ATHENS — In his first game between the hedges in 2014 against Clemson, Aaron Davis intercepted a pass.
And in his final game between the hedges against Kentucky on Saturday night, Davis intercepted his final pass in Sanford Stadium. The interceptions were the bookends of Davis’ career at home.
But it wasn’t just Davis who collected the perfect bookend for his time at Sanford Stadium on Saturday in Georgia’s 42-13 win against Kentucky. On senior night, most of the senior class showed up and showed out.
Nick Chubb rushed for 151 yards on 15 carries with 2 touchdowns, exceeding 1,000 rushing yards in a season for the third time in his career. Sony Michel added 3 touchdowns. Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy unhinged a strong Kentucky offense.
A lot has been said and written about these four players and their return to Georgia for their senior seasons. But Georgia coach Kirby Smart spoke about that being a wise decision and one that paid off.
“They’ve got something now that they would have never had if they would have left back then,” Smart said. “Think about the taste in their mouths if they were out there, sitting there watching this team do this. Now we would have struggled without some of those guys, but with those guys deciding to return, they are a part of history that there never would have been.”
But what about the other members of this senior class? The ones who didn’t have nearly as much hype surrounding them coming into the 2017 season.
Javon Wims, a game-changer for Georgia’s passing game, was the leading receiver Saturday night. Roquan Smith led Georgia’s defense in tackles almost every single Saturday this season, including against Kentucky. Isaiah Wynn and Jeb Blazevich provided veteran leadership up front on offense, and even Cameron Nizialek, a graduate transfer, completely altered Georgia’s punting game in one season with the team.
These are just some of the players who are part of Georgia’s senior class, which was honored Saturday afternoon, and those players have become accustomed to changing the outcomes of games this season.
And this senior class has been through the ringer: the transition from one coaching staff to another and a couple of lackluster seasons. But sticking with the program during that turmoil is what makes this senior class different, according to Smart.
“I think the character of our group is clear,” Smart said. “Led by the seniors, they accepted a new staff. They were willing not just to buy in to our new way but they have been selling it to our younger players, which is a big part of it. That is what it takes to be a good football team.”
But it wasn’t just about buying into a new coaching staff. For many of the seniors honored Saturday, they wanted to see the culture around the Georgia football program transform.
“We have built our culture,” Michel said. “We have built our identity, and guys have bought in to what we are trying to do. The standard is set, but I think the bar is going to be raised when we leave. I am excited for this program because there are great things ahead.”
Smart also commented on this new standard that the senior class has brought in, saying that he, as a coach, wants the younger players to understand the standard that has been set by the older players.
“You know, the first year I got here, I still felt like I could play and probably wasn’t ready, so I ended up redshirting and I think that was where I made a lot of huge gains,” Davis said. “I have to owe it to all to the different players that I faced. I was on the scout team going against Chris Conley, Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley. Just seeing all those guys and learning from them, that just prepared me for the next four years in order to go out there and play and contribute.”
Even though there was much to celebrate because of the impact this senior class made between the hedges at Georgia, Bellamy said this team is far from finished.
“Even though we have had a great run out of this senior class, we know our job still isn’t done,” Bellamy said. “You don’t come here to win the SEC East; you come here to win it all. We still have a long way to go.”