What he did: For many Bulldogs fans, D.J. Shockley is a reminder of the times when Georgia was constantly at the top of the Southeastern Conference in the early years of head coach Mark Richt’s tenure in Athens. Shockley led the Bulldogs to their last SEC Championship, an upset win over No. 3 LSU at the Georgia Dome in December 2005. It was his only starting season in Athens.
But despite that title now a decade old, there will always be some that wonder what could have happened if Shockley had been the starter in other seasons.
The story started at North Clayton High School in College Park where he played for his father, Don, who was the head coach. He was the starter by his sophomore year and by his senior season was one of the highest rated quarterbacks in the country, throwing for 1,861 years and 11 touchdowns and running for 864 yards and another eight scores. As the awards came flying in, he also dominated on the track, running the 100 meters in 11.39 seconds.
He was being recruited by Richt when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida State and followed him to Georgia, signing in the class of 2001. Then the competition began. The Bulldogs had signed David Greene the year before and Richt made him his first starting quarterback and redshirted Shockley as a freshman.
Over the next four years, Greene would go on to set an NCAA record for wins (42) as a starter while Shockley would come in and play a few series almost every game. As a redshirt freshman, he played in 10 games on Richt’s first SEC championship team, including throwing a touchdown pass in the Sugar Bowl against FSU. That season was also known for a school-record six-touchdown performance by Greene and Shockley in a 52-24 win over Kentucky.
But Shockley was not happy with his lack of consistent playing time and seriously thought about transferring. He remained in Athens after a long meeting with Richt, saying, “I signed with the Bulldogs and I made a commitment to them. That’s what it came down to.’’
As a sophomore, Shockley hurt his knee midway through the season, throwing only 21 passes that year. He recovered to return the following season, playing 10 games again in reserve behind with Greene.
Finally, in 2005, the QB job fell to Shockley’s and he opened the season with an incredible performance in a win over Boise State, throwing for 289 yards and five touchdown passes while rushing for another score. He finished the season by completing 173-of-310 passes for 24 touchdowns and added another 322 yards and four touchdowns rushing. He had to sit out the Florida game with a sprained knee, one of Georgia’s two losses of the regular season. (The second came in the last second to Auburn.)
After the Bulldogs won the SEC East, Shockley was the MVP in the SEC Championship game against LSU, throwing two TD passes and running for another score in the 34-14 win. His career would end in the Georgia Dome because of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, the Sugar Bowl was moved to Atlanta where the Bulldogs faced West Virginia. Georgia fell behind by four touchdowns, Shockley staged a comeback but UGA lost 38-35. The Bulldogs finished No. 10 in the country.
No one was sure where Shockley would fall in the 2006 NFL draft and he ended up going in the seventh round to the Falcons, the first Georgia player the team had selected since 1994. Shockley made the team as the third quarterback and may have started the 2007 season after Mike Vick was suspended during his dog-fighting case.
The Falcons had traded backup Matt Schaub and new head coach Bobby Petrino brought in veterans Chris Redmond, Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich. Shockley was having a strong preseason but tore an ACL in his left knee in the second preseason game and would miss the entire season, a year where the Falcons started three different quarterbacks and went 4-12.
The following season the Falcons brought in coach Mike Smith, the team drafted Matt Ryan and Shockley was back to the third team. In 2009, he was cut before the season started but was brought back to play on the practice team. He would finish his career with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL, backing up former Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia.
He played one more season for Omaha and retired.
Since then, Shockley has moved into broadcasting and was been seen on many of the local and regional networks, including calling Mercer games last season. Last year, he also mentored UGA quarterback Hudson Mason, who went through a similar experience as Shockley’s, spending four years behind Aaron Murray.
Where he lives: Shockley, 32, lives in Duluth with his wife Portia, the two celebrating their six-year anniversary on Saturday. They have two children: Milan and Mekhi
What he does now: Shockley stays busy, doing work for Channel 2 WSB-TV as well as the Falcons on AtlantaFalcons.com. He also is doing two shows on Channel 69 WUPA, which airs Falcons ancillary programming. He will do postgame radio for the Falcons on 92.9 The Game and is waiting to hear word from the Big Ten Network, for which he did games for last season.
On playing for his father in high school: “My mother didn’t like it too much. She knew he would be hard on me. By the end of my sophomore year we had figured it out. We would just turn it on when we were on the field and off when we weren’t. It really turned out to be awesome as he went to every camp with me. I credit him for a lot of things, including the fact that when I got to college, I really knew how to read film and understand what was going on.’’
On his on-the-field battle with Greene: “I will be honest. It was tough. The good thing was David and I were friends. But I had a lot of tough days and nights. There were times when I would actually sit in my dorm room and just cry. I would get in there for a series or two and play well. I struggled with it as a competitor and I wanted to play so badly. My friends, parents and players on the team were all trying to help me.’’
On how close he came to transferring: “It was 50-50 on staying or leaving. But it came down to a few factors for me. I knew if I stayed, I would get a great degree from Georgia and I was from Atlanta. Also, Coach Richt sat down with me and didn’t promise me anything. He just said, ‘We love you, we want you here.’ He was honest and I said this is the type of guy I wanted to play for. He was a man of his word but the biggest thing was I had signed a scholarship to play at Georgia. I wanted to keep my word. I felt like if you said you are going to do something, then you go through it. When I left Coach Richt’s office, he said, ‘I do promise you will leave this place smiling.’ And later on after we won the SEC, he gave me a photo of the both of us standing there with the championship trophy and I am smiling.’’
On winning the SEC: “I still feel today that is the most satisfying thing I have done. I had gone full circle and in a conference that had a lot of great quarterbacks. Plus, we had beat a team (LSU) who at the time had a chance to play for the national championship.’’
On his other most memorable game at Georgia: “It was the first game I started when we played Boise State. I remember the first game I had played in at Georgia was against Clemson and here I was, this 190-pound kid scared to death playing with grown men. The Boise game was what I had dreamed of for five years.’’
On the current unsettled QB situation in Athens: “It is going to be one of those tough competitions. They are going to go with the best guy and it is going to be a big battle when they get into camp with the new guy coming in. The competition level is going to be huge and it is one of those deals where you are not going to be able to afford to go out there and have a bad practice.’’
On his NFL career: “It was an uphill battle from the start. Being drafted in a seventh round was like being a free agent and I played for three different coaches while I was there. I really think if I don’t tear my ACL in the (2007) preseason, I would have had a chance to start. I had a great offseason and was playing well. But the next year, they brought in Matt Ryan. I feel like I did pretty well for a seventh-round pick.’’