ATHENS – Much has been written about Georgia’s wide receiving corps losing Malcolm Mitchell to the defensive said of the ball. But little has been said about the addition made to that group since last season.
Rantavious Wooten is back in the fold. And while that might not seem a big deal outside the program, getting back a player with 26 games of experience under his belt is a big deal inside Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
“When Rantavious has been healthy, he’s made plays,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He’s shown the ability to get open. He’s shown quickness. We’ve got a lot of taller, longer guys that are striders. [Tavarres King] has some of the quick-twitch stuff and so does Rantavious. It’s good to have a guy like that we can put out there.”
Wooten’s just happy to be on the field, period. His was a mysterious disappearance from the Bulldogs’ plans last season. He was involved what was initially thought to be a minor car accident the fourth week of last season. As it turned out, that incident ended up sidelining him for the rest of his junior season.
Wooten was granted a medical redshirt and now has two years left with the Bulldogs. But for a month or so in the middle of last season, Wooten didn’t know what was going to happen with his football career.
“I was kind of upset when it all happened,” said Wooten, who played in 23 games his first two seasons and has 19 career catches with four touchdowns. “I wasn’t sure about redshirting. But I tried to stay positive and look at it as an opportunity to improve myself and have fun playing football for the University of Georgia again.”
Wooten was involved in a four-car accident on Baxter Street in Athens three days before the Bulldogs were scheduled to travel to Ole Miss. Headed east on Baxter Street, Wooten ran into the car ahead of him at a traffic light, causing a chain-reaction collision, according to police. Wooten was charged with following too closely.
No injuries were reported at the scene. But Wooten woke up the next morning hurting and generally “feeling horrible.” Subsequent examinations revealed a concussion. He was a late scratch for the trip to Oxford.
“At first I thought I was going to be out like a week or so or something like that,” said Wooten, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior from Belle Glade, Fla. “But the symptoms didn’t go away. Every time they gave me the concussion test I couldn’t pass it. They were sending me to different doctors around here to get some perspectives on what was wrong with me. All of them said not to do any physical activity at all. I couldn’t even get on a bike or jog. They completely shut me down.”
At that point, Wooten had but two catches in the first three games (though one was for a 26-yard touchdown against South Carolina). In the meantime, the freshman Mitchell had developed into a reliable threat. He had 14 catches over the next three games and 25 the first half of the season.
“That was the hardest thing to deal with ever in my life,” Wooten said. “It was the first time since like middle school or something that I wasn’t playing some sport at all times. I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was tough, man.”
Out of the ashes of that lost season has emerged a focused and rededicated Wooten for this one. He has been making statements early in the Bulldogs’ camp, laying out for balls during pass skeleton drills and generally working hard to remind coaches and teammates he deserves to be in the playing rotation.
“We haven’t forgotten about ‘Woot,’” said fellow wideout Marlon Brown. “He’s looked real, real good. When he had to miss last year, it kind of hurt him a little bit. We went on a 10-game winning streak and he wasn’t part of it. So I feel like this year he’s coming back and trying to be a guy on the team we can depend on. He’s back.”
Said head coach Mark Richt: “I think he appreciated the fact that he got the redshirt and I think he realized how close he [came] to the end of his career and how important it is to make the best of it. He looks like he’s in tremendous shape. According to the guys, compared to what the old Wooten was, it was night and day as far as they type of work he put in this summer.”
Wooten said he can validate those observations.
“I told [Aaron] Murray when we were throwing this summer, ‘every practice I get that’s going to be my game day’ because I missed so much time last fall and in the spring,” Wooten said. “I’ve been playing sports too long for me to not be getting after it. I’m going out there every day like it’s game day.”
He also thinks the Bulldogs’ receiving corps is being underestimated with Mitchell temporarily out of the mix.
“We have a lot of guys who can play and have experience,” Wooten said. “Christian Conley, T.K., Marlon, [Michael] Bennett, there’s a lot of guys that can go in there and have some fun. So if Malcolm needs to go to the other side and contribute so we can win, we’re fine with that. If he comes back to play with us, we’re fine with that, too. He’s helping us either way.
“Our plan is to go out there and prove we’re the best wide receiving corps in the nation.”
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