Another spring practice is nearing, and that means plenty of anticipation around Georgia’s newest group of freshmen. At nearly every opportunity, a player or coach will be surveyed on one of the newcomers.
It makes sense with the Bulldogs signing yet another top class, but what about the one that came before it? Georgia’s 2018 recruiting haul was the best nationally, and those prospects will get more of an opportunity to prove their scholarship — well, if they didn’t transfer already, of course.
A good number of the now-second-year players were able to redshirt and still have four seasons of eligibility remaining. Some of them were influential towards Georgia’s 11-win season, and others might’ve been forgotten about by fans. So, let’s look at Georgia’s underclassmen who could break through after a taste of experience.
“They’re a unique group,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said nearly a year ago after signing the class. “I’m excited about them.”
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Cornerback Divaad Wilson
It took until Georgia’s final game of the season, but Divaad Wilson got his long-awaited chance to suit up in the red-and-black. Wilson was an early enrollee who impressed Smart in practice, then went down with the devastating injury of a torn ACL.
Wilson had rapidly progressed under head athletic trainer Ron Courson and was practicing through the back-half of the season. He got game action in the Sugar Bowl against Texas, and flashed some potential to be one of the Bulldogs’ dependable cornerbacks. Wilson was only expected to play sporadically, then had a full-game workload after Tyrique McGhee exited due to injury and Deandre Baker opted not to play.
Wilson recorded four tackles and a pass break-up, and carried a demeanor as if he had been on a collegiate field before. The former four-star cornerback could evolve into a viable replacement for Baker next season.
“It was a new experience,” Wilson said in Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Georgia fell 28-21. “Our standard is to make practice harder than the games, so it was about doing my job.”
Running back James Cook
In Georgia’s post-Sugar Bowl locker room, James Cook lowered his head while kneeling on a leg scooter with his foot in a walking boot. He didn’t have the opportunity to finish out his freshman campaign, and questions about a transfer possibility loomed as he missed some bowl practices.
Nearly a month later, it can be confirmed Cook will not transfer ahead of spring practice as he was spotted on the university’s campus by The Telegraph after classes began. He wasn’t sporting the rehabilitation gadget either, and a healthy, refined Cook could allow him to progress as a flashy running back option for the Bulldogs.
Cook played in 13 games last season (the Texas game as the only omission), and showed a burst as a speedy running back as early as the season opener against Austin Peay. He recorded 284 rushing yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, and the departure of Elijah Holyfield means more carries for the sophomore.
“Little Cook never stops running,” Georgia inside linebacker Monty Rice said during fall practice. “He’s fast, I mean, just fast.”
Wide receiver Tommy Bush
As Georgia’s wide receiver unit was packed out with talented assets, Tommy Bush was one of the highly-touted 2018 prospects forgotten about as a freshman. There’s one reason to believe that he could step to the forefront as a second-year player, however: Bush stands at 6-foot-5 and brings the Bulldogs a target with size.
Georgia lost its old-reliable targets of Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin after last season, and it continues to add receivers in the 2019 class to replace them, signee Dominick Blaylock being the most-notable name. But Bush is an addition as a redshirt freshman who has some experience on scout team.
Smart said he “fell in love” with Bush before he signed with the Bulldogs after a last-minute push to stave off in-state schools last February.
“I knew right away that he was a great kid,” Smart said in February 2018. “Obviously his stature is a big thing for us. We were able to have success with Javon (Wims), and you’re sitting there going, how do you replace those back shoulder throws, how do you replace those catches. You’ve got to find somebody.”
Bush was able to redshirt after playing against Austin Peay and UMass, due to the new rules implemented prior to the 2018 season. Smart is a vocal proponent of development on scout team, and Bush could be another testament to proving that.
“A lot of guys start to step to the forefront and get an opportunity to hear things a second and third time where they’re not overwhelmed at the speed of the install,” Smart said ahead of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. “They start making some plays and you realize, ‘hey, this guy is a really good football player. He’s going to be able to help our team at some point.’”