Considering the religious following that college football - specifically Georgia Bulldogs football - has around here, it's fitting that the local boosters congregate annually at St. Mary on the Hill for a rousing revival.
There in the middle of a red sea of believers Tuesday evening stood a coach who seemed a little bit out of place between the folks enjoying their Wife Saver barbecue and the others standing in line to meet and greet their chosen idol.
Dennis Felton is starting to understand the drill. In basketball parlance, he plays the part of the Washington Generals while Mark Richt represents the Globetrotters. He is Sideshow Bob to Richt's Krusty the Clown.
"Based on the tradition of our football program, our fans have become accustomed to being passionate football fans," Felton said. "It kind of reminds me that we're starting from square one. I know that when we become a great basketball program, the pandemonium will follow suit."
OK, enough about basketball. If you made it this far that's not what you hoped to read and it's not why hundreds of fans showed up at a church gymnasium to get their hopes up for another pending football season that will commence at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5 in Sanford Stadium against the Boise State Broncos.
Richt is the fair-haired coach in Athens, Ga., after three consecutive 10-win seasons and the restoration of relevance to a Bulldogs program that for too long after Herschel Walker left had survived on reputation instead of results.
Richt inherited the expectations of his predecessors and has built them even higher. Just because the preseason pundits predict less of the Bulldogs this season than they did the previous two years doesn't diminish the expectations Richt sees from Bulldogs fans every stop on his annual summer stump circuit.
"Everybody expects us to win every year," he said. "It doesn't bother me. Last year we were preseason third in the nation. This year we're preseason third in the SEC East."
That said, here's a few questions and answers about a number of issues from D.J. Shockley to the wishbone offense to the 12th game:
Q: How different do you expect the way you call an offensive gameplan to be this year to suit your new personnel?
Richt: "It will be different to a certain degree. Shockley has been in our system for four years so there's no point in changing our entire system. Eighty percent, maybe even 90 percent, of the things we do will be things we've always done. But there will be some things that are a little different to take advantage of our ability to run the football."
Q: Shockley basically had to step in every game and operate an offense designed for Greene. How much easier will it be to lead an offense designed for his talents?
Richt: "It's not so much the system as the mentality. You get in the game and have one series, first down, second down, third down ... Drop back and nobody's open, what should you do? Throw it away, right? Throw that ball away and you'll sit down for the rest of the day. Not much fun, right? So I think in his mind he wanted to make something special happen. He didn't want a drive to end so he'd have to go sit down. I'm sure that went through his mind either consciously or subconsciously. Now he he's the man and doesn't have to deal with that. Now he gets to burn it in the stands, punt the ball and get to come back the next series. I don't think he'll be trying to do some of the heroic things he tried to do before because of the pressure of only having one series. I think there's a lot less pressure on him now."
Q: Coaches are on the record against adding a 12th regular season game but the administrators added it anyway. What do you think about it and how will it effect Georgia's scheduling?
Richt: "I think there'll be a blend of a lot of different teams. There will probably be some Division I-AA in there and some mid-majors and a little of everything. I don't think we'll say it's all going to be top 20 programs or all be I-AA.
Q: How's the wishbone offense that looked so good on the first play of the G-Day Game?
Richt: "We got ourselves on that one. I was at barbershop one day and somebody said we should run the wishbone. So I told (quarterbacks coach Mike) Bobo to run a play from the wishbone just for fun. He put it in the day before and we never practiced it. So we ran the 'bone and two receivers on one side for an unbalanced line. It caught or defense off guard and they didn't know how to line up. So it made us look good. If we lined up that way for the first game, there'd be some shifting going on. I just did it for fun."
That kind of fun will keep people talking all summer long.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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