Stafford can't wait to get started at Georgia

ATHENS – It all started with lunch.

It was just a normal lunch, according to Matthew Stafford, who apparently is unaware that normal lunches don't involve football film study at Mark Richt's house.

"We just sat and had a bunch of stuff laid out to eat," Stafford said. "I just hung out and talked to him a while. It was real laid back, just a normal lunch. We broke down a little game tape."

The meal took place last year, during Stafford's junior year of high school, and it was the moment Georgia became the team to beat in the recruitment of the player who is rated the #2 quarterback in the country by

Stafford had come to Athens from his home in Park Cities, Texas, a tony suburb of Dallas, to visit his then-girlfriend. When Georgia's coach learned one of the most coveted players in the country had come to his doorstep, he invited Stafford to his home. The personal touch was a big hit.

"He just made it more personal caring about (Stafford)," said Margaret Stafford, Matthew's mother. "(Stafford) just was very impressed, felt like the school was great and felt good there and really liked the coaches."

Pulling Stafford out of the Longhorn state, and away from national champion University of Texas, isn't the monumental recruiting upset it appears at first, his mother said. Stafford's sister Paige attends school at Georgia, his godfather lives in Atlanta, and he was born in Tallahassee, Fla., to Florida State graduates and raised a Seminole fan.

"It was not like taking a Texas boy who bleeds burnt orange to the Southeast," Margaret Stafford said.

"I've always been a fan of the SEC, ACC, down south," Matthew Stafford said. "I never was a real big fan of Texas. It's not that I don't like them, but I grew up a Florida State fan."

His first solid memories of football are of Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who Richt guided to a Heisman Trophy and a national championship as the Seminoles' offensive coordinator.

"He's always respected Coach Richt," Margaret Stafford said. "He was a huge Florida State fan. We all were. He was always impressed with the way Coach Richt called offense and all that stuff I don't understand, but he loves it."

Georgia's recruiting wasn't done after lunch at Richt's house, though. Texas, Florida State and Michigan were giving him their full attention as well, and it's easy to see why. Stafford threw for 3,991 yards and 38 touchdowns and led Highland Park High School to the state championship in Texas' Class 4A this year.

Eventually, he chose the Bulldogs because of the personal touch Richt showed from their first meeting.

"They were real honest with me I think," he said. "I didn't feel like I was just getting a lot of things I wanted to hear."

There is a downside to being one of the most highly recruited players in the country. The Staffords' mailbox was full every day for two years, and he began getting more than 10 phone calls per night some days as the recruiting process neared its end.

"I just wanted to be done with it," he said.

So he made his decision last spring and announced it in May.

"It was very stressful for him," Margaret Stafford said. "It was great the attention that he got, but I think that it would have really been hard had he not made an early decision. If that had carried over through the summer and fall, it really would have gotten hard."

Stafford graduated from Highland Park early and is taking classes in Athens this semester. He will participate with the Bulldogs in spring practice and is expected to seriously compete for the starting job immediately.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I want to get back on the field and play. I'm just trying to come here and work hard and see what happens."

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