No Lack of Leaders in 2009

ATHENS – After spending as many years in a locker room as Mark Richt has, a coach develops a sixth sense about winning. Each year a team develops a new personality.

And some seasons a coach can just tell by the chemistry in the locker room that his team has the potential to do something special.

Since the first days of the offseason, Richt worked to create that chemistry with this year's Bulldogs, setting a standard for how he wanted his team to approach the challenges ahead. It's still too early to say whether the team has the talent to be great this season, Richt said, but after watching his team for the past month of practices, he has no doubt Georgia has the personality for it.

"It's our job to cultivate the culture that we're after, and it's up to us to recruit the type of players that are going to buy in to the Georgia way," Richt said. "This year, maybe more than any year that I can remember, if the young guys watch the old guys and say that's the way to do it, we'll continue to have a great culture on this team."

As good as the attitude appears to be this year, however, it wasn't a change that happened overnight.

From the outset of the offseason, Richt began to preach a message that has become the motto of this year's Bulldogs – the star of the team is the team.

If the locker room takes on a different personality each season, last year was the year of the stars, senior wide receiver Michael Moore said.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and tailback Knowshon Moreno were both preseason Heisman candidates, among the best players at their position and lightning rods for attention from fans and media.

Instead of simply being magazine cover boys and fan favorites, however, Georgia's stars became a crutch for the other players.

When Stafford and Moreno departed for the NFL in January, Richt made a point of changing the philosophy. Yes, Georgia's stars were gone, but that didn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, it could be an advantage.

"Ever since the first meeting, (Richt) was talking about the star of the team is the team," Moore said. "He really kept pushing that, and I think everybody bought into it. That was the main thing that they were disappointed in. I think they felt players were relying too much on the superstars of the team – Matthew, Knowshon and Mohamed and people like that – and now I think they're really trying to make the players come together as a unit."

The message that Richt began trickled down to his coaching staff.

Each position coach was given a task at the beginning of the offseason. They had to identify at least one player at each position who would be a leader and be held accountable for the performance of the rest of his unit.

The results were an immense success, Richt said. Not only did coaches have little trouble finding players interested in accepting the role, but many positions found two or three players who wanted to lead their troops.

"We've got a lot of guys who have won a lot since they've been around here," tight ends coach John Lilly said. "The guys that just got here want to win. I think they know what it's going to take to get that done."

Richt announced his captains for Georgia's opening game last week. Jeff Owens, Demarcus Dobbs, Joe Cox and Rennie Curran earned the honor, but it was no easy task deciding on just four players, Richt said.

Last season, the team lacked enough vocal leaders in the locker room, and coaches depended on younger players like Rennie Curran and a junior-college transfer like Corvey Irvin. This offseason, however, Georgia's coaches have had more players willing to lead than any year in recent memory.

"Some years, quite frankly, that leader is outnumbered," Richt said. "It looks like an overwhelming task. But Rennie's got a bunch of guys like him that are very motivated to do well, do it the Georgia way, do it the way the coach says, and they're the quality control at practice as much as the coaches are."

What that has done is allow coaches to do what they do best – teach. The motivation is already taken care of, the tempo is already high, the players are already focused. Now all they have to do is learn.

Georgia officially wrapped up its preseason Saturday with a practice Richt described as high energy and sharp. The team had done more tackling, more fundamental work, and had given more effort than last season by a wide margin, Richt said.

It was the product of the personality of this year's team, one that the coaches and players both seem to agree is far better suited to success than the mood that pervaded the locker room a year ago.

"We saw what the lack of discipline did to our team last year even with as many talented guys as we had," Curran said. "So we realize to make it through this season, leadership and the team concept is going to be what makes us successful and what sets us apart."

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