Guerry Clegg commentary: Georgia's Chris Conley is what college athletes should be

April 26, 2014 

Let me confess. I have become increasingly jaded when it comes to college sports, especially football. It's big business and people love it enough that they're willing to overlook the seediness because they enjoy the product. I get all that.

Academic integrity is compromised. Spoiled athletes get away with so much more than other students. Coaches cheat and administrators look the other way. But the game rakes in millions upon millions for the universities, which are driven by money.

Then along comes a young man who restores my hope. A young man who is everything that college sports should be about.

He is a scholar. He is a young man full of dreams and visions and passion. He is a man of integrity and character.

He is Georgia receiver Chris Conley.

We see him on the field making clutch catches in traffic -- 81 catches for 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns so far in his career with one more season to play. At 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds, he has the size to play in the NFL. Impressive football player. But an even more impressive person.

Conley is president of the SEC's Student Athlete Advisory Committee. He has been named to the SEC Honor Roll. He received the UGA Sportsmanship and Ethics Award. He's one of the primary leaders of a team that hopes to be in the national championship picture this fall. He was one of the least heralded members of that so-called Dream Team signing class of 2011 that included Isaiah Crowell, Ray Drew, Nick Marshall and Christian LeMay.

Crowell, Marshall and LeMay are gone, and Drew has been average. But Conley has definitely been a coach's dream.

"There's different categories of memories I have," Conley said. "Being around my teammates in the locker room, getting to know these guys, the brotherhood, the bond with them. There's so much we've been through together, seeing your teammates triumph, going through highs and lows together. Those are memories and building blocks for things down the road.

"Also you have your off the field memories, great people that you've met, opportunities you've had. There's so many things that run through my mind about this experience and what it can be if you focus yourself and really try to get everything you can out of it. There's so many opportunities."

For Conley, the highs include a seven-catch game against Georgia Tech last season to bring the Bulldogs back from a 20-0 deficit, and two huge touchdown catches to beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. The latter came after his infamous low. With time running out and no timeouts remaining, Georgia needed a touchdown to beat Alabama in the 2012 SEC championship game. Aaron Murray's pass was tipped. Conley instinctively caught the ball on his knees at the 4-yard line rather than let it drop, which would have stopped the clock and given the Dogs one more shot at the end zone. Conley did what any competitor would do. He tried to make a play.

"That's how the game of football can be sometimes," Conley said. The highs and the lows create so many opportunities for you to make plays and show your character when you're down."

Conley is also a filmmaker. He and some friends decided to make their own Star Wars video to post on the internet. Just something fun. Conley wrote the script and assembled the cast, made of students and aspiring actors -- with a cameo from Mark Richt. The plan is to launch the movie at a film festival this spring then put it on the web. He has already received interest from all over the country.

"We didn't really think people would have that much interest in it except maybe guys on my team or Star Wars fans at the school," Conley said. "And then it just kind of blew up and it became something that Star Wars fans across the country are looking forward to or football fans across the country are looking forward to.

"It's really bridges a lot of gaps between the jock and the geek, and it's great because I'm both. It's been a great tool to reach out to people and get them involved in some way. It's been awesome to tie that video into the University of Georgia."

Before making the video, Conley considered going into coaching or broadcasting after his playing career. And he still might. But he can see himself also in the movie business.

"Doing this film has made me reconsider. I love doing this."

But that's later. Conley is still a football player with football dreams, both for his team and for himself. He believes this team has the talent and the hunger that it takes to win a championship -- IF everyone will remained dedicated and focused on getting better until preseason camp starts in August.

"Personally, I just want to keep getting better. I'm one of those who believes you never make it, you're never there. You can always get better. I'm just trying to stay healthy and get better."

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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