Georgia’s good-luck charm this season: Health

Nick Chubb's quick return from last year's knee injury was an early sign for Georgia's season, as far as health.

ATHENS – It looked bad for Isaiah Wynn on Saturday night, as Georgia’s top offensive lineman lay on the ground, clutching his knee. When he left the field, he needed to be helped by trainers, and couldn’t put any weight on his leg.

Two days later, Wynn was back in uniform, jogging on the side at practice. He has a chance to play Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.

It’s been that kind of season when it comes to Georgia’s injuries: Fortunate. There has been just one player lost to a season-ending injury, freshman punter Marshall Long, while only a handful of players have been hurt badly enough to miss multiple games.

That’s in stark contrast to other SEC teams this year, especially Tennessee and Florida, which have been decimated by injuries. Or the last Georgia team to lose four games, in 2013, when the offense alone lost four players to ACLs, and two others to high ankle sprains, including star Todd Gurley.

The tone this year, on the other hand, was set when tailback Nick Chubb returned from a grisly knee injury last year to start in the opener, and looked good as new.

“When you look at some of the injury reports that some of the other SEC teams are having, we have been very fortunate I would say, until last week,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said Monday.

Natrez Patrick, at the time the team’s second-leading tackler, missed the Auburn game with a shoulder injury, and defensive tackle DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle missed a second straight game with a high ankle sprain. Long’s injury, suffered in practice when he was run into during a punting drill, also happened last week. And receiver Jayson Stanley will miss a third straight game this week with a foot injury.

Still, Patrick and Hawkins-Muckle may be back. And it’s remarkable to consider that when Georgia met Florida on Oct. 29, the Bulldogs had every single available starter, and pretty much every second-teamer as well. Compared to other teams – like Auburn, which was missing its star tailback when it lost at Georgia on Saturday – the Bulldogs are enjoying a very healthy year.

UGA tailback Nick Chubb (27) looks on at Monday’s practice. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

So is it luck? Or is something else at work?

“Our strength staff and Ron (Courson) and his staff do a good job of keeping our bodies together, and do their best job of keeping our bodies in shape, keeping injuries low,” said junior receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who has played in every game this year, something he didn’t his first two years at Georgia. “But other than that, I would say it seems to be a difference when this strength staff came and they did a good job with our offseason programs of keeping our bodies healthy.”

Courson is Georgia’s longtime athletic trainer, and one of the most respected in the country. Courson had a key role in Chubb’s amazing recovery. The training staff aids in quick treatment and recovery.

But what about preventative? That’s largely up to Georgia’s new strength and conditioning staff, headed by Scott Sinclair, hired by Smart this offseason away from Central Florida.

“I certainly would like to give credit to Scott Sinclair and his staff,” Smart said, citing how impressed he always was with how strong and physical UCF teams were under former head coach George O’Leary. “I was hoping to get that same thing. Ron Courson has always done a great job medically.”

But Smart also thinks the way his team practices is important too. Going harder and more physical during the week may prevent injuries on Saturday, or mitigate how serious they are.

“I actually think we practice physical. I think that’s key in the strength and conditioning,” Smart said. “I also think some of that is how you recruit, the size of players you recruit. The bigger the guys, historically, the less they’ve gotten hurt. Smaller guys, they get dinged a lot more. …

“I think luck plays a part, but I certainly think that managing your practice schedule and also having a great strength staff in season, not just what they do out of season but in season, is helping with that, too.”

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