blocker. I think he’s gotten physically stronger.”
With at least three games remaining in his final season at Georgia, Godwin stands just outside the school’s all-time top-10 in career receiving yards (1,701), receptions (126) and TD catches (11). Now healthy after an injury-riddled start, odds are good he’ll finish among that group.
But it’s no longer about that for him. At the end of his career, it’s all about championships for Godwin. And that starts first with the state championship.
“We’re not looking ahead to the week after this,” he said. “We’re looking at Georgia Tech. That’s the biggest game to us. We know that’s something they’re trying to mess up our season. It’s a competitive sport. The best guy wins that day. We’re just going to take care of Georgia Tech first.”
More from Godwin:
On how he has changed since arriving as a freshman from Hogansville …
“A young guy, 5-11, 165, coming from a small town, not really knowing what to do. I came here and pretty much was fortunate to play off my athletic ability. With some coaching, I was molded into the guy I am today. A lot of the guys back then, like Malcolm Mitchell, Reggie Davis, they took me under their wing and made me into the guy I am today in this organization.
On what he remembers about those first days at UGA …
“I didn’t know what to expect. As I got into the flow of things, I got kind of nervous because I realized, ‘OK, this is really the way college is going to be. I’m up here at 6:30 in the morning going all the way to 7 o’clock at night.’ So I just had to get used to it and I feel like I did a great job of that.”
On whether the better-block-better-thing with Smart was real …
“Oh, yeah, that was a real thing. I mean, anybody in that receiving room, if you’re not a great blocker, everybody’s going to tell you and you’re not going to get a pass until you start blocking right. That’s how the game goes.”
On impact Smart has had on him …
“Him being the hard coach that he is, he has always wanted the best for every player here no matter if it’s on or off the field. On the field, he’s a great coach. He’s going to push you to be your very best every day. He changed my practice habits to be the best practice guy that there is. It’s showing on the field now. … Me being who I am, I wasn’t always the hardest practicer. He came in and changed that and that helped me in the games, because now practice is harder than the games.”
On whether his career highlight is the one-handed TD grab vs. Notre Dame …
“Some people may think so, but I’d have to say is the Rose Bowl with Sony with the winning touchdown. That was my favorite, and I was on the sideline.”
On MVP performance in TaxSlayer Bowl, which included TD pass to Malcolm Mitchell …
“It was all fun and games then. I may tell my grandkids about that one. They may not believe it but I may have to show them to prove it to them.”
On how his senior season has gone …
“I mean, at the beginning it was kind of rocky for me personally. But coming off those injuries and being able to help this team be where we are now, it’s what we dream of. But we’re not satisfied about where we’re out. We still have more to play for.”
On his health now …
“I’m 100 percent healthy.”
On talent of Georgia’s receiving corps …
“Like I said at the beginning of the season, to us this is the best receiving corps in the nation. We have guys that have proven they’re capable of going out there at any time against anybody and make plays.”
On whether he is the leader of the WR room …
“I wouldn’t say it’s my group but I am the senior leader of that group. Of course, some of the guys look up to me. But the juniors like Riley (Ridley) and Mecole (Hardman), they’re leaders as well. I get feedback from them, too, when I’m messing up. So we try to lead each other in that room.”
On his leadership style …
Personally, I set myself to a higher standard. Me placing that on some other guys can only make them better and me better. Some of the guys take that as, ‘OK, he wants me to be great, so I need to set my standards higher than I used to.’ I think we’re doing that every day in practice and it’s showing in the games.”
On adjusting to new position coach Cortez Hankton …
“We just had to get used to his coaching style. Knowing that you left a different coach, there’s some things you have to get used to. But he’s fit in well and we’re doing great with him.
On his academic progress as a sports management major…
“I’m supposed to graduate in May and I’m right on track. As I go train (for the NFL), I’m going to take two online classes and I’ll get my degree. It feels amazing because, as a kid from a small town, I never thought about getting a degree. But you get here and you put in as much work off the field as you on the field.”
On Tech memories …
“I remember watching it on TV and seeing some of the older guys, Damian Swann and Amarlo Herrera, Malcolm Mitchell, seeing those guys play in those games and seeing how much energy they put out. It was something I always wanted to do.”
On 2016 loss to Tech and not being able to get the ball back …
“As an offensive player that’s frustrating, because you know you want to get out there so bad and make a play for your team. You want to help your defense out and get them off the field. It’s all the time consumption. … They hold the ball so long it’s tough to watch.”