The Georgia Bulldogs are making their second SEC Championship game appearance in as many seasons, but junior Rantavious Wooten is finally making his first trip with the team.
After playing in three games last season, Wooten was involved in a car wreck that left him with a concussion, forcing him to redshirt the rest of the season.
When his teammates squared off in Atlanta against the LSU Tigers for the SEC crown, Wooten was left at home.
“It was frustrating,” said Wooten, who has caught 15 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns this season. “By that time, I had already accepted the fact that I couldn’t be there.”
Wooten said he was offered the opportunity to be a spectator at last year’s title game but politely declined.
“They told me I could sit in the stands,” said Wooten. “I didn’t want to go because it wouldn’t be the same. I couldn’t be in the stands. I just don’t think I could have done it.”
Instead, Wooten said he watched the 42-10 LSU victory on television at home in Athens.
Now, the Belle Glade, Fla. native is looking forward to finally witnessing the championship game first-hand.
“I want to experience it for myself,” said Wooten. “I haven’t asked any of the guys about the game from last year. They talk about it, but I don’t really pay attention to it. I want to be in the moment and not think too much. I just want to let the moment happen, embrace it and be ready.”
Like Wooten a season ago, the rest of the SEC will be at home watching the title game Saturday, and that’s something Wooten and the Bulldogs are not taking for granted.
“There are a lot of teams not playing this week,” said Wooten. “We’re thankful for the opportunity we have.”
Injured Bennett received encouragement from the football world
When Michael Bennett suffered a torn ACL just on October 2, the sophomore wideout received a wealth of encouragement from people all over, including a pair of players who had experienced what Bennett was going through.
“Thomas Davis called me,” said Bennett. “That was pretty cool to hear from him, and he just gave me some encouraging words as well.”
An All-American safety at Georgia, Davis plays linebacker for the Carolina Panthers. Davis tore his ACL in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This season, he became the first NFL player to recover and return from three ACL tears.
Bennett also heard from South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who Georgia was set to play against the week of Bennett went down with the injury.
“Marcus Lattimore texted me the week I got hurt,” said Bennett. “That was really cool because I had never talked to him before. He texted me and gave me some encouraging words and told me that rehab is really long.”
Three weeks later, Lattimore suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tennessee, and Bennett returned the favor by reaching out to the Gamecocks top rusher.
“When he did that, it really tore me up to see him go down like that,” said Bennett of the star tailback. “He’s such a great guy and has the respect of everyone and around the conference.”
When teammate and fellow wideout Marlon Brown suffered a torn ACL against Ole Miss last month, Bennett was one of the first to lift Brown’s spirits. Bennett approached Brown on the sideline and delivered an encouraging word.
“I didn’t know it was going to be a torn ACL [at that point],” said Bennett. “I was just telling him to keep his head up. And that it’s going to be all right...I just really felt for him.”
Dogs believe they’re better prepared mentally, physically for this year’s SEC championship
Sophomore wide receiver Chris Conley said Georgia is better prepared for this season’s SEC championship game than last year’s against LSU.
“We’ve been there before,” said Conley. “We know what the environment is like. This year we know how to prepare for it better.”
Even freshman outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins has been told to prepare more by teammates like injured defensive end Abry Jones and linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jenkins said he has made the most of his time by getting schoolwork done sooner in order to watch extra film on Alabama.
“Alabama is a great team and has some pretty great linemen,” said Jenkins. “We’ve really got to study and try to get as much of an edge as you can against them.”
Conley said that Georgia has to be studious heading into the conference championship game Saturday.
“Film work is something that is huge,” said Conley, who caught three passes for 40 yards in last year’s SEC championship game. “You need to be on your toes this game. You need to know what’s coming at you and recognize things so much faster.”
The physical training is equally as important as the mental preparation, according to Conley.
“We’re playing in the (Georgia) Dome,” said Conley. “It can get very hot in there. It’s very humid. A lot of people who haven’t played in there at this time of year don’t realize that we’re practicing in the cold but have to prepare our bodies to play in heat.”
Conley believes the way Georgia prepares can make all the difference in such a momentous game.
“This is the kind of game that you dream about when you’re a kid and you play football. On the big stage. Everyone watching,” said Conley. “It really comes down to us doing everything we can this week to be prepared for that.”
Georgia is 2-2 in SEC Championship games, winning the conference in 2002 and 2005.
Alabama leads the series with Georgia 36-25-4. The Bulldogs are 3-1 against the Crimson Tide under head coach Mark Richt.
The only other meeting between Alabama and Georgia when both teams were ranked in the top three was on Oct. 31, 1942 in Atlanta. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich and No. 2 Georgia defeated third-ranked Alabama 21-10 to win the SEC. The Bulldogs then defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship.
ESPN’s College Gameday will originate from the SEC Championship in Atlanta this weekend. This marks the second time this season College GameDay will be at a game Georgia plays in. The first was at South Carolina on Oct. 2, when the Bulldogs lost 35-7. The Bulldogs are 3-10 all-time in games when College GameDay is on-site.