The day before preseason camp began, Hutson Mason got a text from the person who set the Georgia standard for making the most out of a one-and-only season as the starting quarterback.
Following a demoralizing loss at Vanderbilt last October, Aaron Murray got a pick-me-up message from the same source that he kept as a screen saver on his cell phone.
In the lead-up to Joe Cox‚Äôs season as starter in 2009, he spoke about once a week with the same guy.
D.J. Shockley, nine years after leading Georgia to its most recent SEC championship, might be considered the Bulldogs‚Äô quarterback whisperer.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs always around, he‚Äôs always there to help,‚Äù said Murray, now a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great. He‚Äôs really willing to help us through the maturing stages of understanding what it takes to be a quarterback, the difficulties you might face on the field, off the field, just in the public eye.‚Äù
That was part of the message Shockley delivered to Mason about entering the pressure cooker of going from being a backup for four seasons to the starting quarterback for the 12th-ranked team in the country.
Beat Clemson and you‚Äôll be toasted, but lose and you might be roasted on message boards and social media.
‚ÄúHe really just said that you‚Äôve kind of got to ignore it,‚Äù Mason said. ‚ÄúDon‚Äôt put too much pressure on yourself. That‚Äôs what I‚Äôve been doing.‚Äù
Shockley, who lives in Duluth, works in broadcasting on a weekly Falcons TV show and on the team‚Äôs website, on high school football coverage, calling Mercer football games and on a program on the Big Ten Network,
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been through the process these guys have been through,‚Äù said Shockley, who passed for 2,588 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2005 when the Bulldogs went 10-3. ‚ÄúI know a lot of people can‚Äôt really put themselves in the shoes that they‚Äôre in. For me personally, I like for the guys to succeed. I know it‚Äôs tough when they go through bad moments, have bad games or people are on them. I like to put things in perspective for them. ..They know they‚Äôre going to get the truth from me and I think that‚Äôs what they respect the most.‚Äù
Mason and Shockley have a natural bond because their storylines are similar taking over as starters as fifth-year seniors.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs been through what I‚Äôve been through,‚Äù Mason said. ‚ÄúIt was like a magnet?‚Äù
Both waited behind four-year starters who set SEC records before they were done.
Mason was the understudy to Murray. Shockley played second fiddle to David Greene.
‚ÄúI kind of wanted to get his advice, kind of pick his brain,‚Äù Mason said. ‚ÄúWhat was his mindset going into one year? You‚Äôre kind of attracted to people that have been through the same things as you.‚Äù
Greene also remains well-connected to the program through his ‚ÄòCountdown to Kickoff‚Äô charity event and with the quarterbacks. He sat down to break down film with Murray for a couple of hours in 2010 in and stayed in touch via texts. Mason said he also has talks to Greene and former Georgia quarterback Buck Belue.
When he was redshirting during Shockley‚Äôs senior year, Cox went with Shockley back to the Atlanta area for Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
Cox got one start in 2006 then had his own wait behind Matthew Stafford. Georgia went 8-5 in his one season as starter.
‚ÄúWe always had that bond,‚Äù Shockley said, ‚Äúso when it came time to play it was a little bit easier for him to say, `Hey, Shock, what can I expect? What were you thinking?‚Äù
Murray followed Cox in 2010 after a redshirt season and he hit it off with Shockley.
‚ÄúHe was as much criticized as everybody all the time he played,‚Äù Shockley said of Murray, who had the knock against him that he couldn‚Äôt win big games. ‚ÄúWe were both highly recruited; all that kind of stuff and then once he took over and he was the guy, there was a lot of stuff on his shoulders. I just reached out to him weekly to let him know you‚Äôve got somebody behind you that you can trust and if you ever need to bounce anything off me I‚Äôm here for him. I think that was kind of a safe haven for him. ‚Ä¶Each year, I think it just grew into a real good friendship.‚Äù
The text Shockley sent after back-to-back losses last season reminded Murray to keep grinding and asked him about what kind of legacy he wanted to leave at Georgia.
Now it‚Äôs Mason‚Äôs time. He stuck around Georgia after considering transferring a couple of times.
Mason sent Shockley a text after the 2011 season asking to talk about what was on his mind. He had already talked to Georgia coaches.
‚ÄúHe called me one day and we talked for a good 30 or 45 minutes,‚Äù said Shockley, who also considered a transfer. ‚ÄúHe laid it all out. I basically told him, I‚Äôm not going to tell you one way or another yes or no, you should or you shouldn‚Äôt. This is a decision that you‚Äôre going to have to make as a man because at the end of the day you‚Äôre the one who‚Äôs going to have to live with it.‚Äù
The relationships that Shockley and Greene build with the rising Georgia quarterbacks are fostered through coach Mark Richt‚Äôs annual spring gathering of his former quarterbacks.
There‚Äôs corn hole, bowling, ping-pong and throwing accuracy competitions.
Shockley already knew redshirt freshman quarterback Brice Ramsey when he coached him in an all-star game in Florida. He met backup Faton Bauta at the QB challenge and from talking about him with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
‚ÄúD.J. is just a great person and a great guy,‚Äù said Bobo, entering his 14th season coaching quarterbacks under Richt. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs a Georgia Bulldog. He spent his time here and he played his heart out for me and he loves Georgia, he loves coach Richt and he loves everybody that wears the G.‚Äù
Shockley dropped by Georgia‚Äôs dress rehearsal scrimmage last week.
Bobo said not only the quarterbacks came over to talk to Shockley, but many other players that don‚Äôt have a relationship with him.
‚ÄúThey know who he is because he‚Äôs around and he supports them and is very positive about everything they do and we do as coaches,‚Äù Bobo said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs kind of been his impact.‚Äù
Shockley said that he sometimes reaches out to the quarterbacks at Bobo‚Äôs encouragement.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs said from time to time, `Call your boy, he‚Äôs a little down,‚Äô‚Äù Shockley said. ‚ÄúOr ‚ÄòSee what‚Äôs going on. I can‚Äôt talk to him right now.‚Äô‚Äù
Shockley figures he talked to Mason about every other week in the summer. Murray said he‚Äôs ‚Äúvery tight‚Äù with Shockley.
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre not always prepared for everything that comes with being the starting quarterback for an SEC football team,‚Äù Murray said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great to get his advice and help along the way.‚Äù