Dowtin a Pleasant Surprise

ATHENS – Marcus Dowtin didn't expect to see any playing time when Georgia opened its season against Georgia Southern two weeks ago. Nevertheless, his parents made the trip from Virginia to be in the stands for their son's first college game – the first time they had seen him since he left for fall camp more than a month earlier.

As it turned out, both Dowtin and his parents were in for a surprise. The freshman linebacker trotted onto the field with a flock of butterflies in his stomach early in the first half.

"I just had a big adrenaline rush," Dowtin said. "After that first play, I just realized where I was at and focused on what I had to do."

The nerves were something new for Dowtin, but the focus was an indelible value his father had instilled in him over the course of years.

In high school, Dowtin's father attended all of his games. The postgame script was a familiar one for him. His performance was critiqued, his successes credited and his mistakes evaluated with enough precision to ensure they wouldn't occur again the following week.

For the month-long preseason, however, that criticism – and support – was missing from Dowtin's life. Sure, there were plenty of instructions barked from coaches after each drill, but it wasn't the same. It was hard to replicate the authority projected by his father's voice.

"My dad in high school always used to be at my games, always told me after the games what I needed to do right," Dowtin said. "I would have him in my head in the game. I think that's what I was missing because I haven't seen him in a while."

His dad's voice echoed in his mind during those first few plays of his career against Georgia Southern, too.

There were the typical rookie mistakes, and Dowtin knew a lesson was in store after the game.

There were successes, too. Dowtin recorded three tackles and had a sack that was called back after a Georgia penalty.

Just getting on to the field was a victory for Dowtin, however, even if the taste of success didn't last long.

"My parents were pretty surprised that I played, and they were happy that I did get out there," Dowtin said. "But my dad got on me a lot because he didn't think I played as good as I could."

Dowtin's game was based on his quickness, he said. He loved running from sideline to sideline, making plays, but that was exactly what he failed to do during his first taste of action.

The criticism could have stung, but for Dowtin, it was like old times. After the frenzy of his first SEC game, his father's words were his first taste of comfort.

"Just him being at the game, my mom being at the game, really pushed me to do better," Dowtin said.

On the field and at practice, his father's voice had been missing. It was replaced, however, by the words of wisdom from his teammates, including sophomore Rennie Curran.

Throughout that first game, Dowtin said he simply listed to Curran. Whatever Curran said to do, Dowtin did it. Afterward, however, Curran gave a bit more positive review than Dowtin was used to.

"He did definitely a lot better than I did my first time out," Curran said. "It seemed liked a dream when I was out there, I was real excited and everything. And he just looked real good, like he had done it before."

Mentors are one thing Dowtin hasn't lacked in his first few months at Georgia.

For a player so used to having a father figure in the stands, he found he had plenty more on the field alongside him.

"Since I got here, all the older guys like Dannell (Ellerbe), Rennie, (Darius) Dewberry, (Akeem) Hebron, they're always helping me out in any situation off the field and on the field," Dowtin said.

That off-the-field help came a bit earlier than Dowtin would have liked.

Before he had even set foot on the practice field for Georgia, Dowtin was already making headlines. The freshman had gone out to a local bar the weekend before fall camp opened with several teammates. A fight erupted, and Dowtin, along with defensive back Donavon Baldwin, were both hit with bottles.

The injuries required medical attention, and while the two were being treated, Dewberry damaged more than a thousand dollars worth of property at the hospital.

In the end, both Dewberry and Baldwin were suspended, while Dowtin arrived for camp three days later with a few deep gashes and a severely bruised reputation.

"It was just a situation where I could make better decisions," Dowtin said. "I just took that, and they told me to learn from it and keep on moving on. So I haven't really thought about that, I just got my punishment and moved on."

The team's punishment, however, wasn't the only reprimand Dowtin would receive.

Just as if he had missed a tackle or dropped an interception in high school, Dowtin knew he would be hearing about this mistake from his most vocal fans.

"My parents were pretty upset, but any time I do something wrong, they're parents, they're going to be upset," Dowtin said. "But I'm out here, I've got to develop into a man, so I've got to move on, learn those lessons."

In his second game of the season, Dowtin saw plenty of action once again as Georgia topped Central Michigan 56-17. He added three more tackles to his total, and found a few more areas to improve on.

"He looked like a rookie that is very talented, but he's still learning what to do," head coach Mark Richt said. "I've got some shots I'm going to show the team just emphasizing how we want to play football, and he's got a couple of those clips. If I chose to show the ways you don't do it, he's got a few of those clips, too."

The successes and failures both offer lessons Dowtin said he's desperate to learn.

After all, Dowtin isn't at home any more. He now has a lot more people critiquing his game and offering criticism. He also has a lot more freedom to make his own choices.

"On the field and off the field, it's a challenge being at Georgia," Dowtin said. "I think I'm adapting pretty well. I've had some setbacks, but I'm not dwelling on those."

That's not entirely true. Those setbacks don't hang over Dowtin, but they do drive him. He holds on to them just as he did his father's critiques in high school, using them to push forward, to never make the same mistake twice.

The lessons Dowtin learned during his first two weeks in the SEC will drive him, too. It's just that those lessons are more a testament to his hard work than a critique of what's left for him to accomplish.

"Once I watched the film," Dowtin said, "I realized I could play with the competition, and now I think the sky's the limit from here."


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