As spring practices wrapped up at Georgia, first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt wanted to see more guiding lights from his most seasoned players.
‚ÄúI think our upperclassmen have a ways to go when it comes to leadership,‚Äù Pruitt said. ‚ÄúWe need more out of them. Every one of them is very capable. They‚Äôve got to be able to do it on a consistent basis and that‚Äôs a challenge that we‚Äôve made to them daily.‚Äù
Leadership questions didn‚Äôt go away when starting safety Tray Matthews followed dismissed safety Josh Harvey-Clemons out the door earlier this month when he was finally booted after being disruptive in a summer school class. Cornerback Shaq Wiggins, another starter, also transferred this spring.
Offensive lineman Kolton Houston, a senior, last weekend saw defensive players emerging as guys that could show the way.
The players worked with former special operations officers and others with military backgrounds that are with The Program, a Boston-based organization that works with college and professional teams on team building and leadership and includes former athletes.
‚ÄúDefinitely for the defensive side, it showed that we really actually do have some good defensive leaders,‚Äù Houston offered unprompted. ‚ÄúThat was good to see. It just showed when you come together as a team you can accomplish more things than you think you can.‚Äù
Houston said he was most surprised with what safety Corey Moore showed him and he also singled out two other seniors, linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson, as players who stepped up.
The team got together from about 7-11:45 p.m. Saturday and reported to the Ramsey Center pool by 5:30 a.m. Sunday.
‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt say it was harder than mat drills,‚Äù Houston said of the winter offseason conditioning drills. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre both terrible in their own ways.‚Äù
‚ÄúIt helped everybody bond,‚Äù linebacker Ryne Rankin said. ‚ÄúIt helped everybody get after each other and make it competitive. ‚Ä¶It taught everybody to step up and be a man and work with the team.‚Äù
The more experienced offense already has its leadership established, Houston said, with center David Andrews, receiver Chris Conley and quarterback Hutson Mason.
Changes on defense, including with an entirely new coaching staff, made watching those leaders develop worth watching.
‚ÄúBack two years ago, the offense was the biggest question but this spring the defense was the biggest question,‚Äù Houston said. ‚ÄúThey were always getting heat. Especially when you have new coaches, it‚Äôs kind of hard for the guys out there. When this came around, those leaders solidified themselves.‚Äù
Among others who had teams work with ‚ÄúThe Program,‚Äù according to its website: Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Notre Dane and the NHL‚Äôs Boston Bruins
At Georgia, the designated leaders were given a broad task and asked to spread the word, Houston said, which fine-tuned communication skills.
‚ÄúThey make you do a lot of stuff that was a pain the butt,‚Äù Houston said. ‚ÄúLike diving in and out of the pool. Getting out if you‚Äôre not in rhythm. You have to dive back in the pool, doing push-ups and stuff like that. You really have to rely on a leader.‚Äù
Houston said attendance was mandatory and all players, even walk-ons, took part.
‚ÄúWe had a great time out there,‚Äù Rankin said. ‚ÄúThem guys are no joke. They get after it.‚Äù
Tailback Keith Marshall and receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, all returning from ACL surgeries, participated, Houston said.
Conley and walk-on safety Lucas Redd, from Jefferson, were given leadership awards when things wrapped up.
Rankin said players like outside linebacker Leonard Floyd have become more vocal this week in on-field workouts after the training.
‚ÄúEverybody‚Äôs more vocal now,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúHopefully it leads into next season everybody being more vocal and understanding what‚Äôs going on.‚Äù