John Knox couldn’t have received much better news on his birthday.
After months of uncertainty over whether he’d qualify academically, he finally received the letter that let him know on Monday, the day he celebrated his 19th birthday. That letter informed the Statesboro (Ga.) safety that he passed his Georgia High School Graduation Test, the final remaining academic hurdle he needed to clear to play football at Georgia.
Now, pending approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse, Knox will be able to report to Athens and officially join the Georgia football team.
“It's a very positive sign,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Monday‘s practice. “Nothing's official until the Clearinghouse makes a decision and all that. But I'd say it looks very good right now.”
Knox was the final member of Georgia’s 23-man signing class awaiting word on whether he qualified. If he makes it in, the signing class will be a perfect 23-for-23.
Richt isn’t ready to declare the class complete until the Clearinghouse certifies Knox’s eligibility. His program only recently had to circumvent the Clearinghouse system by going directly to the NCAA with an eligibility waiver after the Clearinghouse refused to certify Georgia signee Vance Cuff because of a disputed core class.
The NCAA agreed with Georgia and allowed Cuff to become eligible, although the Clearinghouse never cleared the Colquitt County (Ga.) cornerback.
Similar hurdles are not expected for Knox, and Richt hopes for a smooth certification.
“I'm not ready to make a public statement that everybody's in yet, but if that does happen, I'll be excited to say that,” Richt said.
No Little problem
Nearly 10 months ago, Chris Little was preparing for the eighth game of his high school football season at Twiggs County (Ga.) when he injured his wrist in practice.
He didn’t think much of it at the time -- in fact, he doesn’t even remember exactly how or when it happened -- but the wrist started to sting and swell and the pain didn’t go away.
He played the rest of the season with the injury and even competed in winter all-star games without discovering what had actually happened that day in practice -- he had broken his right wrist.
“It just kept bothering me, certain things that I did,” Little said. “If I may bump it a little bit, it was just a sharp pain that would go up my arm.”
It wasn’t until Little reported to Georgia this summer that he finally had the wrist examined and X-rays revealed a broken bone. He’s now wearing a black cast on his arm that he expects to remain for at least two more weeks.
The problem that creates for the 6-foot-6, 350-pound offensive lineman is that the injury is keeping him out of contact drills and holding him back on some of the practice work that would help him get in shape for the season.
He’s well above the weight Georgia’s coaches want him to carry and he admits conditioning is his biggest problem right now, but the wrist injury isn’t helping matters.
“Really, I kinda expected for (camp) to be hard,” Little said. “I've just got to work at it and get my body in shape.”
Starting cornerback Bryan Evans did not participate in Monday’s practice after injuring his hamstring near the end of Sunday’s workout.
Evans wore shorts and a t-shirt and walked the sidelines awkwardly while watching special teams practice Monday. Team trainer Ron Courson told Richt the injury was not as severe as he’d first thought, but plans to be cautious with the sophomore.
“Ron said he felt better than he thought he would today, but that doesn't mean he'll be practicing anytime soon. When it happened, I think Ron was like, ‘This might be a while,’ and it still might be a while,” Richt said. “Hamstrings are probably the most unpredictable injuries. Again, a lot of times guys feel good and then come back too soon, so we'll be cautious with him.”
Cornerback Thomas Flowers wore a green no-contact jersey against his will on Monday after suffering a shoulder stinger Sunday.
“He feels good. He actually came out in a white jersey and I'm sure Ron made him put the green one on,” Richt said. “He didn't want to. He felt like he was fine.”
Richt is typically hesitant to predict which incoming freshmen will redshirt until several weeks into the season, but he admitted quarterback Logan Gray is the most probable redshirt candidate because of the depth at his position.
Starter Matthew Stafford and backup Joe Cox are sophomores and third-teamer Blake Barnes is a junior.
But that doesn’t mean Richt wants the Columbia, Mo., product to prepare as if he won’t play this season. He can’t predict what will happen with the veterans ahead of him on the depth chart.
“I think Logan right now would be the least likely (freshman) to play. But we still want to prepare to be ready because it's happened before. (1984 Heisman Trophy winner from Boston College) Doug Flutie was fourth- or fifth-string and then he ended up starting,” Richt said. “So you've got to have the mindset that, ‘Yeah, there's a good chance I redshirt, but I'd better be prepared just in case something happens.’”
“My first year coaching at Florida State, I didn't know any better, we got down to our fourth-string quarterback, true freshman, Chip Ferguson. ... I said, ‘Well, no big deal.’ If that happened today, I'd be a wreck. Back then, I was like, ‘Oh well.’”
Richt said he was pleased with how the players handled practicing in the heat on Monday, an effort he said was “10 times better” than what they showed under similar conditions on Saturday. He also said the players had cut back considerably on their loafs, when they were observed not hustling in practice. “I think the majority of our loafs were our young guys that just don't know how to play hard, don't know what we expect,” he said. … Asked to single out some true freshmen who’ve impressed him thus far, Richt mentioned offensive lineman Clint Boling, tailback Caleb King and linebackers Rennie Curran and Charles White. … Assistant coach David Johnson, who handles Georgia’s punters, said Brian Mimbs, freshman Drew Butler and Brandon Coutu are all “hitting the ball extremely well.” Echoing Richt’s comments to open camp, he said the position battle could go well into camp. “We want to make a thorough evaluation, that's the key,” Johnson said. “We don't want to jump the gun. We want to make sure that guy can handle the pressure and do all the things that a punter needs to do.” … The Bulldogs return to the practice field for their fourth practice of the preseason today at 3:20 p.m.