Georgia farm crafts Mark Richt 'masterpiece' in corn maze

ATHENS, Georgia -- How do you mow Georgia football coach Mark Richt's likeness into a cornfield?

It's a question UGA agriculture professor George Vellidis thought he'd never have to ponder.

But after UGA graduates Meredith and Ryan Rutland of Rutland Farms in Tifton, Georgia, told Vellidis that's what they wanted to do to honor Richt's 15th season coaching the Bulldogs, Vellidis and five students in his precision agriculture class figured out how to do it.

"I never thought that this was going to be a practical application of precision agriculture," Vellidis said. "I thought we'd be using it to figure out how to grow crops most efficiently. But it was a lot of fun, and the students really enjoyed it."

Ryan Rutland, 30, is a fifth-generation farmer on a family farm that grows cotton, peanuts, tobacco and watermelons on 2,500 acres near I-75 in Tifton. A 2008 UGA graduate, Rutland has mowed corn mazes in the past that included images of the "Uga" bulldog mascot and the school's "G" logo.

Rutland said the Richt maze is his masterpiece. The maze covers more than five acres of land and is made up of about 250,000 stalks of corn. Rutland estimates it will take someone 45 minutes to an hour to walk through the maze with a map and more than two hours to complete it on their own.

The maze opens to the public on Thursday.

"This one is by far the coolest one we've ever done," Rutland said. "It's pretty sweet. We're excited about it. Coach Richt is the dean of SEC coaches now, so we thought we'd recognize him."

Meredith Rutland, a 2009 UGA graduate, drew the picture of Richt on paper, and then Vellidis' students used computer software to transfer the image to GPS. After surveying the site of the corn maze, it took the students more than two days to map and cut the image of Richt.

Ryan Rutland cut the maze with a six-foot riding lawnmower, following the students through the field. The students used tall orange flags, like the ones you see on bicycles, to show him the route.

"This one was particularly difficult," Vellidis said. "It's a very small field. By the time you mow with a six-foot mower, you're only separating the lines by two or three rows of corn stalks. You had to be really careful not to cut through the lines."

What will Bulldogs fans find at the end of the corn maze?

"Being a farmer, I'm a pretty optimistic guy," Rutland said. "You have to be a glass half-full guy. I'm optimistic about this season. It's going to be our year and it's our time. Everybody else has had their time."