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December 30, 2005

UGA's Shockley gets one last shot

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ATLANTA - Mark Richt still cringes when he recalls seeing D.J. Shockley sprawled out on the Sanford Stadium field with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.

Richt initially feared the Georgia senior quarterback's season might have ended when Shockley was tackled awkwardly in the second quarter of a game against Arkansas on Oct. 22. The coach also believed Shockley deserved a better fate after waiting his entire career to start for the Bulldogs.

"When D.J. first got hurt, it was sad," Richt said. "We didn't know how bad, he didn't know how bad it was. We were thinking his career at Georgia could be over right then and there. That would have been awful. We would have tried to sugarcoat it as best we could, but it would have been sad for him and for us."

Wide receiver Bryan McClendon remembered trying to remain positive while waiting for Georgia's team captain to get off the ground.

"I didn't want to think the worst," McClendon said. "I was thinking `Get up. Get up! Shake it off."'

No one was more worried than Shockley, who feared the worst.

"Everything was rolling along so good, we were playing so well, and then to come down to that situation, I just said `Man, this can't be happening,"' Shockley said. "I really thought that was the end of everything, that I was out indefinitely and that (the doctors) were going to say something horrible. All the hard work, all the summer workouts, all the extensive film work was for nothing."

The medical news was good. Shockley had not suffered a torn ACL, as he feared, but instead had a sprained MCL.

Instead of missing the rest of the season, Shockley missed only one game and returned to lead No. 8 Georgia to the Southeastern Conference championship, its fourth straight 10-win season and a spot in Monday night's Sugar Bowl against West Virginia.

For the third straight game, Shockley - from the Atlanta suburb of College Park - and the Bulldogs will play in Atlanta, following a win at Georgia Tech to end the regular season and the SEC championship game victory over Louisiana State in the Georgia Dome.

The Atlanta triple-header has served as a celebration for Shockley and his much-analyzed career. He sat out one year as a redshirt and then was David Greene's top backup the last three seasons when he resisted the temptation to transfer from Georgia.

Shockley's story was followed by coaches across the nation, including at West Virginia, where coach Rich Rodriguez, a former Clemson assistant, remembered the quarterback as a top recruit at North Clayton High.

"We thought he was a perfect match for our system," Rodriguez said of his attempts to recruit Shockley for Clemson.

"He can do all the stuff you want a quarterback to do. He can run and he can throw, he can manage the field well. What's even more impressive is the fact the guy waited his turn. Here's a guy who's good enough to play just about anywhere in the country, and he's patient and he waits his turn."

Almost any negative twist - a more serious injury or a less successful season - would have provided support for those who believed Shockley should have transferred.

Instead, Shockley matched or exceeded many of the standards set by Greene, the winningest quarterback in school history.

From his first start, when he tied a school record with five touchdown passes in Georgia's season-opening win over Boise State, Shockley was a hit as a starter. He threw 21 touchdown passes with only five interceptions and was a first-team All-SEC pick by The Associated Press.

"I can't tell you how happy I am for D.J. and how thankful I am that his senior season came out the way it did," Richt said. "I love to see a guy rewarded for loyalty and a guy just doing things right in life. I'm thrilled to death for him and just thankful things have worked out well for him."

Shockley led the SEC in passing efficiency, ranked second in total offense - including 251 yards rushing and four touchdowns - and was named the MVP in the SEC championship game.

"If he'd had a few more balls caught throughout the year, who knows what kind of year he could have had," Richt said.

And if he had another year of eligibility, who knows how NFL scouts might view Shockley? With only one year as a starter, Shockley must depend on strong showings in the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine to boost his stock.

But Shockley said he's not looking back, adding that he considered the potential ramifications on his NFL draft status when he made the decision to remain at Georgia.

"The whole year has been all about Georgia, not about me and what would happen if I played well at this level," Shockley said.

Finally, Shockley has moved past the "what if" questions, including the ones about what if the knee injury had been more serious.

"Now that I've come through that, I'm glad," Shockley said. "It was just another obstacle I had to go through to get here."

For more coverage of the Georgia Bulldogs, check out UGASports.com.



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