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Jason Parkhurst/Abell Images/Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
Tight end Darnell Washington runs after a catch during the 2020 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Junkyard Mail: Who’s likely to be UGA football’s breakout star of 2021?

Let’s open this installment of Junkyard Mail with a look forward to who might become a hero of Dawgs football fans in the coming season, followed by a look back at some unsung heroes of the past …

Hey Bill, we all know what players like Zeus White, George Pickens and Jordan Davis are capable of doing, but who do you think will be the breakout star of this coming season for Kirby Smart’s Dawgs? 

Brenda Rogers

ESPN picked quarterback JT Daniels as Georgia’s likely breakout star. (Cassie Florido/UGA)

ESPN picked the likely breakout players for each of its preseason Top 25 teams (it has Georgia at No. 4) and, for the Dawgs, they named JT Daniels. However, I think he’s already broken out, despite only starting a handful of games, so that pick seems a bit facile. 

Looking a little deeper, there are a number of possibilities, including young wide receiver Arian Smith, who didn’t get playing time until the latter half of the 2020 season due to injury, but really showed what he could do when he blew by the South Carolina defense for a touchdown catch. Likewise, big things are expected from another young receiver, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who broke his leg while catching a touchdown pass against the Gators.

Another possible breakout star is defensive lineman Travon Walker, who didn’t really get enough playing time last season to live up to his potential. 

And, a lot of fans still are very excited about cornerback Kelee Ringo, who missed last season after surgery. 

However, my pick for likely breakout player is tight end Darnell Washington, who has excelled at blocking (which tight ends do a lot of at Georgia), but also has shown great potential as a target for Daniels, making three catches in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati, including a 38-yarder. At 6-foot-7, 260-pounds, Washington has the size and speed, — as well as the ability to make tough catches — to be the sort of coverage matchup problem Florida’s Kyle Pitts was last year. 

Outside linebacker Adam Anderson is another possible breakout star for the Dawgs this coming season. (Tony Walsh/UGA)

My son, on the other hand, isn’t convinced that a Smart team ever will throw enough to a tight end for Washington really to become a breakout star. 

As Chip Towers noted in the AJC recently, Georgia doesn’t throw to its tight ends as regularly as LSU did with the currently teamless Arik Gilbert (who had 35 receptions, 368 yards, and two TDs in five games before departing), and certainly not the way Florida did with Pitts (43 catches for 770 yards and 12 touchdowns in 8 games). As a group, Chip noted, UGA’s tight ends last season caught a total of 26 passes for 282 yards and 2 scores. Under Smart, tight ends have averaged 30.2 catches for 394.8 yards and 2.4 TDs per season since 2016.

So, my son may be right. His pick for likely breakout star? Senior outside linebacker Adam Anderson, who had the second most sacks last season for the Dawgs (with 6.5) and also tied for second on the team in QB pressures with 24. He finished the year strongly, with 2 sacks, another solo tackle, and a key fumble recovery in Georgia’s Peach Bowl win. With Azeez Ojulari and Jermaine Johnson gone, Anderson looks like the Dawgs’ best outside threat.

I wonder if you might poll your readers and find out who some of the favorite unsung heroes of UGA football have been through the years — solid players who didn’t get the adulation of the stars. For instance, I loved Butch Box, who only played on kickoffs, but busted his butt on every kickoff. And old Bobby Poss — snapping specialist. When Craig Hertwig fell on him and broke his leg, Kim Braswell missed his only PAT.

Darrell Huckaby

Fullback Christian Payne blocks for Sony Michel during the 2017 season. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA)

Darrell, while my first inclination is to say the linemen who block for the running backs (though I’m not sure they’re really unsung these days), a better choice might be all those scout teamers who help prepare the starters each week, and even the UGA football staff. But, since you want unheralded team members who played a valuable role, I’d tend to go with some of the fullbacks — back before Smart (“I’m not a big fullback guy”) did away with that position. The most recent of those players was Christian Payne, who threw some key blocks for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel during his senior season in 2017, in addition to occasionally running or catching the ball. 

There’ve been a lot of valuable Georgia fullbacks through the years, including Mack Strong, Bruce Figgins, Brannan Southerland and Shaun Chapas. Of course, there also has been the occasional fullback who did become a big name, like Verron Haynes.

Carnie Norris spent his Georgia football career backing up a legend: Herschel Walker. (University of Georgia)

My friend Joel came up with another unheralded Bulldogs football hero: Carnie Norris. As he explained, Norris “was unsung for a very good reason: He played behind Herschel Walker. But, without him, we might not have won the 1980 national championship. Herschel was injured for the Ole Miss game and Norris stepped in to rush for 150 yards on 15 carries in the tight 28-21 win. Ten yards per carry — not bad. His final three years he averaged 6.3, 6.0 and 4.0 yards per carry in backup duty, providing a formidable replacement for Herschel when he needed a break.”

(Teammate Scott Woerner wrote a nice piece about Norris a few years ago for Dawgnation. Unfortunately, at last report, Norris still was serving time in a South Carolina prison for armed robbery.) 

How about you? Who would you pick as “unsung” Dawgs football heroes?

Bill, help me out please! I’m suffering from a severe case of Transfer Portal Anxiety. While I’m confident Coach Smart will use the portal successfully to upgrade and fill the team’s needs, I’m not as confident that Kirby can protect what he has from the LURE of the portal. The outstanding quarterback recruiting, and use of the transfer portal, is setting up for UGA to have the most talented group of quarterbacks ever competing for that position this year, and next year when [Gunner] Stockton arrives. I’d be lying if I said I was confident Kirby can convince the runner-up for that position to wait their turn, with the portal looming. I don’t want to see another Fields/Fromm nightmare.

Tony Tyson

Sorry, but I think this is one anxiety you’re just going to have to get used to living with. The days of being able to stockpile highly ranked quarterbacks who wait their turn to take over as starter are done. 

Smart addressed the transfer portal in his press conference this past week, saying, “I don’t control the portal. I have no control of who goes in and who’s in.”

However, as you noted, Smart already has used the portal successfully (Daniels, for example) and likely will hit the portal again before this season to bolster his secondary.

Still, Smart said the portal is “not the primary source of finding football players,” and “it’s not what we want to build our program around.” (And, if you want to take that as a dig at Florida’s approach, feel free.)

Smart said that, for UGA, looking for players in the portal is “a need-based deal. We have needs — defensive back is a spot that we’re thin at. We think that we have very capable, good young players in the position, but we don’t have a lot of experience. If you get an opportunity to gain experience, which you know we did the first year we were here — we got Maurice Smith and all of the sudden you have a player that makes your team better almost immediately. We would not decline the ability to look at the option there.”

Pandemic seating limits are in effect this season at UGA’s Foley Field baseball park. (University of Georgia)

Hey Bill, what time is first pitch for the baseball game on G-Day Saturday?

Omar Oliver

While kickoff time for the football team’s G-Day game on April 17 hasn’t been announced yet, the Diamond Dawgs (currently ranked No. 5 in the country) are scheduled to take the field against Kentucky at Foley Field at 7 p.m.

Georgia baseball is still in pandemic mode, so attendance at home games is limited to about 552 fans. 

Looking ahead to the post-pandemic era, new UGA Athletic Director Josh Brooks said at a recent athletics board meeting that future expansion of seating capacity at Foley Field is possible, despite the site being relatively landlocked. “There’s an opportunity for growth down both of those [base] lines,” he said. Brooks added that the UGA Athletic Association has a wish list for all facilities, but timing and funding will be factors in determining when they can act on those plans.

Meanwhile, last week’s Blawg reported on Georgia’s plan to go to all-digital tickets for this football season, and to charge extra for a souvenir paper ticket. That didn’t sit well with many fans. … 

Bill, simply put, I 100% dislike having to PAY EXTRA for paper tickets to save as souvenirs. The cost of e-tickets should automatically offer paper tickets to save. Our fans look forward to whose picture or artwork will be on every game ticket. It is a unique experience for fans to enjoy and pass on to future family generations. To be able to physically hold a game ticket in hand is an excitement itself.

Jim Parry

Those fans with smartphones will be in good shape for the switch to all-digital football ticketing. (Chamberlain Smith/UGA)

Another fan sent a very long letter to the UGA Ticket Office that he also sent to the Blawg, making the case against going all-digital. Here are some excerpts …

Pew Research calculates that 20% of the U.S. population does not have a smartphone — some can’t afford them, some don’t trust them, and others don’t want them due to the costs associated with all the unnecessary add-ons. The change to digital-only tickets has the appearance that these people are not wanted at the games. …

Moreover, game days are often all-day affairs. I am certain many fans’ phones will die during the festivities. How many fans and donors who may experience such an unfortunate event will understand UGA’s myopic decision to not make available paper tickets?  

I understand the desire to save costs and “right channel” fans into using digital tickets, but to not have an option to obtain a paper ticket or to print a ticket is reprehensible. …

I strongly urge the UGA Athletic Director to reconsider the move to 100% digital tickets. The world is becoming more digital, so allow your fans to self-select the use of digital tickets — even incentivize the change monetarily. … Let the market dictate this change!

Nat W.

Reaction on my social media to the plan also was overwhelmingly negative, and I’m not thrilled with the change myself, but I recognize that ticketing in general is going digital. Just this week, Atlanta’s Fox Theatre announced that, from now on, all tickets to events there will be digital.

I do think, however, that many fans could have been placated by phasing the switch in, rather than going all-digital right away. As some fans have asked, why not offer fans who don’t use a smartphone the chance to print out digital tickets on paper and present that for scanning at the gate?

At the very least, let’s hope that gate personnel receive sufficient training, so that the scanning of tickets on phones goes more smoothly than sometimes was the case in the past with the scanning of paper tickets. 

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