Blue busts 'em

ATHENS - Nick Jones says a Greg Blue hit sounds like a car wreck.

It feels like one, too... literally.

Greg Blue, Georgia's head-hunting safety, recently knocked Louisiana-Monroe tight end Joey Trappey silly, sending Trappey's helmet flying off his head and Trappey to the sideline for good.

"It sounded like a crash, like a car wreck had just happened," Jones said. "All of a sudden, we heard something like, ‘Whoooom.' We all looked real quick. We knew it had to be Blue."

To say Blue hits like a truck is not only descriptive, it's fairly accurate, according to an ongoing study being conducted at Virginia Tech. The study is measuring the force of blows in football by putting the same sensors that trigger automobile air bags into helmets. The hardest hits registered during the Hokies' practices, so far the only testing ground, topped 130 Gs. A severe but survivable car wreck produces about 120 Gs, according to the study.

Virginia Tech staffers are still gathering information in hopes of reducing the number of head-trauma injuries in the sport, but meaningful data could still be years away, said Ron Courson, Georgia's head athletic trainer. In the meantime, Georgia's football players don't need to be told that their teammates and opponents hit really, really hard.

"Sunday mornings when you wake up, you feel like you can't even turn your neck sometimes," fullback Brannan Southerland said. "You definitely feel a physical game the next day."

Despite the violence of the sport, the physical side of the game is celebrated in college football and nowhere more than at Georgia, where defensive coaches have preached the gospel of the big hit for five years now.

Former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder coined the term "flesh bomb" and rewarded his players for every hit they got that measured up. First-year defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, long a colleague of VanGorder, has carried the tradition on proudly.

"That's the whole goal, to outhit your opponent, to run harder, to play harder, because that's what is going to separate you in the end," Martinez said. "It's a tough game for tough people. We've always said that."

Georgia's coaches watch film of every game and punish players for any examples of loafing with extra running. For defensive players, turning down the opportunity to make a hit or not making it has hard as possible constitutes a loaf.

The players buy into the philosophy enthusiastically, especially Blue, who is known as one of the most punishing hitters in the Southeastern Conference.

"It affects our team tremendously," he said. "It sets the tempo for our team. It sets the tone. That's what we preach every day, be physical and try to knock somebody out."

It affects other teams as well, Blue believes.

"When they watch film of our defense, they see 11 guys running to the ball, and they're giving their body up or risking anything, injury or whatever, just to try to hit somebody real hard, so that scares other teams," he said.

Courson, the man in charge of mending the bodies that the game beats down and breaks, fully knows the dangers associated with it. The average fan, sitting at least 20 yards from the action, can't possibly understand the impact, he said.

"When you see it and you hear it, I think it gives you a better idea of the impact," he said. "You've got to be close up to really appreciate those. There are some bone-jarring hits."

Even Coach Mark Richt, who spent the first 15 years of his coaching career calling games from the coaches' box high above the field, didn't appreciate the speed and impact of today's game until he came to Georgia and began coaching from the sideline.

"At first, I thought, ‘These Georgia guys hit a lot harder than they did at Florida State,' but I'm certain that's not true," Richt said. "I was just too far away to really see it. You get up close, it's unbelievable. Guys are just so strong and fast and skilled at what they do."

It takes 150 pounds of pressure per square inch to fracture a player's spine and a running football player can generate 10 times that amount of force, Courson said. That doesn't mean players shouldn't hit hard or that they are doomed to permanent injury if they do, he said.

"There's nothing wrong with hitting somebody as hard as you can in football, as long as you use proper technique," Courson said.

For defensive players, that means keeping your head up at the time of impact, he said. The irony of the big hit is that the hitter is four times more likely to suffer head and neck injuries from the blow than the hittee, Courson said. Almost always, that's a result of poor technique. Sometimes, though, it's just bad luck.

"It's a contact, collision sport," Courson said. "It's not for the faint of heart. Football is not for everybody."

But football players take pride in holding up to the rigors of the sport, and almost all of them remember the biggest hits of their career, no matter how long ago they happened. Richt said this week that two come to mind, one in a high school game and one in practice at Miami.

"I think the base of my spine is bothering me right now because of it," he said Richt two decades after his playing career ended. "I'm assuming that's what that feeling is back there."

Martinez, a teammate of Richt's at Miami, can tick off the three or four hardest hits of his career off the top of his head.

"Yeah, you always remember those," he said. "You remember the good and the bad. I think I've gotten my clock cleaned more than I've cleaned somebody's clock."

Blue mostly cleans the clocks . He's not a malicious hitter. (He waited for Trappey to get up and checked to make sure he was OK after he knocked off his helmet.) But he makes no apologies for what he does. If the collision is too violent for someone, maybe they need to look for a different sport.

"I know it's football, and things happen in football," he said. "People get hurt. It's the nature of the game. The stronger man is going to survive."

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