Stafford's shot at starting

ATHENS – As enablers go, Matthew Stafford couldn't have stumbled upon many better than Mike Hagen.

When Stafford, Georgia's true freshman quarterback, was 4 years old, his family moved to Dallas, Texas, and, as luck would have it, across the street from Hagen, a veteran NFL scout.

Imagine a fat kid relocating to Hershey, Pa., or a gear head sharing a property line with Jeff Gordon. For a toddling football nut, it was a serendipitous move.

Stafford, a self-described "football junkie," still is picking Hagen's brain whenever he can.

"I talk to him all the time," Stafford said. "He's always calling me after games just like my dad would. He doesn't have a son, so I'm sure he kind of thinks of me as his son. He just gives me advice, and I really take it to heart. He's been around this game a long time."

Hagen was the Atlanta Falcons chief scout under Dan Reeves and is now a Southeastern scout for the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Matthew's a sports junkie is basically what he is," he said.

Hagen and Matthew's father John were the first to feed Stafford's addiction for football study, a job that Bulldog head coach Mark Richt and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo have now gleefully taken on.

"He's up there watching film a lot," Bobo said.

Stafford's obsession with the sport will serve him well as he prepares to start at least the next three games for Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) in place of the injured Joe Tereshinski.

Bobo and Stafford broke down game tape when Stafford made his official visit to Athens, and that's one of the factors that made the football geek in the nation's top-rated quarterback feel at home.

"It was just something that was interesting," he said. "We have so many protections and so many plays and so many routes, it's fun to try to learn them all to me."

As a senior at Highland Park High School, Stafford watched film with head coach Randy Allen and quarterbacks coach Brock Walker and helped Allen and Walker put together each week's game plan.

"I feel like I have a pretty decent idea of how to attack a team," he said. "I know a lot of high school teams don't watch a whole bunch of film, but I feel like I'm lucky to come up with a coach that valued film as much as my coach."

Allen holds film and classroom work in as high regard as physical practice, he said. Every Wednesday last season, he had his players simulate every play and possible wide receiver route combination using poker chips representing themselves and every defensive player of that week's opponent.

"Visual practice, to me, and creating an atmosphere where quarterbacks can make decisions in the classroom is the first step in getting ready to play," he said. "I think that we can get as much done in a classroom before practice mentally as we can during the regular running of the plays on the practice field."

Stafford absorbed that philosophy like a sponge. His friends have grown weary of watching games with him because it always ends up feeling like Football 501.

Stafford zipped through 101 long ago. As a seventh grade junior varsity player, he and a teammate would meet for breakfast every morning following their Friday afternoon games and then go watch tape from the game.

"Anytime there's a game on TV, I'm watching," he said. "I just love it, I guess. It's just something I've always had a passion for, just watching and trying to pick up on stuff. It's just something I enjoy doing."

When Stafford's knowledge of Georgia's offense catches up with his willingness to put in the meeting work, the 18-year-old will be off to the races, Bobo said.

"With him it's more getting him to understand what we're trying to do," Bobo said. "He's got a good grasp of what defenses are trying to do on certain fronts and coverages. It's just a matter of putting what we do with what they do."

"I think he's willing to pay the price to be great," Richt said. "We'll just see if that happens."

Dawg Post Top Stories