Stafford watch begins

ATHENS – Mark Richt hasn't started a true freshman quarterback since Chip Ferguson in 1985. Georgia hasn't done it since Quincy Carter in 1998.

The Matthew Stafford Watch began Wednesday. Stafford was one of 27 high school players officially welcomed on National Signing Day.

Stafford, 6-foot-3, actually has been on campus since the beginning of January. He graduated high school early and enrolled at Georgia this semester so he can participate in spring practice, when the battle to replace departed starter D.J. Shockley will begin.

Stafford, who threw for more 4,000 yards as a senior at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas, will compete with senior Joe Tereshinski, sophomore Blake Barnes and redshirt freshman Joe Cox for the job. Many observers think he can win it.

Stafford entered school with as much hype as any player since Shockley became the first player to verbally commit to Richt in 2001.

"The hype could have been 10 times as bad if he was interested in hype," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He could have milked this recruiting thing down to the last day, and this thing really would have been nuts."

Richt cautioned that Stafford still has a lot to learn before he can think about competing for this year's starting job but added he would have no problem starting a true freshman if that player is the best at the position. He also said arm strength and accuracy is a "huge" factor in the decision-making process, and Stafford's arm is his biggest weapon.

"Matthew came out of a very good system and has thrown just about every throw you'd like a quarterback to throw," Richt said.

Stafford may have some conditioning issues. He is listed as 210 pounds, but Richt described him Wednesday as "230-something," drawing snickers from several Stafford teammates.

Richt still hasn't seen Stafford throw a football in person, but he's smitten by what he has seen on film.

"He would have been in the top two or three (quarterbacks) of any year I've been looking at tape," Richt said. "I think most everybody has read enough about the ability he has, but when you see it on film or in person, it's pretty exciting."

Stafford, who had 38 touchdowns and led his team to the Class AAAA state title last year, was a Parade magazine All-American.

"I'm just trying to work hard right now and get physically and mentally as ready as possible," he said.

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