UGA’s ‘leadership committee’ making an impact on 2017 football season

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ATHENS – It’s kind of funny. Georgia has a group of players on the team who have been designated the “leadership committee,” but the Bulldogs are somewhat secretive about exactly who’s on it and what the body does.

Coach Kirby Smart on Tuesday acknowledged the group’s existence but was deliberately vague as far as its form and function.

“We have a leadership committee, yes, and they do a good job helping our team,” he said following the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday night. “As far as the makeup of that, that’s not for public consumption. It’s within the team. They do a tremendous job.”

Well, certainly a lot of things are going right for the 2017 edition of the Georgia Bulldogs. They’re 7-0, ranked No. 3 in the country and head to Jacksonville on Saturday as 14½-point favorites against Florida (3-3, 3-2 SEC).

Whether that success has to do with that committee or just the fact that there are a bunch of really good, experienced football players on this squad is a matter of debate.

This much is certain: Georgia has a lot of seniors and upperclassmen on the 2017 team. And most of them not only are leaders in the intangible sense but also in terms of on-field production.

Most notably, there are the big four — tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter. They are the highest-profile seniors who for various different reasons chose to play their senior season at Georgia as opposed to taking NFL money. How much money each left on the table for a season varies per player, but they all had the opportunity to play for professional compensation.

Less ballyhooed, though, are a host of other seniors who are making an impact on this team: Aaron Davis and Dominick Sanders in the defensive backfield, Reggie Carter at linebacker and John Atkins at noseguard, and Isaiah Wynn on the offensive line and Jeb Blazevich at tight end and Javon Wims at wide receiver.

In all, there are 26 seniors on Georgia’s team, at least 18 of whom are on scholarship. There are another 30 juniors, not including late-arriving walkons.

How many of them are on the leadership committee is unclear, but that’s obviously a lot of seniority in the locker room.

“I think the seniors are always the best leaders on the team,” Smart said. “I personally think your team is defined by your seniors, but more so your leaders. In the case of Roquan [Smith], he’s a really good leader but not a senior. I think your team is defined by that. They take ownership, and the ownership is on them.”

Smith, as Smart let slip right there, is on the leadership committee. He is a junior, the team’s leading tackler and one of the best inside linebackers in college football. As we have determined quite accidentally through previous interviews, junior wide receiver Terry Godwin also is on the leadership committee.

And not all seniors are on the committee either, as far as we can tell. It appears that being an on-field contributor and player of some impact are unwritten criteria as well. But we can’t be sure.

Past informal discussions on this subject with players indicate that members of the leadership committee are appointed by coaches, perhaps with the influence or a vote of the team. Or perhaps not. Details are sketchy.

We asked a few of the players to explain the committee’s role and composition.

“It’s just a group of leaders that tries to get messages to the team,” said Carter, who admitted to being named to the committee this year. “We let [teammates] know that we’re going to keep fighting and keep going and pretty much make sure that everybody’s on the same page when we go to practices or go to the game.”

Asked how he came to be on the committee, Carter grinned. “It just happened,” he said.

Said redshirt sophomore J.R. Reed: “It consists mainly of seniors and other guys who have been here a while and really shown their role. A lot of seniors and juniors. When they go out, they tell other guys they need to step into roles to be leaders. It keeps everyone going.”

Davis and Blazevich both admitted to being members of the committee. Each has started multiple games for the Bulldogs and been a captain at one time or another.

“I think it’s a special group of guys,” Blazevich explained. “It doesn’t matter how old guys are. We’re a tight-knit group and it has continued to develop that way. I think it’s something where we go out and tell the freshmen, even though they’ve been here a while now, that we’re really playing for one another. … Nobody wants to let anybody else down. You’re out there sacrificing yourself for everybody else.”

Said Davis: “The leadership is crucial for helping the young guys develop, helping the team morale, helping the team rise to the occasion.”

Added Carter: “The leadership group just tries to make sure everybody’s together and on the same page.”

While it’s difficult to define, it’s easy to see that Georgia’s leadership within the team is making a difference on the field and on the scoreboard. There are a lot of reasons for that, not the least of which is to right past wrongs.

I asked Carter if, in some ways, this season has been a bit of a revenge tour for him and the other seniors on the team. They already this season have avenged the 2016 losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Next on the agenda is Florida, which has won the meeting the last three seasons.

“Yeah, revenge, I like the sound of that,” Carter said with a chuckle. “But we just keep chopping them down, basically. Just keep chopping, trust the process and everything else is going to fall in place.”

Whatever the motivation, it seems to be working. And it’s working in no small part because of these seniors, whether it’s because of what they’re saying in the locker room or what they’re doing on the field.

I asked junior center Lamont Gaillard how much of an impact the leadership committee has had on the team.

“A lot,” he said. “They preach it every day: If we follow them, everything will work out. Practice, the games, everything.”

That, Smart said, is ultimately what he was looking for — player-inspired motivation, not coach-induced.

“Every person we’ve had come in and talk has said, ‘Coach Smart can’t make you do it; he can only help motivate you to do it. You’ve got to decide among yourselves and police yourselves,’” Smart said. “And that’s what they’ve done a good job of. Whether or not that’s revenge as a motivation, I don’t always think revenge is a great motivating factor. I’d rather be intrinsically motivated to do well because we want to do well, not because of something that happened last year. Because next year, what’s your motivation? It has to come intrinsically, and I think these kids are growing in that.”

With the help of the leadership committee, of course.

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