Bryant: I don't think I wasted a year

ATHENS — The question has already been asked enough that A.J. Bryant is ready for it.

"I don't think I wasted a year," the Bulldogs' freshman receiver said.

The question is an obvious one. Even if Bryant's move from quarterback to receiver during spring practice hadn't been so hyped by his own head coach, his 2004 season would be considered a disappointment.

"He shows enough ability to get you really excited," Coach Mark Richt said after A.J. Bryant led the White team with three catches for 22 yards.

It seemed inconceivable at the time that the Peach County native would play in 2004 and not match that reception total. He played in six games as a true freshman and finished with two catches for 54 yards.

"I guess I did want to play a little more, but I know I wasn't ready yet (early in the season)," he said. "I didn't want to embarrass myself."

The No. 8 Bulldogs (9-2) will return to the practice field Friday to begin preparations for the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl. Georgia will play No. 16 Wisconsin (9-2) at 11 a.m. in Tampa, Fla.

Bryant caught his first collegiate pass on Sept. 18 against Marshall, taking a screen pass 34 yards and showing a flash of what got Georgia's coaches so excited in the first place, his speed and athleticism. He didn't catch a pass in the next two games and then got one more, for 18 yards, against Vanderbilt on Oct. 16. However, during that game, he suffered an injury called plantar fascia, a very painful foot condition in which a tendon on the bottom of the foot snaps.

"It was burning so bad when I first did it," Bryant said. "I ran faster off the field than I ever have. I didn't know what it was."

Richt and Bryant hoped he would miss two weeks. Instead, he sat out the next four games, returning for the season finale against Georgia Tech. He failed, though, to add to his catch total. Bryant realizes he'd have finished with slightly more respectable numbers had he not dropped a handful of passes this year.

He admits those dropped passes shook his confidence.

"Shoot, yeah," he said. "I was thinking I couldn't do it. I couldn't figure out why I dropped those balls."

Bryant wasn't the only receiver who felt left out this season. Seniors Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson dominated the passing game with 50 catches and 45 catches, respectively. Freshman Sean Bailey was the third-leading wide receiver with just 12 catches. No other receiver had more than five grabs all season.

Gibson and Brown will play their last collegiate games in the Outback Bowl, meaning there will be plenty of catches out there for somebody next year. Bryant hopes he's a big factor in filling the shoes of Gibson and Brown.

Richt expects Bryant to be one of the players taking up the slack left by Gibson and Brown, he said.

"He wants to be really good, and I think he'll do what it takes to be a very good player," Richt said.

Bryant expects it, too.

"That's why I got so frustrated sometimes because I know I can be a difference-maker," he said. "But, it will happen. I want to make sure I get a lot more playing time next year."

And even those two measly catches will be a help him prepare for that, Bryant said.

"I still learned a lot," he said. "The game is a little different from practice, and I think it helped me tremendously."

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