ATHENS — It was only the spring game. It might be forgotten already for most Georgia football fans. But for Jayson Stanley, that one catch meant so much. It meant relief.
He would laugh later when asked what he was thinking as Jacob Eason’s 33-yard pass headed towards him in the end zone.
“You ain’t gonna drop this one,” Stanley said, smiling and shaking his head. “Oh man. That was fun. It was like I was back in the flow, it was fun.”
Stanley started five games for Georgia last year. But he didn’t catch a single pass. By all accounts he’s sure-handed in practice, but when the games began he wasn’t, and endured two very high-profile drops last year.
In the end zone at Ole Miss, on what would have been a long touchdown pass from Jacob Eason. And a wide-open short pass against Florida, when no defender was around him.
Neither catch would have had much impact on the eventual result. But they left an impression on fans. And Stanley knows it.
And he knew it even more after the first pass that came his way on G-Day last Saturday: He dropped it too.
“I heard it from the fans and everything,” Stanley said, then pivoted to his internal reaction: “This is going to show the new Stanley. Just relax, go out there and take a deep breath, pray about it. Good.”
This time last year, Stanley was being looked at as a potential breakout receiver. After a quiet freshman season (his only 2 catches came against Southern) he had a strong spring, and was singled out by Kirby Smart for his speed and dynamic ability at receiver. The new coaching staff also liked his size (6-foot-2 and 207 pounds), which was one of the reasons he started, because it helped him run block.
But Stanley couldn’t haul in the passes that came his way. Perhaps it was rustiness in the spotlight: Not only did Stanley play rarely as a freshman, but he missed his senior year at Creekside High School after tearing an ACL.
Still, drops are drops. Players try to shut themselves off from the negativity that comes from the outside, but Stanley was also realistic.
“It’s frustrating. But coming to practice every day, these guys around me they know, they’ve seen what I do at practice,” Stanley said. “When we came out, you want to prove a point.”
During his exit interview with Smart after last season, this is what Stanley remembers his coach saying:
“I’ve seen what you can do, starting from bowl practice. Just believe in yourself, we’ve seen what you can do.”
Receivers coach James Coley backed him up too. And fellow receiver Javon Wims said Stanley has made “tremendous growth” since last season.
“That man is in the building from 8 a.m. catching on the JUGS machine,” Wims said. “He’s working really hard, he’s using his hands more. He’s becoming more confident. It shows.”
So when he hauled in that 33-yard touchdown pass from Eason on Saturday, did it mark a turning point for Stanley’s career at Georgia?
“You can call it what you want. I’m just ready to make them in September,” Stanley said. “I’m just ready for the season now. Put it all together.”