Although it's not an actual game in the most literal of sense, for young players like defensive end Ray Drew, Saturday's G-Day contest at Sanford Stadium is an opportunity that can't be ignored.
"It's not as exciting as a real game, but anytime you get a chance you get a chance to put on the jersey and play in front of the fans, in front of the coaches, it's a good day. It's a different atmosphere," the rising sophomore said. "I remember coming to the field last year watching it, now it's hard to believe that it's actually gone by that fast and I'm going it be playing in it."
Action gets underway at 3 p.m. (ESPNU, CSS at 5 p.m.) preceded by the annual letterman's flag football contest at 1 p.m. Gates open at 12:45.
Head coach Mark Richt is excited about the day, although one long-standing G-Day tradition won't be in place for the 2012 version.
"We're just going to play ball for the love of the game, for the love of playing between the hedges, in front of family, friends and the fans, for TV," Richt said. "We're not doing the steak and lobster and beanie weenies. The problem is half the kids like the beanie weenies better than the steak and lobster. It just didn't seem to be a high motivator."
Still, coaches are anxious to see their players in a different setting than what they normally do at the team's Woodruff Practice Facility.
"I'm excited to see Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome, two of the tight ends. They've got a big opportunity here replacing two guys who play a lot for the last three years," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "Whose going to respond at center? Chris Burnette and David Andrews have both been working in; David's been working a little more there lately and even Dallas Lee will work in a little bit. I want to see how Kolton Houston responds. He's had an outstanding camp, let's see how he responds. Austin Long has improved because he's practiced every day, as has Watts Dantzler. Those guys who haven't played a lot, those are the ones I want to see. How will they respond to the atmosphere?"
On defense, linebacker Ramik Wilson and John Jenkins are two players Bobo suggests fans keep an eye on.
"Ramik Wilson played some inside and outside; I just see him making plays," Bobo said. "John Jenkins, he's just about impossible to block."According to Bobo, that includes all of his quarterbacks, sans early enrollee Faton Bauta who will not play due to a minor injury.
Others include nickel back Devin Bowman and running back Ken Malcome.
"We may just want to see X-amount of time out of certain guys and then just get them out of there, There might be as many as five or 10 who do that (play on both teams)," Richt said. "Bowman might play nickel on both sides, but every else would be substituted for a possible injury or just because we've seen enough of certain guys and want to move guys from one team up to the next team."
Injuries will keep safety Shawn Williams (strained meniscus), cornerback/wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring) and running back Keith Marshall (hamstring) out of the game.
"It would have been nice to see Keith. It would was to see the little bit we got to see," Richt said. "He's definitely a guy who we feel like we did a pretty good job when it comes to recruiting. He's a talented guy, hard-working guy."
Richt also had good things to say about fellow early enrollee Mark Beard on the offensive line.
"Early on, Mark Beard, you could see his head was spinning," Richt said. "He was kind of treading water a little bit, but the last few days as we see the fog clear for him a little bit, mentally, we've seen him come off the ball and get some movement, which is encouraging. The three mid-year guys, we feel good about."
NOTES: Admission to G-Day is free but fans are once again asked to bring in a bag of canned food to be admitted to the annual game. Bins will be set up at the Main Gate as well as gates 2, 4, 6 and 9 to accept the canned goods. Donation stations will also be in place for monetary contributions, as one dollar equals four pounds of food. All canned food and proceeds will go to assisting families in Northeast Georgia. ... On Friday, Richt announced his annual spring award, they include: MVP (offense) - Aaron Murray, QB, Tampa, Fla.; Hutson Mason, QB, Marietta; True Grit Award (offense) - Arthur Lynch, TE, Dartmouth, Mass.; Coffee County Hustle Award (offense) - Kolton Houston, OG, Buford; Michael Erdman, SE, Merritt Island, Fla.; Most Improved Player (offense) - Ken Malcome, TB, Decatur; Outstanding Walk-On (offense) - Merritt Hall, FB, Alpharetta; MVP (defense) - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Columbu; John Jenkins, N, Meriden, Conn.; True Grit Award (defense) - Shawn Williams, SS, Damascus; Coffee County Hustle Award (defense) - Garrison Smith, DE, Atlanta; Most Improved Player (defense) - Damian Swann, CB, Atlanta; Ramik Wilson, ILB, Tampa, Fla.; Outstanding Walk-On (defense) - Connor Norman, SS, Duluth.