This season has not gone the way Warren Ericson had planned it to. After starting 14 games last season, including the national championship, he’s been reduced to a reserve role this season and has only seen the field in 11 of 13 games.

The senior offensive lineman came back to Georgia to build off of last season’s championship. That the Bulldogs have done that, going 13-0 and winning an SEC championship, something Georgia failed to do a season ago.

As the Bulldogs were taking the celebration from the Mercedes-Benz Stadium back to the locker room, two players needed to move the 35-pound trophy.

That the two players were Ericson and Sedrick Van Pran, the center who in part keeps Ericson from seeing the field, should not be lost. Because as the two moved the trophy, each had a massive smile on their face.

“That’s my guy. He’s been through so much,” Van Pran said. “I wish him the best. He’s my brother, man. He does so for much and I do so much for him,” Van Pran said. “That’s generally someone I have a lot of love for and want to see succeed.”

Van Pran has been one of the best offensive linemen in the league, earning Second Team All-SEC honors for both the AP and Coaches selections. He’s a key reason Georgia has one of the top offenses in the country this season, leading the Bulldogs to the College Football Playoff.

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That he recognizes the importance of Ericson and his value to the team shows just how strong Georgia’s overall culture is.

Culture is a big reason Georgia has found itself in this position, back in the College Football Playoff after seeing 15 players depart for the NFL draft and another 13 players transfer elsewhere.

“So you got to set yourself apart and you got to have a culture, build your culture around guys who think toughness matters,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “If toughness doesn’t matter, you have no chance in this week. You win on the road with toughness. I thought we won tonight with some toughness.”

Georgia players, like Ericson, Van Pran and senior safety Chris Smith, recognize the value of team culture. It’s why there is buy-in throughout the team, whether it be young players such as Mykel Williams or veterans such as Ericson.

“I think what they were missing was the culture we were able to create around here, the next-man mentality,” Smith said. “Start of the season we had a lot of guys that weren’t able to play. But as the season went on, they gained experience, and I think that helped us out a lot.”

Ericson does still have one year of eligibility remaining thanks to the COVID-19 season. As a player with starting experience on a national championship team, he could certainly be a candidate for playing time elsewhere.

But there’s a role Ericson plays on this team. An important one. Recognized by Van Pran, Smart and so many others.

That’s why it was him carrying the SEC championship trophy into the Georgia locker room with a smile on his face. Because without him, Georgia wouldn’t be where it is.

Sedrick Van Pran discusses special moment with Warren Ericson

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