ATHENS, Ga. — When it comes to preseason hype, Tavarres King and Israel Troupe have each seemed like the proverbial middle child this offseason, struggling for attention between flashy veterans and intriguing newcomers.
But while the attention from fans and media has generally focused on star sophomore A.J. Green or hyped freshman Marlon Brown, King and Troupe quietly have carved a niche as an untapped resource that could pay huge dividends for Georgia this season.
“They’re underneath the radar because we have a lot of guys everybody wants to talk about,” quarterback Joe Cox said. “But those two guys have been working hard for the past year or two years, and I expect them to play a lot and make plays for us.”
Troupe and King were considered the top wide receivers in Georgia coming out of high school, but neither has experienced an easy road to the playing field. They combined for just six receptions last season as the low men on a depth chart crowded with more experienced players.
This year, however, they’re the veterans in spite of their limited playing time, and they spent the offseason preparing for what they hope will be their best opportunity to steal a bit of the spotlight for themselves.
Five of Georgia’s six most-experienced receivers from a year ago aren’t on the active roster this season, which quickly made Troupe a veteran. Entering his third season at Georgia, only Michael Moore has been exposed to the playbook longer — meaning the pressure was on for Troupe to perform like a veteran.
“The main thing for me is consistency,” Troupe said. “(Offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo talked to me about working on that, and, so far, I think I’ve been doing pretty well.”
Troupe spent the offseason adding some weight and working on his fundamentals, and the results have been evident through the first 10 days of preseason practice.
“Troupe has caught more deep balls than I’ve seen him catch in a while,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He seems to be running precise routes, catching the ball. He’s doing a good job.”
Troupe may develop as a deep threat to complement Moore and Green, but it’s King who offers perhaps the most upside.
As a freshman last season, King showed glimpses of potential, including a 41-yard reception against Arizona State in September. While it was an impressive highlight, it turned out to be King’s final reception of the season.
After recovering from a minor ankle injury, the coaching staff decided to keep King on the bench for the remainder of the season with a medical redshirt, a decision that didn’t initially sit well with the receiver.
“It took a while to get over,” King said. “It took a couple weeks, and then I was just thinking, ‘I’ve still got four years here, just buckle down, learn the offense, learn how they want you to practice and come out next year running.’”
More than just practicing the right way, King’s biggest concern was becoming more physical.
King’s natural frame is long and lanky. At only 170 pounds, he wasn’t ready to handle the rigors of life in the SEC. So, during the offseason, King revamped his diet and trained hard.
“They had me in there working really hard in the weight room, just working on muscles I never knew I had,” King said. “The time you put forth into learning and growing and building up your body, it’s a huge transition. But being a receiver, you have to be able to take a pounding, take a beating, and I feel like I’ve gotten my body to where I can do that now.”
King weighs 184 pounds now, and he is noticeably stronger. In practice, his routes are as precise as ever, but he can now get off press coverage at the line of scrimmage quicker and pick up blocks downfield when the ball doesn’t come his way.
The more complete repertoire of skills makes King a difficult matchup for any cornerback, as teammate Brandon Boykin can attest.
“A.J.’s a great receiver, but T.K.’s just as good,” Boykin said. “He has the smoothest routes I have ever seen. It’s tough guarding him, and I do it every day. I think, this year, you’re going to see T.K. get on the field and make some plays.”
That’s the goal for King and Troupe.
For a while, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed a long way off. This season, however, the chance to come out of the shadows and steal a few headlines for themselves finally has arrived.
“It’s a big weight off our shoulders,” Troupe said. “Coming in highly recruited as receivers, him being the No. 1 receiver coming out of Georgia the year after me, it was big for us to make sure we showed that it wasn’t all hype, that we are actually really good.”