Beard gunning for starting left guard spot after change of heart

Georgia fans weren’t the only ones unhappy to hear last month that offensive lineman Mark Beard had decided to transfer.

AJ Reynolds/Staff, @ajreynoldsphoto
Mark Beard blocks as Shaun McGee rushes on the field during the first day of the University of Georgia football practice in Athens, Ga., August 1, 2013.

His mother didn’t take too kindly to Beard deciding to leave before his senior season.

“She’s one of the biggest die-hard Georgia fans that there is now,” Beard said. “I told her I’d stick it out.”

Beard started two games and played in all 14 in 2012 after transferring from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, including a start at left tackle against Auburn, but didn’t play “as I wanted” as a junior and wondered how much he would play as a senior.

Coach Mark Richt said Saturday that Beard made the initial decision to go when he was “really emotional” after things “got heated up a little bit” in a morning offseason conditioning mat drill.

“And I think he was just like: You know what, I’m done,’” Richt said.

Said Beard: “I was kind of frustrated and didn’t know where my future was at Georgia and just had an attitude that day. It was a hasty decision. I didn’t think it all the way through.”

Georgia sent out a news release about 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 with the header “UGA OT Mark Beard to Graduate, Transfer.” By 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, the school sent out another via email: “Beard Change of Heart.”

Beard said he didn’t really hear from any other schools who were interested in the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder.

“I changed my mind in like an hour,” Beard said. “It stopped real quick.”

Beard’s parents impressed upon him that he had one more season to go and it would be hard to learn a new playbook if he went elsewhere and his best shot was at Georgia. Beard also heard from those who urged him to stay when word got out about him leaving.

So Beard called Richt up the same night as the news release and told him that he wanted back on the team.

“I wasn’t surprised that he changed his mind,” Richt said. “It just wasn’t a wise thing to do. If it was at the end of spring, and you did your best, and all that, and then you still feel like you’ve got to go, then that’s one thing. But to do it right before spring ball’s about to start, I mean, gosh, you go through spring you may be the starter when it’s over, you never know.”

Beard preferred to play tackle — where he played since little league — but has worked as the starting left guard in Georgia’s first three spring practices on an offensive line that lost three senior offensive line starters.

‚ÄúI love Mark,‚Äù said junior John Theus, lining up alongside Beard at left tackle. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a great kid, works hard. That‚Äôs between him and the coaches. I don‚Äôt know what all happened, but I can tell you the kid came back and worked hard, worked his butt off in mat drills and has really worked his butt off out here. … We‚Äôre a lot better having Mark with us than we would be if he wasn‚Äôt here.‚Äù

His teammates told him that they didn’t want to see him leave, and the Adamsville, Ala., native said they had treated him with open arms ever since he arrived from junior college.

“I really didn’t want to leave them like that,” he said.

Dallas Lee manned the left guard position the last two seasons, but now Beard has his chance.

‚ÄúMy main goal since I‚Äôve been here when I committed … I just want to start,‚Äù Beard said.

He sees his chances of reaching that goal “as pretty good,” but knows he has to keep getting better.

He’s worked not only at tackle, but at guard in both of his Georgia seasons, but said he hasn’t gotten many reps previously at guard.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said before spring practices: “Our conversations with him is you’ve got to come in here and get your attitude right, work for your place on this team and he’s had a great attitude and really worked hard, which is good to see.”

Added Richt: “He’s got a great spirit, a great attitude, working hard. I’ve got no problem. We’ve never had a problem out of Mark Beard.”

Beard said that Richt brought up the story to him of Fernando Velasco.

Velasco moved from guard to center while at Georgia and just finished his fifth season in the NFL.

“He sees a lot of him in me, so he thinks I can make this change to left guard,” Beard said. “I’m just trying to make my mark at the guard spot.”

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