Green Getting Used to New Role

ATHENS – It was the first play of his college career. Less than three minutes into Georgia's first game – his first game – A.J. Green was already on the field, already fending off the butterflies in his stomach and trying to tune out the cheers of more than 90,000 fans who had been clamoring to see the highly touted wide receiver in action.

Green was nervous when he broke downfield, the No. 2 option on a play designed to go to tight end Tripp Chandler. But when the ball left quarterback Matthew Stafford's hand, it was headed straight to Green, whose singular thought was to make sure he caught it.

"I was so nervous about catching the ball," Green said, "I'm just happy to have done it."

The catch went for 36 yards before Green was pulled down by a Georgia Southern defender at the 2-yard line. He flipped into the end zone, but the whistle had blown, and the touchdown went to running back Knowshon Moreno one play later.

So when Green trotted off the field with his first catch under his belt, he expected a warm welcome from his teammates. That's sort of what he got.

"It was like, ‘Good catch, you should've scored,' " Green said.

It seems even Green's teammates have incredibly high expectations for him.

Green was a phenom in high school and came to Georgia with a boatload of hype. A clip of a catch he made in high school – one where he breaks outside, then turns back to haul in the pass with one hand before doing a summersault onto the field – has drawn nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.

He battled a nagging hip injury during preseason camp, but impressed coaches enough for Mark Richt to compare him to NFL star Randy Moss.

He has been the prized pupil of Georgia's older wide receivers, including Mohamed Massaquoi and Tony Wilson.

And now, just one game into his freshman season, A.J. Green is already one of Georgia's best offensive weapons.

"He's way ahead of the curve," Massaquoi said. "Just getting game experience, there's nothing like that, just getting the jitters out, playing in front of a big stadium, playing on TV, little things like that really help you moving forward."

Getting to this point hasn't been easy.

Sure, Green is loaded with natural ability. At 6-foot-4, he's a huge target for Stafford and his quickness and agility help him make corrections quickly when his routes are completely precise.

"He's got a whole lot of speed, he's got good size, and just a knack for catching the football," Stafford said.

It's his personality, however, that has made the biggest difference for Green.

Since arriving in Athens, he has been a sponge, soaking up as much information as he can from anyone willing to offer advice.

"A.J.'s the type of guy that's just willing to learn," wide receiver Kris Durham said. "He meets with Coach (Brian) McClendon all the time trying to learn the ins and outs of the playbook."

The dedication to learning his job came as a surprise to McClendon, the former Bulldogs wide receiver who is now working with the wideouts as a graduate assistant.

Most star players come from high school with lofty expectations and a questionable work ethic, McClendon said. They are used to slacking during practice, knowing they'll still be the best player on the field on game day.

Green actually may be the best player on the field, but he has never acted like it.

"Just a guy being so coachable, so humble, he's really a special guy," McClendon said. "Just a guy like that, blessed with all that ability, you just don't see it come around too often. That's why everyone's in his corner, everyone's 100 percent behind him, just because of who he is."

McClendon said there's still plenty for Green to learn, which may be the most impressive part of his early performance. He still needs on being in the right place at any given point during a play or how to handle underneath routes as well as he blazes straight down the field.

But his mere presence on Georgia's offense is already creating options the Bulldogs wouldn't have without him.

"When (he's) out on the field it makes play calling easier," Massaquoi said. "It makes getting open easier, makes executing easier because you have that X factor they have to focus on to make sure that guy doesn't beat them."

But to hear Green's teammates tell it, he'll be beating plenty of defenses in the future. In fact, he did just that as Georgia closed out its win over Georgia Southern last Saturday.

Instead of coming up just short on the goal line as he did on his first catch, Green hauled in a pass from quarterback Joe Cox in the final minutes of the fourth quarter for his first career touchdown.

This time, teammates couldn't offer anything but congratulations. For Green, however, the moment couldn't compare to that first catch. That one, he said, was what he had been waiting for.

"It felt good," Green said, "but the first catch was the best."

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