EJ Lightsey-Georgia football-UGA football
Georgia true freshman linebacker EJ Lightsey (25) celebrtates with several other surging Georgia freshmen after a big stop by Shone Washington (95) against Samford. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)

Sentell’s Intel: Watching EJ Lightsey get reps was an incredible takeaway from Samford

DawgNation has two dedicated staff writers in the press box for almost every Georgia football game. That’s Mike Griffith and Connor Riley. We also have a guy on the field snapping off photos. There is usually much more to be seen than what shows up in the viewfinder of his camera lens.

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There’s probably a slick way to hit the hole on the headline here. Yet upon careful consideration, the best way is to run it up in there like an “Iso” play.

Georgia freshman linebacker EJ Lightsey got reps in the fourth quarter against Samford. He’s put on about 25 pounds in the three months he’s been in Athens and hasn’t lost a step. That’s a pretty significant detail that will no doubt get lost after the next paragraph.

Lightsey saw action not quite seven months removed from a tragic Feb. 21 shooting that resulted in the death of at least one bystander at a park in his hometown of Fitzgerald.

Chip Towers of the AJC reported in March that Lightsey was one of two individuals wounded in that incident. The other person, 37-year-old Maurice Robinson, died shortly thereafter, according to police.

Fitzgerald police Lt. James Reynolds, who was on the scene the night of the shooting, described the incident as “gang-related,” but said police felt Lightsey was “an innocent bystander.”

An ESPN report cited Lightsey had been shot at least two times in the back and shoulder. At the time of the incident, Lightsey told the officers working the case he had been working out in the park.

The former 3-star recruit led Fitzgerald High School to a Class 2A state championship last fall. He was named the GHSA AA state defensive player of the year by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lightsey was the nation’s No. 48 LB and the No. 494 overall recruit on the 247Sports Composite ratings.

Lightsey was described as being in “stable” condition at the time and recovered quickly. He was able to report to Athens in June and began working out with the Bulldogs. He slowly worked his way back into the shape he needed to be to compete for playing time on a stout roster like the one in Athens.

The former Florida commitment is now up to 231 pounds. He led his high school to its first state championship since 1948 at approximately 206 pounds last season.

When placed in all that context, it is remarkable. There were initial worries that he would continue his career for some time. Or he could do so on scholarship this fall for the defending national champions.

Lightsey even recorded a tackle on the final scrimmage down of the game before Samford took a knee.

“When that whole thing went down, you just don’t even know the severity of it,” Fitzgerald head coach Tucker Pruitt said. “It obviously could have been much worse but EJ is a warrior and a fighter, man. If there was a way for him to get out and move forward from all this, he was going to find it. He’s definitely a tough kid that has been through a lot. I don’t see a whole lot in life really that can hold him back.”

If he had a perfect transition from high school to the SEC and saw his first time in the second game, that would be a feat. This was beyond all that.

“It is a unique story,” Pruitt said. “He’s definitely had some challenges he has had to overcome but one thing about EJ is he is a great kid. Hard worker. Very intelligent. The whole time just knowing all the ability he has, I feel like I have kind of known he was going to be special since his 10th or 11th-grade year. He’s got that stuff a lot of the other guys don’t have. Speed. Size. But also his football IQ and his work ethic. He’s a special player.”

“Obviously there have been some setbacks and obstacles, but I figured he would be close to where he is right now. Obviously being at Georgia, that’s the defending national champion. You’re not going to walk in and get a spot. There’s a process and an adjustment he has to go through. I fully expect him to continue to do well, become more familiar with the scheme, the speed of the game and everything that goes along with that.”

Fitzgerald is a big Bulldog town in South Georgia. Needless to say, they were more than proud to see their No. 25 out there on Saturday. Pruitt was playing a game at the time and first saw the pics and videos and clips off Facebook pages.

They are more than proud. We all should be.

RELATED: Did you see the Sentell’s Intel view from the big debut win against Oregon?

Georgia true freshman linebacker EJ Lightsey (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

Some quick-hit things of importance to this reporter

What does a journalist notice down at the field level when he’s not taking pictures? Lots of stuff like ...

  • The “Nobody Cares” team mantra got a lot of print and social interactions on Monday. I don’t understand why. That has been a thing around the team for a few weeks. The recruits have been on it. Yet that “nobody cares” stuff is not what it appears to be. At all. It is about nobody caring about the complaints about how hard it is to be a student-athlete at a demanding program like Georgia. That’s the thing, but then there’s this other completely opposite thing.
  • What I continue to see with this team fits an “Everybody Cares” slogan. We first heard it when Dan Jackson was talking up Malaki Starks in the press conference after the win against Oregon. That’s a guy that will take his minutes away, but it did not matter because that is what is best for the team. You can see it in the pictures below. Starks earned his reps the same way Jackson had to fight tooth and nail for his as a walk-on. Then there are multiple moments like the two captured below.
Georgia freshman WR Dillon Bell scored his first career touchdown against Samford on Saturday. Check the glee on Ladd McConkey's face after he did. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
Georgia freshman WR Dillon Bell scored his first touchdown on Saturday. Ladd McConkey was there for it all. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
  • I don’t know if the ‘Dawgs are encouraged to do this: This is one of the most celebrating teams we will see. It appears to be a team culture thing. That was the case last year. It is still around for the 2022 season. It is infectious. Celebrating a Xavian Sorey fumble recovery. The first career sack for Mykel Williams. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint was hitting “The Griddy” after a score. Or just those pics up above with the genuine love from Ladd McConkey after Dillon Bell’s first TD as a ‘Dawg.
  • Not all sunshine and rainbows. The ankle injury to Adonai “AD” Mitchell did not appear to be and is not being declassified as serious. That’s a good thing for the Georgia offense because that position doesn’t have much top-tier SEC firepower beyond Mitchell and McConkey. The long-term loss of Michell would be a big concern for the offensive ceiling of this team. WR is the most depleted spot on the team in terms of impact front-line player assets.
  • 3 super-fast sentences = 3 takes. 1) Kendall Milton is terrifically hard to tackle; 2) Daijun Edwards looks better each week and is a front-line SEC back in my book; 3) Now sure how many saw this coming but redshirt sophomore DL Nazir Stackhouse has started the first two games.
  • Nolan Smith is the guy for this team, Episode II: Remember that hilarious Chris Rock bit about making sure Dad gets the big piece of chicken? If not, try to find it online. Nolan Smith had a moment like that in the press area after the Samford win. Milton walked in and took a plum interview spot. Smith was kidding with him that he wasn’t the oldest and didn’t get to roll in and claim a choice spot like he was an oldhead on the team. Even after he rushed for a team-high 85 yards. That’s just good team culture stuff there.
  • Everybody cares about touchdowns allowed: Samford scored 52 points at Florida last year. The 2022 ‘Dawgs were having none of that. Tykee Smith told a story of how Nolan Smith walked into the locker room and started stressing connection, communication and composure. “When we first entered the locker room before the game started Nolan Smith said ‘Protect our box’ and basically said protect our end zone. Protect against touchdowns. That’s what we pride ourselves on.”
  • Funny postgame quote: Smith on the first career sack for talented freshman DE Mykel Williams. “You never forget your first sack at Sanford. Mine came against Murray State. His came against Samford. I just tell him, man, you have got to live in these moments.”
  • Box score superlatives: Sophomore LB Smael Mondon Jr. led the ‘Dawgs with four tackles and 1.5 stops for losses. DawgNation will be proud to see what he will be by time November rolls around. Glenn Schumann will have him ready. He just needs reps to feel it and get more confidence in what he’s seeing. Check out below what he looks like going from sideline to sideline. Mondon returned kicks and ran jet sweeps in high school. Now, he’s a linebacker at Georgia. He’s already the type of physical prospect that goes in the first round.
Georgia sophomore LB Smael Mondon Jr. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
  • Jamon Dumas-Johnson on Mondon: “Athletic. Fast. Energy. Aggressive. Smart. Long. Big. Everything you want in a ‘Backer. A 6-foot-3 or a 6-foot-2 ‘Backer.”
  • A play that makes me think about Xavian Sorey’s recruiting: When Kirby Smart came to see Xavian Sorey play basketball in high school. It was in a tiny bandbox of a gym. When Sorey elevated as he does here below, Smart jumped up out of the stands and ran out the door. The redshirt freshman is will be no worse than a second-round draft pick at LB. Save the receipts here on that one.
Georgia redshirt freshman LB Xavian Sorey Jr. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation
  • Is it just me here? Does anyone think that some walk-up music in Sanford Stadium would be cool every time Brett Thorson trots out to punt? I’m sure no one will ever celebrate the fact this high-profile passing attack (typed with a straight face) has to punt, but that’s what I hear in my head. Maybe a tune that calls to mind his native Australia? “Hot Rod” didn’t get that treatment at Sanford. Neither did the prolific Jake Camarda. But none of those guys traveled 9,800 miles to kick for Georgia. Maybe college football needs a few MLB-styled walk-up songs for fan-favorite players.

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Bottom line: This is the deepest Georgia football team of the Smart era

A lot of folks in this media thing like to wow folks with catchy and bold headlines. The clickable empty calories.

Pardon me. Still getting into a groove here but I’m going to reserve the “Bold statement Cotton” fodder for the last section of this weekly report. It is more of an after-dinner mint that will show up on DawgNation.com about a day or so after each game.

Folks will already look forward to the next game, but these thoughts aren’t going to chronicle the off-tackle plays and the busted coverages and nuances. Griffith and Riley are strong at that.

There are a lot of juicy talking points swirling about now like A) Georgia has the No. 1 passing offense in the SEC and the No. 2 unit in the nation; B) An ESPN app notification on Saturday touted the ‘Dawgs have given up the fewest amount of points (3) through their first two games since 1969.

This will aim to be something different. Big pixel and big letter stuff. Like when a fella looks at Georgia’s lines of scrimmage after the first two weeks and comes away with a couple of unavoidable truths.

  • Let’s say Vince McMahon signed away Georgia’s starting OL tomorrow to $3 million dollar yearly contracts for the WWE. That would leave the ‘Dawgs to roll into Columbia with a starting line of Amarius Mims (LT), Devin Willock (LG), Warren Ericson (C), Jared Wilson (RG) and Austin Blaske or Earnest Greene III (RT).
  • Ericson started 14 games at right guard for the national champions last fall. That rebuilt offensive line could still have former All-Americans in Greene and Mims on the first team. The reserve pool would still include former All-Americans like Dylan Fairchild and Chad Lindberg, too.
  • Georgia’s rebuilt OL would be no worse than the fifth-best OL in the SEC at this time. At least on paper. A lot of lines look good on paper. But the execution is another matter. See Alabama’s group at present.

There was a snapshot in the game on Saturday for the defensive front in the fourth quarter. Samford was going hurry-up no-huddle spread. Georgia was in an odd front. The personnel group went:

  • Former All-American Bear Alexander (True freshman)
  • Former 3-star NG Shone “Rilla” Washington (True freshman)
  • Former All-American Christen Miller (True freshman)

A lot of teams in the SEC would love to be trotting out a clock-killing defensive line like that one. It probably wouldn’t be one of the worst defensive lines in the SEC. At least not by the end of the season.

Another fun fact: When the 2024 season rolls around, those guys will all be very experienced juniors. And current starting DE Mykel Williams will still be on the defensive line for the ‘Dawgs. Sheesh.

That’s the state of the trenches. Where these games are won and lost. The ‘Dawgs could not be much deeper than they are right now in the transfer portal era. The ‘Dawgs are sure to restock at least 3-5 more members from those two units after the 2022 season. The NFL will be coming for those guys.

We can keep going with this same exercise with the QBs, TEs and EDGE rushers. There is a lot of youth right now in the secondary.

The EDGE spot will also suffer strong turnover this fall after Bobby Beal and Nolan Smith head off to Roger Goddell’s league, too.

The image below takes me back to that initial point about the defensive line for Tray Scott. What other team can calmly state these were the ninth, 10th and 11th defensive linemen to get into the game on Saturday?

Monsters. Trench monsters all.

Bear Alexander, Christen Miller and Shone Washington all got to play together on Saturday against Samford. What are these three guys going to look like in the fall of 2024? (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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SENTELL’S INTEL

(check on the recent reads on DawgNation.com)

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