ATHENS — If one happened to pass by Richard LeCounte on UGA’s campus — and certainly if you’ve run into him on the football field — you’d no doubt notice that he’s a slightly larger human being than he used to be.
That’s always the case for college athletes, of course. Rare is the prospect that shows up who actually intends to get smaller over time, though that’s been the case for a few linemen over the years. Noseguard Jordan Davis, who showed up at 350 but is now relatively svelte 320, is an example of that. But he’s also significantly stronger than when he started.
Getting significantly bigger and stronger not only has been the outcome for LeCounte, it has been a full-on offseason mission. And now, just four months into the 2019 campaign, LeCounte is able to declare “mission accomplished.”
The rising junior and third-year starter at safety said he’s up 15 pounds from last season. Based on his previous weight, that means he’s carrying about 205 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.
“Definitely that was a point of emphasis during off-season training,” LeCounte said after Georgia’s practice on Tuesday, it’s 13th of the spring. “I wanted to try to put on at least 15 pounds. Since January I have put on about 15.”
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It wasn’t just so he’d look better walking across campus either. LeCounte said that was step one in his 2019 initiative to improve his tackling. As is often the byproduct of the position he plays — essentially strong safety — LeCounte actually led the Bulldogs in tackles last season with 74. But he also led the team in missed tackles with 15.
Getting bigger is just part of the equation for improvement. LeCounte talked about also seeking extra help from coaches on technique and refocusing from overall attitude standpoint.
“I just wanted to keep on a little bulk and be a little more physical at the point of attack in tackling,” LeCounte said. “I’m going back to my fundamentals on basic tackling. I’m just trying to be able to help the team and that’s the main reason I did. And I definitely feel better and more confident in my strength. That was the problem I had last year.”
It’s not like LeCounte was a liability for the Bulldogs in the back end. He started 13 of Georgia’s 14 games last season because he usually got himself in the right position to make a play. Armed with great speed, quick reactions and strong ball skills, LeCounte usually got to the right place at the right time. But sometimes the physics of SEC football betrayed him at the point of attack.
Unable to change the size of the players he was having to defend, LeCounte decided to change some of his own measurables. He doesn’t think that has come at the expense of the speed that made him a 5-star prospect to start with.
Meanwhile, competition at his position — he’s battling with 6-3, 210-pound sophomore for snaps — and a quickly fading window of time to prove he can play at the next level have served as further incentive.
“I love challenges,” LeCounte said. “Every day there’s something I need to learn. If I learn all the things I’m supposed to learn, I’ll be a great football player. Every day you should try to do something better as a person and I just try to take that as a steppingstone and be able to listen to criticism and to my coaches. I know at the end of the day it’s going to help me and help me team.”