ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s players practiced before a larger crowd than normal Saturday as the Bulldogs’ coaching staff hosted dozens of high school prospects and family members for junior day.
The onlookers included a number of high schoolers who are mulling offers like linebacker Johnny O’Neal (Dublin, Ga./West Laurens), offensive lineman Josh Cardiello (Buford, Ga./Buford) and receiver Demarcus Robinson (Fort Valley, Ga./Peach County), as well as Maryland offensive lineman Max Garcia, a Norcross, Ga., native who plans to transfer and is considering Georgia.
While the practice and the day’s other events allowed the coaching staff to show off their program, Saturday’s practice also gave some Bulldogs another chance to show themselves off to the coaching staff.
Linebackers T.J. Stripling and Brandon Burrows are back in the fold after injuries prevented them from making an impact last season. Now they’re trying to keep from getting lost in the shuffle at the Bulldogs’ deepest personnel group.
“I’m taking this as both a learning experience and a chance to prove that I’m coming back, I’m here and whenever you need me, I’m ready to go,” said Burrows, a backup mike linebacker. “So it’s a matter of getting in the playbook, getting my mental reps while I’m watching the other guys who’ve been in there more and when I get my shot, when I take my reps, just show them that I can handle whatever they give to me.”
The redshirt sophomore underwent surgery last summer to fix a torn labrum in his right shoulder -- an injury that caused his shoulder to continually pop out of joint. After Saturday’s full-pads practice, he said it had been “probably about 365 days ago. It’s been a long time” since he last participated in a full-contact practice.
Stripling, meanwhile, believes he is finally back at 100 percent nearly two years after his knee gave way when he tried to plant and change direction while covering a kickoff against Colorado in 2010.
“I tore the entire patellar tendon, the whole thing right across the middle,” Stripling said. “It was the worst injury ever.”
Stripling played in nine games last season, but said he never played at better than 80 percent. In hindsight, he wishes he had taken a redshirt last season.
“I wish I would’ve,” he admitted. “But I can’t look back at that. I’m just looking forward to the future. Hopefully these next two years will just be my year.”
Stripling said he weighed 202 pounds when he arrived at Georgia, but the junior outside linebacker now weighs 230 and feels more physically prepared to make the impact he expected when he arrived on campus.
He credited his position coach, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, for helping him stay positive as he attempted to come back from an injury he was initially told would take a year and a half to recover from.
“Coach Grantham has really kept me on top, my spirits and whatnot,” Stripling said. “He knows my injury was a bad one and he just kept me motivated. That’s the biggest thing. He’s the biggest person that just keeps me up.”
Now -- like Burrows, who is behind Mike Gilliard and Amarlo Herrera on the depth chart at his position -- Stripling is trying to make an impact at a position that already features proven veterans. Stripling said he can play either strongside or weakside linebacker, but Jarvis Jones and Cornelius Washington played most of the snaps at those spots last year.
Performing well enough to claim some of the available playing time this spring is Stripling’s next goal.
“I know a lot of attention’s on Jarvis of course, him and Cornelius, but those guys deserve it,” Stripling said. “They worked hard and they did their thing. I’m just trying to do the same thing they did to get to that point.”