The NFL starter arrived on campus in early 2006 as a 5-star prospect who was considered the future of the program at UGA. It wasn’t clear when Stafford was going to be the starter, but most observers thought he would eventually start under center.
“He’s a super talented kid, but everyone is their own player. He’s bigger than I am, and I am sure that he can throw it farther,” Stafford said Friday.
It should be noted that Stafford didn’t have to beat out an incumbent starter, and didn’t arrive on campus after a coaching change like Eason. Stafford said he doesn’t follow recruiting, but that did go into the quarterbacks room earlier this spring to see what the Washington native had to offer.
“The last time I was here I was walking around and peeked into the QB room,” he said. “I watched him throw it around. He has a lot of talent. I am sure that he’s having fun emerging himself into the culture at UGA.”
Stafford added that his time at Georgia was a struggle at the start for various reasons. The Bulldogs went 9-4 and started three quarterbacks along the way. Mark Richt and Mike Bobo finally decided to move forward with Stafford exclusively after the Bulldogs lost to Vanderbilt.
“It wasn’t always easy,” he admitted. “I had a bunch of ups and downs especially my freshman year. Against Kentucky in 2006, when I got my helmet ripped off - that was a tough one for me.”
Stafford also didn’t have to deal with the digitization of the recruiting process or a coaching change the way Eason has.
“I don’t follow recruiting too much,” he said. “That’s a heck of a spotlight to be under. I thought I got a ton of attention, but there is no such thing as privacy any more. Probably back then there were just flip camera phones. It has only intensified - for anyone coming out it is an eye opener. I am sure it is tough for those guys to make the right decision all of the time. But the spotlight is only going to grow. It is something you have to get used to. You kind of have to live it and do your best, but you have to just sort of work through it. There were times I am sure I didn’t make the right decision, but you have to work with it and do your best.”
Stafford went on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Since that time he’s thrown for nearly 26,000 yards and 163 TDs. He said he watches UGA “as much as I can”, but said he’s often traveling on Saturdays.
He also said he was hopeful for the future of the Bulldogs under Kirby Smart.
“It was good to see Kirby. He was on the staff when I was getting recruited. He’s learned under a great coach,” Stafford said. “I am confident that, not that it was going in the wrong direction, but that we can start competing for championships. It is all about getting the best players you can get in here and winning as much as you can. The SEC is no joke. I never won the SEC when I was here, but hopefully Kirby can bring the championships from Alabama, but the players make the plays.”
As far as his former head coach is concerned, Stafford said he was glad to see Richt land on his feet.
“They made a change, and I am far removed from that. I am happy for Coach Richt that he got another opportunity. I am happy that he got that at his alma mater,” he said.