ATHENS – For John Jenkins, the harsh realities of the physical battle he had just waged didn’t hit him until the Florida game was over. Only then, when the adrenaline had subsided and he had to make the long walk to the locker room, did he realize how much he actually hurt.
“I didn’t really realize how tough it was until the end of the game when I felt how banged up my body was,” said Jenkins, a 6-foot-3, 358-pound senior noseguard who is playing with ankle and wrist injuries. “Sunday I was so sore. But during the game, my adrenaline was going so much I didn’t realize how tough and physical everything was.
“When the game was over it, like, drained out of me, mentally, emotionally and physically.”
This is the side of college football that people outside the game often forget about. Everybody knows football is a physical sport, but the mental and physical grind of it usually is not appreciated until a player ends up writhing on the field in pain and has to be helped off of it.
That happened Saturday at about the 11-minute mark of the third quarter against Ole Miss, when Georgia wide receiver Marlon Brown went down in a heap near the Georgia sideline. Later Brown learned he suffered the fate all athletes dread — a torn ACL. His senior season was over.
The reality that their seasons could end similarly looms over every Georgia player each time they step on the field. It’s the same for every athlete who plays for tuition, books and board with the hopes of possible professional careers.
“I ask God for safety any time I step on any field,” Georgia flanker Tavarres King said. “You definitely don’t want to have it happen to you, but it’s something you definitely can’t think about. Knee injuries are inevitable. It’s a tough game, and we know what we’re putting ourselves into. Bad things happen.”
Said Georgia coach Mark Richt: “It’s a physical game. It’s a high-contact sport with a lot of emotion and a lot of guys running into each other. So things are going to get hurt.”
Brown was the third Georgia starter — and second wide receiver — to be lost to a season-ending injury this season. The Bulldogs also lost split end Michael Bennett in practice Oct. 3 and defensive end Abry Jones against Kentucky on Oct. 20.
Two other starters are questionable this week because of injuries. Right guard Chris Burnette is sidelined with a left shoulder injury, and fullback Merritt Hall has been out since the first offensive play against Florida, with an ankle injury. Both could play Saturday.
That’s somewhere between high and normal for an SEC team entering the 11th week of the season.
“Some years you’ll lose a guy a game or two, but to have three guys out for the rest of the year who were prominent players and starters, that’s been tough,” Richt said Tuesday. “It’s been tough that two (Jones and Brown) have been seniors and their careers ended early for us. … (But) I wouldn’t sit here and say woe is me or anything like that. I hate it for each individual, but I can’t say it’s been an awful year in that regard.”
An informal survey of the SEC teams found that only Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have not lost any starters to season-ending injuries. Of the 11 teams that responded to email inquiries, Alabama listed the most sidelined starters, with five. Arkansas counts four. All three of Missouri’s are on the offensive line.
With some teams it’s more about who is out than how many. South Carolina has lost two players, but one was All-American running back Marcus Lattimore. Auburn is playing without star tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen (hip).
Players know it could happen to them at any time.
“At this level it happens because you’re taking more of a beating,” sophomore defensive back Damian Swann said. “You’re playing against bigger, stronger, physical guys than you played against in high school. It’s like that week in and week out. You get a couple of days off after Saturday, but by Tuesday you’re back in it full speed at practice and you’re still running into guys.”
At this point in the year, virtually every regular is playing with something.
“You have all kinds of problems at this point,” said Georgia offensive lineman Kenarious Gates, who hasn’t missed a game this season. “It’s something you just have to deal with and go on. Bumps and bruises come and go until the end of the season. You just have to fight through it.”
It’s the injuries they can’t fight through that worry players most.
“They don’t happen all the time,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray said of serious injuries. “We’ve had two or three this year. You can’t worry about it or think about it because if you go out there and play timid or play scared, that’s when injuries happen. … You just have to go out and compete hard and realize things are going to happen.”
Murray’s had his share of hard knocks. He suffered season-ending injuries his sophomore (torn labrum) and senior (broken leg) seasons in high school. But he has proved remarkably durable at Georgia.
It hasn’t been from a lack of contact. Murray was sacked five times and was hit twice that this past Saturday Saturday
“Lots of Advil, stretching, yoga, ice baths. The usual,” Murray quipped. “It’s not fun, but it’s the chance you take when you play this game.”
MORE GEORGIA FOOTBALL