There is a good chance freshman TE Pearce Spurlin III will see playing time against UT-Martin.
He is the likely third-team tight end. His entire extended family is in town to see it. The family dogs are even going to be in town this weekend.
The Spurlins are a true Georgia family. They are long-time season ticket holders (25 years) with a family tree flush with alums.
“He basically came out of the womb with a Georgia onesie on,” his mother said.
The former South Walton star (Rosemary Beach, Fla.) committed to Georgia not quite three full years before he will play his first game in the red and black on Saturday. That’s unheard of in this day and age.
Pearce has told me many times he’s seen almost every big Georgia game over his 19 years. Especially home games. The freshman TE even celebrates his birthday today.
The timing here is surreal. Spurlin’s late grandfather played for UT-Martin. He passed away back in March, but the day will be a cause for memories and celebration.
Richard Whitfield was an All-American in high school bound for Clemson but grades sent him to play for the SkyHawks. He played for the legendary Billy Henderson at Willingham High in Macon before the all-time great coach found his way to Clarke Central.
Whitfield was inducted into the UT-Martin Athletic Hall of Fame back in 1991. He was a three-year starter and tougher than a truck stop steak. He was the sort to spit teeth on the sideline and rush back in rather than miss a play.
The Spurlin family tailgate will go 60 or 70 deep this weekend. It will be at the same spot. Everyone won’t be there just to see his first game as a Georgia Bulldog.
They will be there to see a “Godwink.”
“People of faith know the hardest part of faith is that you don’t physically see God,” his mother Christy Spurlin said. “You don’t physically talk to him like I’m talking to you. That’s where faith comes in.”
She’s referring to times when life levels us. Those moments that test faith. That’s when folks hit their knees.
The prayer is just to leave it all up to him. To her, that is faith. Through every trial and tribulation.
The loss of her father earlier this year would be one of those.
“Godwinks in our family are God’s way of saying or showing those pats on the back,” she said. “The ‘Attaboys’ where he says I’m right here with you. It is like the positive when you grow in your faith. That’s always during some of the hardest times. Godwinks to us are growing in our faith when God says ‘See this life can be fun too’ and look how awesome things can be. And usually, it is when you come out of a situation. A tough situation.”
After those tough situations, I always believe, I one hundred thousand percent believe, the blessings are just going to be wilder than you’ve ever imagined.”
Her life experiences have shaped that.
“It is always like I never saw it happening like that and that’s why God is so awesome to me,” she said.
Spurlin’s adjustment to learning how to play tight end at Georgia can be seen as one of those moments. He was a high school All-American, but he’d never blocked before in his career. It has been humbling for him to learn how to do that at Georgia. Facing All-Americans everywhere on defense.
He always lined up out wide. The 6-foot-7 receiver that projected to play tight end in college.
The broken collarbone that the Georgia freshman suffered during spring practice also applies here. It has been a rough year for Spurlin and his family.
“I’ve always told my kids you can’t go around it,” his mother said. “You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. You won’t get the ‘Godwinks’ or the blessings. You have got to go through it and that’s the hardest way. I’m so proud of Pearce for going through it. It is not an easy thing with his injury. Staying focused. Going to number four on the depth chart. He stayed in there with it. Not that he did it perfectly. None of us usually do but it is as long as you are making progress.”
“The life lessons for him are just getting started. I think this is kind of a moment where we can say ‘Ok, we are going to celebrate this one’ and then we will get back to center with it. We are not going to get too high this weekend and then we all go back to center after this.”
There was a moment in fall camp when Spurlin made a block in a red zone period. Blocking has been his work in progress, but Georgia line coach Stacy Searels came over and congratulated him. He told him to go celebrate with the offensive linemen.
Chest bumps ensured.
“Pearce told me he loved that block and those chest bumps and celebrating with the offensive line more than any touchdown,” she said.
That’s something. Spurlin had 20 touchdown catches in just his junior year of high school ball.
Georgia has never played UT-Martin. What are the odds of that? What are the odds of Spurlin’s first game coming against the same program his grandfather played for?
“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Christy Spurlin said this week.
To tip the scales even further, he turned 19 on Friday and will play his first college game on Saturday. His family will have bought their No. 88 jerseys. Buttons have been produced for everyone.
There will be Spurlin family and friends from all over the country watching on Saturday.
A family member has already joked “he’s going to have to wear Depends on Saturday” because of all of the emotion wrapped into that day.
That’s because there is a little bit more here to know.
Pearce Spurlin III: A special connection to his “Paw Paw”
Athletes still have to go through admissions at UGA. That calls for each future ‘Dawg to write a couple of essays. They aren’t long. Nothing much more than 400 words, if that.
Spurlin wrote one about his grandfather. The title of it was “Full Circle” and it detailed the bond with his grandfather in their love for football. It conjured up the right imagery of how the game teaches the right life lessons to those who play it.
Spurlin comes from an athletic family. But he’s the only one to go on to play college football like his grandfather.
That’s one of many reasons why those two were close. He not only played football like his “Paw-Paw” but he also played the same position.
“What really gets to Pearce,” Christy Spurling said. “Is any time you say my father’s name he gets tears in his eyes because he says ‘I hope I do him justice when I play for him on my first game’ and I said you’ve already done him justice’ and ‘Did you know you he was prouder of you than you can imagine and he loved you?’ and I wanted him to know that because they had a special bond.”
Spurlin, like his grandfather, is charming. Charismatic. He can speak before thousands the same way his “Paw Paw” could. Whitfield was described as a very successful businessman.
There is another parallel here.
“My father passed away in March and before he got to where he wasn’t conscious really my brother made a special trip to the nursing home and told him that Pearce’s first game at Georgia would be against UT-Martin,” Christy Spurlin said. “My dad’s eyes lit up.”
When the family read Pearce’s essay for his UGA admissions, a quick decision was made. Spurlin had to be the one to say the closing at his grandfather’s funeral. That service was held after Spurlin and the ‘Dawgs got through spring practice.
The whole church sang “Amazing Grace” and started dabbing tears. And then Spurlin went up to speak about “Paw Paw” and their bond.
The Bulldog tight end was fighting back tears in the moment, too. Which made it so very authentic.
“Pearce spoke about how they loved the game and they played it for different reasons,” Christy Spurlin said.
Her father grew up dirt poor. Football was a vehicle for a college education. It was the means for a young man to earn a better living in the insurance business than his humble roots might have allowed.
Her father wasn’t perfect. He had his demons. They didn’t always have the ideal relationship, but they were still family.
“It was really a tough spring for us,” Christy Spurlin said. “But these last few weeks God has really flexed his muscle.”
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The possibility of a “Godwink” weekend for the Spurlins
“It will be a good weekend,” Christy Spurlin said. “I’m just trying to stay grounded and just be very very grateful.”
She’s pinching herself every day.
If someone is looking for an indescribable moment in the second half, then consider what might happen if the ‘Dawgs get in the red zone with the reserves on the field.
What if the young freshman wearing No. 88 catches a touchdown? Then jogs off and maintains his composure.
Then he stops. Briefly. To point up to the sky.
Nobody will see it if he happens to soak up that wink and quickly wink back, too.
That would be the Hollywood ending. But that’s not reality. The real measure this weekend will come before anything too good to be true.
“Now it is full circle,” she said. “His first game as a Georgia Bulldog. A fan his whole life. Now a player. A scholarship player in the same position as my father. It is just what life is about. It kind of like it reinforces that we are doing the right thing here.”
The “Godwink” will happen before the game.
“I’ve told him to think about all of this and this weekend,” she said. “His first game is this weekend. I said to him ‘Buddy are you excited?’ and he said he was. I want him to slow down. I want him to let this soak in for all different reasons on so many different levels.”
All these firsts. Against the team “Paw Paw” played for.
“When that smoke starts,” she said. “When they starting saying here come the ‘Dawgs and that ‘G’ goes up and then that G bursts and then you run it. I told him ‘Take it all in’ and you need to be very intentional. You earned this.”
“You know your grandfather is up there. Front row seat in heaven. Just smiling from ear to ear. Sitting there with my grandmother. Then he’ll decide if he’s one who goes and prays in the end zone. To think about his rituals and stuff like that. When you think about it, he didn’t really play his whole senior year. He was out almost his whole senior year with an injury to his labrum.”
That connection between a grandfather and his grandson will be on everyone’s mind. Christy Spurlin will be in the stands trying to hold herself together.
“He has my Dad’s jersey in his room,” Christy Spurlin said. “He has my Dad’s scrapbook. He has all my Dad’s football stuff.”
Not just the one that Hollywood would script up.
It won’t be wrong to root for as many of those as possible for the Spurlins on Saturday.
(check the recent reads on Georgia football recruiting below)