MACON – I’ve been down here at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in downtown Macon for the annual Pigskin Preview roundtable with all the football-playing schools in the state. This thing has really grown over the years. There are now 15 college football teams in the state, including Mercer, which won’t play until next year but is now fielding a team of 88 players.
The teams represented were Albany State, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Georgia Military College, LaGrange, Mercer, Morehouse, Savannah State, Shorter, Valdosta State, West Georgia and UGA.
I had to monitor all of them as the AJC’s only representative here but, for the purpose of this blog at least, I know it’s only Georgia you’re interested in hearing about. So here is a quick, raw rundown of what I saw and heard from the Bulldogs here today:
>>> Junior quarterback Aaron Murray and senior safety Shawn Williams were the player representatives for Georgia. Murray appears bigger to me than when I last interacted with him back in the spring. He and Williams looked sharp in their suits and ties and handled the media throng well. More from then in my full report later.
>>> Head coach Mark Richt was relaxed and upbeat, as usual. He’s coming off a busy week in which he, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and athletic director Greg McGarity all got contract extensions. Richt joked about buying breakfast for basketball coach Mark Fox on Monday at Waffle House, as per their agreement for when his contract negotiations were completed. He said Fox brought his whole staff with him.
“There must’ve been nine people there,” Richt quipped. “I thought the Waffle House was still an all-cash business and I only had like $60 with me, so I was worried there for a little while. I was happy to find out they took credit cards.”
>>> Georgia released its first depth chart since spring football. There were a lot of changes there but one interesting one was Merritt Hall, a 5-foot-11, 216-pound redshirt freshman walkon from Alpharetta was listed as the starting fullback. He was ahead of Richard Samuel — who is not listed among the tailbacks — and Zander Ogletree. It might be as much a message for incoming true freshman fullback Quayvon Hicks, who Richt raved about, as it was the guys already here.
>>> Also, Kolton Houston was listed as the starting right tackle. I didn’t see this as too much of a surprise as that’s where he ended in the spring and I believe overall he may be one of the Bulldogs’ top two or three offensive linemen.
>>> Cornerback Branden Smith, cornerback Sanders Commings, free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree all are listed as the starters at their respective positions despite looming suspensions.
>>> Smith, who was facing a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, was accepted into a pre-trial diversion program through the Henry County (Ala.) courts late last month. But Richt was still not ready to disclose his disciplinary plans for the senior star from Atlanta.
“We’re not ready to say anything publicly, so I guess that’s all I’ll say,” he said.
If all is as it appears and that’s the only issue facing Smith, he’ll face a 10 percent suspension of competition dates in the fall for a first offense of UGA’s bylaws regarding marijuana usage. That would translate into one game this fall, which would be the Bulldogs’ opener against Buffalo.
Commings is already suspended for the first two games of the season due to an off-season arrest. Richt still has not acknowledged there will be imminent suspensions for Ogletree and Rambo for alleged marijuana violations of the student-athlete conduct code.
>>> I talked briefly with Georgia Military College head coach Bert Williams and he said former Georgia cornerback Chris Sanders is doing very well in the junior college program. Sanders was dismissed from UGA by Richt back in January due to his involvement in a dormitory theft. Williams said Sanders is hopeful he will be allowed to return to Georgia and had already passed 17 of the 24 hours he would need to regain his FBS eligibility. So theoretically Sanders could come back as early as next January. However, Williams said his return would up at the discretion of the Bulldogs only and Sanders is actively being recruited by a number of major-college programs.