A special Group of Seniors

ATHENS - Georgia's departing senior class, what's left of it anyway, is more equipped than most to help guide a team through the kind of year the Bulldogs have had.

"It's been tougher on these guys than most," Coach Mark Richt said.

Saturday's 12:30 p.m. game against Kentucky (4-6, 1-5 SEC) will be the last for Georgia's seniors in Sanford Stadium. The seniors will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony in which they will receive commemorative footballs.

They should get a medal.

The 11 scholarship seniors left on the roster come mainly from the signing class of 1999, a group that included several high-profile hits and misses among its 29 members. Some of them never made it to campus (Vince Faison), some didn't last long (DeJuan Green, Tavarus Morgan, Jason Rader) and some skipped out early for the riches of the NFL (Johnathan Sullivan, Charles Grant).

"We look at that every day," senior receiver Michael Johnson said. "We're still here, though, still standing."

It hasn't been easy. Even the final season, when everything is supposed to go smoothly, has been a fight for this group. They lost one of their own -- safety Kentrell Curry -- to a leg injury before the season began. Another -- cornerback Decory Bryant -- broke his neck in October and may never play football again.

"It's been a group of guys who have been through a lot," junior quarterback David Greene said. "There's not many of them left."

The trouble this year started even before the injuries. The offseason was marred by drug-related suspensions and a ring-selling incident that involved nine Bulldogs. It all made for quite a mess that the seniors had to help the coaching staff fix.

Asked what he would remember most about this year's seniors, Richt said, "the amount of things we've overcome as a team."

"We've had a lot of things pop up that could really be a downer mentally," he said. "There were a lot of times this team could have quit, and we didn't. That's a tribute to some of that senior leadership."

There are only seven seniors on Georgia's two-deep depth chart heading into today's game. That gives the Bulldogs hope of a bright future, but it hasn't made it easy for this year's seniors to lead, Richt said, because there aren't enough of them carrying a major portion of the load to give them an effective voice.

Still, they are survivors.

"We never quit," Johnson said. "A lot of obstacles were in our way, but we got over them. We never pulled apart."

The seniors all were recruited by the staff of former coach Jim Donnan, so they've seen the lows of a coaching change and the high of last year's SEC Championship.

"They've seen the changing times at Georgia," said Greene, who added the team hopes to send this year's group out with two SEC title rings.

The Bulldogs have more to play for Saturday than just their seniors. If Georgia beats Kentucky and Tennessee beats Vanderbilt this week and Kentucky next week, the Bulldogs will be in a three-way tie for first in the SEC East and probably go to the SEC Championship game based on the tiebreaker system.

"There's just so many things that ought to make it fairly easy to get these guys excited about playing," Richt said. "I think the players care about their teammates. They care about the seniors leaving on a good note."

UGA seniors
CB Kenny Bailey
K Billy Bennett*
WR Jarrett Berry
TE Robert Brannon
CB Decory Bryant
WR Brandon Carley**
DB Patrick Croffie**
S Kentrell Curry
WR Gabe Galt**
WR Damien Gary
WR Michael Johnson
FB Jeff Lyons**
S Sean Rivas**
LB Chris Shaw**
CB Bruce Thornton
DT Ken Veal
TE Benjamin Watson***
* Came as preferred walk-on 2000 and earned scholarship first year
** Non-scholarship player
*** Transferred from Duke in 2000

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