As several of his Georgia Bulldogs teammates took turns auditioning on special teams this past G-Day, all Prather Hudson could do was watch and offer encouragement. For someone who cherishes every rep — be it in the spring game or on special teams or the fourth quarter of a blowout — this was far more painful to Hudson than the torn labrum in his shoulder that he quietly played with last season, and more difficult than the rehab from surgery that came two days after Georgia’s Sugar Bowl loss to Texas.
“I’d much rather have been out there, for sure,” Hudson said. “You really realize, when it gets taken away like that, how much you love the sport, and realize how much my entire life has been built up to this Georgia moment. Everything’s taken away just like that.”
Rehab is going well and he expects to be fully ready when fall camp opens in three weeks. Hudson finished last season starting on four of the six special teams — kickoff and punt coverage and returns. He also knows nothing is promised, so he keeps working every single day to prove he belongs.
You have to when you’re playing for a program that keeps pulling in one star-studded recruiting class after another. And that’s especially true for a walk-on from a Class A private school who, if not for a crazy turn of events three years ago, would be playing at Davidson College — and probably loving every minute.
The Butts-Mehre Building, home of Georgia athletics, was closed for the long holiday weekend Friday when Hudson sat in the running backs meeting room and reflected on his incredible journey. A photo mural of some of the great Bulldogs running backs decorates two walls. Among them is another Brookstone graduate, Mack Strong.
“I was just some small, little, 190-pound running back, had no idea was SEC football was about,” Hudson said. “All of a sudden, the Georgia opportunity came. From being there to being at Georgia and everything I’ve been through — the national championship, the Rose Bowl — it’s crazy. The journey, it’s not even done yet.”
Hudson still has two more years of eligibility left. He will graduate in December with a degree in finance, quite a difference from the pre-med biology path he originally planned. But playing at Georgia has presented a world of new possibilities. His short-term goal is ambitious — to play in the NFL.
So he’s not daunted that the running back room remains crowded with NFL talent. Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Elijah Holyfield have moved on. But D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Zamir White remain. Freshman Kenny McIntosh will join the group.
Hudson looks at the competition as a positive. Playing with some of the best running backs in college football has made him better.
“I’m trying to get into the rotation. That’s my goal for this year,” he said. “You just have to battle. That’s the only thing you can do. You’ve got to play against great backs. If you want to play in the NFL, you have to beat out other good backs from other teams. You can’t really shy away from the competition. You have to be like, I’m going to embrace it.”
Hudson knows that if he does make it to the NFL, special teams will be his ticket. So he welcomes every opportunity at multiple positions. His role as a leader has increased. He’s one of only 12 players from Smart’s first recruiting class at Georgia still on the team. Herrien is the only other running back.
“That’s my thing. I want to be able to help lead this team,” Hudson said. “I think the biggest thing is player relationships. A lot of people think it’s lead, and bark, and tell all these things. You have to get to know the guy before you can tell him anything. Having great relationships with every player — know their name, where they’re from, their family. That’s the biggest thing, understanding who they are before you’re trying to lead them. Understand your team before you can lead your team.”
Whether he makes it to the NFL or not, Hudson has decided that football is his future. He’s torn between wanting to coach or be an NFL general manager. He’s aware of the precedent of the latter from right within the Chattahoochee Valley. Les Snead was a walk-on at Auburn. Now he’s the general manager of the Los Angeles Rams.
“A lot of people have been telling me I need to be coaching, but I don’t know really what I’m going to do,” he said. “I just want to get that finance background to kind of understand the business side of sports. I think that would help me a lot with what I want to do.”
Two months ago, ESPN had a piece on predicting the next head coach of each Top 25 team. Hudson was the pick for Georgia, much to his surprise. He was in the middle of class when his phone started blowing up with texts and social media notifications. He couldn’t check his phone right away.
“I was like, ‘What is going on?’ Something happened. Earthquake or something,” he said. “I check my messages and I see, ‘Coach Hudson. Coach Hudson.’ I thought that was pretty cool.”
So, could ESPN be right? He laughed.
“I honestly would love it. Being the coach at Georgia would be my top dream job.”
Right now, though, he’s just trying to get a little better each day. And cherishing every moment while it lasts.