Aaron Murray will be the primary focus of fans during Saturday’s Senior Day ceremonies before the Kentucky game, and deservedly so. He will leave Georgia with virtually every school and SEC record for passing.
But there are 27 other seniors who will play their final games in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, including an unusually large group of what college football coaches consider a very special breed. Eighteen Bulldogs who will be honored Saturday started their careers as walk-ons, and most will end it that way.
The seniors include Greg Bingham, Corey Campbell, Wright Gazaway, Brandon Harton, Austin Herod, Ethan Jackson, Clinton Kirk, Rhett McGowan, Greg Mulkey, Connor Norman, Alex Parsons, Jamal Payette, Blake Sailors, Parker Welch, Hugh Williams, Drew Wilson, C.J. Wyatt and Chris Young. And they might be one of the more utilized groups of walk-ons ever. Players such as McGowan, Norman, Campbell, Sailors and Harton have played a lot the past few years.
“Everyone has made the most of it,” said McGowan, a split end who has started three games in his career and will play in his 34th on Saturday. “You’ve got Connor and Blake, who are great special-teams players, and Hugh Williams, who’s not a fifth-year like most of us, but got on the field this year as a tight end, and didn’t even start (his time on the team) as a tight end.”
McGowan has certainly earned his keep. He’s gone from becoming an unknown scout-team player to a dependable member of Georgia’s primary wide receiver rotation. He had three catches for 43 yards against Florida earlier this season and started twice while four wideouts were sidelined with injuries. He has 12 catches for 134 yards this season and 32 receptions in his career.
“That’s why I came,” he said of earning playing time. “To be honest, it wakes you up when you get here. You’re mindset changes a little bit. You don’t realize how tough it is until you see all these top players. It takes a little more to walk on. You have to do a little more than the scholarship guys and you’ve got to continue to do it. You can’t just make one play a day. You have to consistently do it and do it over and over before you can even get the coaches eye. So it’s difficult, but it’s something that I won’t regret, and I’m blessed to be in this situation.”
All of the walk-ons show up hoping to earn a football scholarship. Some of them do, but most of them don’t. McGowan went his first three seasons without one, but has been on scholarship the past two.
Harton was placed on a scholarship for his sophomore and junior seasons, but Georgia was unable to offer any aid this year. Harton actually had 101 yards rushing against Kentucky in 2011 when attrition ravaged the backfield.
“I’m just glad to be a part of it,” said Harton, who has roomed with McGowan his whole time in Athens. “Obviously it’s a tough journey with academics and sports. But to come in and stay here all four years through it all as a walk-on, somebody who volunteered to do this because I love this sport and this school, makes it that much more special to know I’m going to leave here with a degree.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt lauded the walk-ons.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys,” he said after Wednesday’s practice. “I say it all the time, but it’s so true. These guys they do it because they love football. They love Georgia. They’re probably the easiest guys I ever get jobs for because employers are looking for guys that are unselfish and work hard and put team ahead of themselves. There are so many attributes that these guys have. Most of them do very well in school because they have to to keep their HOPE (scholarship). So they’re really neat guys.”
Etc.: Though freshman inside linebacker Reggie Carter has returned to practice this week, Richt does not anticipate him being ready to play Saturday. … Cornerback Shaq Wiggins suffered a knee sprain in practice Tuesday and wore a green jersey and was limited during Wednesday’s workout. … Murray is among five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. The award goes to the top college quarterback who’s a senior or fourth-year junior on course to graduate with his class. The other finalists are Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch and Alabama’s AJ McCarron.