ATHENS, Ga.—Following the 10th practice of fall camp this afternoon, the media met with head coach Mark Richt, as well as a handful of true freshmen defensive players, who were being interviewed for the first time since the start of preseason practice.
Notably, of the Bulldogs’ 29 signees in February—the third-most by the program in over 30 years beginning in 1985—a staggering 19 were defensive players, including all of Rivals’ top seven defensive prospects in 2015 from the state of Georgia.
One of those prospects, defensive tackle Trenton Thompson of Westover High School in Albany, finished the recruiting cycle as the country’s No. 1 overall player according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. As one would expect, the headliner of Georgia’s large, defensive-heavy class drew a lot of attention.
“I try to go hard every play, and I don’t take any plays off,” Thompson said to the media when describing his play on the field. “When the ball is snapped, you got to go, and can’t stop.”
Richt claimed Thompson could play any position along the defensive line because of his “very versatile” combination of strength and quickness; however, the head coach wanted to keep the attention off of any single freshman and focus more so on the entire group.
“One of the big things with this camp is ‘team,’ and when you start [only] talking about this guy, or that guy, it kind of takes away from that theme we have,” Richt said when asked specifically about Thompson. “Trent’s like a lot of the other [freshmen]: a very talented guy that when they’re fresh, and know what to do, they’re pretty good. But, when they’re tired and uncertain, they look like freshmen.”
Thompson appeared in front of the media like several of the other freshmen—perhaps, a little nervous—which could certainly be expected of a teenager being extensively interviewed for the very first time as a member of a major-college football team. However, there were a few newcomers who seemed to be rather comfortable, feeling right at home, so to speak.
“I’ve taken a couple of public speaking classes, so…” Natrez Patrick said with a laugh when explaining why he appeared rather relaxed. Patrick, who was considered by some recruiting services as the top defensive end in the state, signed with Georgia out of Mays High School (Atlanta) as an outside linebacker before being switched to inside linebacker this past spring. As one of the team’s eight early enrollees, Patrick interestingly claimed that getting an early jump on most of his fellow freshman teammates wasn’t quite as advantageous as it would seem.
“Honestly, I feel like the way we (freshmen) came together, everybody is starting to get it at the same time,” Patrick said. “So, there were some things I didn’t understand in the spring that I’m starting to understand better now just because of everybody’s input. I might have had a little head start, but at the same time, we’re all just now coming around.”
Another early enrollee, Jonathan Ledbetter, who was considered by Rivals as the second-best defensive end prospect in the state behind Patrick, suggested fall camp thus far was more strenuous than any other sequence of football practices he had experienced before.
“The tempo,” Ledbetter stated when asked what was the biggest difference between fall camp and his previous practice routines. “It’s a faster tempo. But, we’re learning a lot day by day, so we have to be more coachable and just perform.”
Rashad Roundtree, a freshman who just recently stepped on campus, was primarily recruited by defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt while regarded by a number of services as the best defensive back prospect in Georgia. Roundtree was asked if there was any difference in the fiery Pruitt between when he was attempting to lure the sought-after recruit and now in fall camp.
“He’s a lot tougher [now],” Roundtree admitted with a smile. “The personal relationship is still there, although there’s not much contact (between the two personally during fall camp). As a coach, he’s one of the best coaches there is. We actually talk [on the field], he helps us with the concepts, and helps us understand what to do.”
Attracting a crowd which nearly rivaled that of Thompson’s gathering was Nick Moore. An intriguing case, Moore is a 22-year-old freshman walk-on and the newest Bulldog. For four years, he bounced around minor league baseball with four different affiliates of the Boston Red Sox after earning All-State honors at defensive back in 2010 at Brookwood High School in Snellville, Ga. Having bulked up nearly 50 pounds from his high school playing weight, Moore is slotted at inside linebacker and has performed well in fall camp.
“I’d love to play but, however I can help the team—if that’s being the best scout team player; if that’s playing [on] kickoff or punt [units], or if that’s being a starter,” Moore replied when asked what was his goal playing for Georgia. “I want to contribute anyway I can. I’ll be the best teammate. I’ll be the best at whatever [the coaches] want me to do.”
Apparently, Coach Richt’s concept of “team” is already starting to make quite an impression with some of the Bulldogs’ newcomers.