Former UGA star explains why George Pickens isn’t a ‘prima donna’ WR
Georgia wide receiver George Pickens’ introduction to many UGA fans was the viral video of a dazzling catch made in a preseason scrimmage last August, but there’s apparently a lot more to Pickens than what can be contained in a YouTube clip.
Which is not to say the haul was unremarkable. It was so impressive that it even drew a compliment from notoriously hard-to-please coach Kirby Smart.
“This is a special player and a great catch,” Smart said at the time. “He’s had several one-handed catches in practice. He’s a talented player.”
It was also the beginning of what turned out to be an eventful freshman season for Pickens — one in which he led the team with 727 receiving yards and eight touchdowns and became Sugar Bowl MVP by matching a UGA bowl record with 12 catches in the Bulldogs’ win against Baylor.
However, not all the attention Pickens received in his first year with the program was positive.
He was ejected late in UGA’s 52-7 win at Georgia Tech for an altercation with a Yellow Jackets player which resulted in Pickens being forced to sit out the first half of the SEC championship vs. LSU.
UGA’s key leaders were quick to point out that Pickens had erred in allowing his temper to get the best of him.
“That’s a huge learned lesson for him not to do something dumb like that,” UGA linebacker Monty Rice said after the game. “He’s a vital part of the team, a vital part of the offense… You see how productive he is. He can help us a lot. He’s just got to be smarter.”
The video from Pickens’ fight became just as viral as his miraculous catch had been. And it became easy for some to define him in simplistic terms on the basis of these images as a player that was frequently noticed, but not always for the right reasons.
Yet those who know Pickens better say there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye.
Former UGA wide receiver Sean Bailey is one of those people, and Bailey probably has as much insight into what it feels like to be Pickens as anyone could.
Pickens was an elite recruit — the No. 4 wide receiver in the country — and the 24th rated prospect for the 2019 class. Bailey was an elite recruit too — rated fifth as a receiver and 47th overall in 2003.
Bailey shared his opinion on Pickens last week on DawgNation Daily and those thoughts extend beyond what can be conveyed in a video.
“Probably the biggest thing that stands out to me about him is that he truly loves football,” Bailey said. “He loves to compete.”
Bailey explained he saw that aspect of Pickens’ demeanor while attending UGA practices.
“I’ve had the pleasure to watch several practices,” Bailey said. “There are a lot of elite guys that are able to turn it on and turn it off, but when you have a guy that has it turned on all the time like George does at practice… He’s aggressive even when he’s not getting the ball.”
Pickens has credited his work on the practice field for why he enjoyed success during his freshman season, and has said being challenged by Smart and former UGA quarterback Jake Fromm during those practices was crucial in his development.
“[Fromm] pushed me every day. Coach Smart pushed me every day to be the player I am today,” Pickens said after the Sugar Bowl.
However, Bailey says Pickens was doing plenty of pushing of his own.
“He was extremely vocal. And this is as a freshman,” Bailey said. “He’s in it. He’s competing every down, and not just in the pass game, but in the run game too when his job is to block and be aggressive.
“He’s going 100 miles per hour, and you don’t see this a lot at this position — a ‘prima donna’ position. You’ve got a lot of athletes that like to catch balls and like to score touchdowns, but they don’t want to get their hands dirty. George will go get his hands dirty in a heartbeat. He gets excited. He’s thrilled to do it.
Bailey is speaking of the way some wide receivers get bad reputations as players who seek glory and attention at the expense of being team-oriented. Bailey says Pickens isn’t one of those guys.
Pickens would probably agree. The mentality that he plays the game with is one that seems to value the physical aspects of football more than the typical receiver would.
Pickens’ first season at UGA — while imperfect — stands as validation of that point of view.
“It was a great season to me,” Pickens said. “ You win some. You lose some, but I feel like every day, every practice, every walkthrough we just fought. I like winning that way instead of winning the easy way. I like fighting for the win.”
It’s possible to like fighting too much, and perhaps at times last season Pickens did.
However, more often than not, Pickens’ fighting spirit will probably serve him well. And it could lead him and the Bulldogs to even more success in 2020.