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Hyosub Shin / AJC
Georgia freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean, who had a pass break-up against LSU in the SEC Championship Game, didn't feel 100 percent over a high ankle sprain until nearly halfway through the season.

WATCH: Georgia freshman MLB Nakobe Dean ready to be seen and heard

ATHENS — Georgia freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean isn’t shy about hitting ball carriers, and he’s coming out of his shell as a vocal leader, too.

Dean, who most often played on third downs at inside linebacker and finished with 23 tackles and 2 pass break-ups this season, explained one key way he’s evolved this season.

“I came in as more of a quiet guy, so I just wanted to feel my way through things,” Dean said following Saturday night’s SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“But as time went by and the season went on, I started to talk more, build my leadership role,” said Dean, a 2019 recruit from Horn Lake, Miss., who was rated a 5-star prospect.

“I do plan on in the future being more of a vocal leader, and also leading by example.”

Dean would have been in much better position to do just that if not for the high ankle sprain he suffered early in fall camp.

Much had been expected from the 5-foot-10, 220-pound early enrollee after his impressive performance in spring drills.

Dean had five tackles and a pass break-up in the G-Day Game, getting snaps with the first-team defense against QB Jake Fromm and the first-team offense back in April.

RELATED: Nakobe Dean stands out in G-Day Game

Dean did what he could to play through it, learning another valuable lesson along the way.

“It messed with me more so mentally, than physically,” Dean said. “I had to get my mind right and learn to sit out, but still learn without actually being out there. That was one thing that hindered me.”

Physically, Dean said he didn’t feel 100 percent until “Week 5 or Week 6.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been high on Dean from the start, so it’s a good bet the freshman will get plenty of reps during Georgia’s Allstate Sugar Bowl practice, which begins next week.

The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) play No. 7 Baylor (11-2) at 8:45 p.m. on Jan. 1 in New Orleans. The Bears are looking to become the winningest team in Baylor football history.

Dean said he can’t speak for what happened last year, when Georgia showed up somewhat divided and uninspired for the Sugar Bowl, falling 28-21 to Texas.

“I didn’t practice with the team last year, but I know this team is going to go attack practice the way we always do, 100 percent,” Dean said.

“I feel like we have to continue practice the way do. Don’t slack off. Go try to attack the teams the way we always do, and we’ll be good.”

Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean

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