Birth of a Georgia Bulldog and Junkyard Mail!

Can Isaiah McKenzie become a downfield receiving threat as well as an ace kick returner?  (Andy Harrison / UGA)
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Can Isaiah McKenzie become a downfield receiving threat as well as an ace kick returner? (Andy Harrison / UGA)
Bill and Leslie King with daughter Olivia at Sanford Stadium.

Bill and Leslie King with daughter Olivia at Sanford Stadium.

Twenty-one years ago Sunday, in the early morning hours of March 1, 1994, my wife Leslie woke me up and told me she was in labor.

We’d gone through an episode of false contractions a week or so before, but it was pretty obvious this time it was for real.

So we took our son Bill over to the next door neighbors and then got in the car to begin what should have been about a 20-minute trip to Atlanta’s Piedmont Hospital.

But, as we turned onto North Druid Hills Road, the route we normally used get to I-85, which would take us to near the hospital, a police roadblock stopped us.

A DeKalb County officer informed us we couldn’t go that way. I told him my wife was in labor and asked him with some urgency what was the quickest way we could get to Piedmont Hospital.

He just shrugged.

We turned around and instead headed down Scott Boulevard, which turns into Ponce de Leon Avenue and eventually leads to Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street.

As the frequency of the contractions increased, so did the pressure of my right foot on the gas pedal. By the time we were inside the Atlanta city limits, the car was hurtling along at about 90 mph on the thankfully mostly deserted street.

Suddenly, an Atlanta police car pulled up alongside me. This time, though, the result was much different from our previous encounter with the cops.

I rolled down the window while not taking my foot off the gas one bit.

“Woman in labor!” I shouted.

The police officer nodded and gestured for me to keep going.

Once we turned onto Peachtree and he figured out where we were headed, he then increased his speed, pulled out in front of us, switched on the flashing blue lights and escorted us all the way to the hospital.

He went in and told the hospital folks what was up and they rushed out a wheelchair for Leslie. I took a brief moment to shake the police officer’s hand and thank him before I followed her in. “God bless you,” he replied.

Truly, one of Atlanta’s finest … and yet I never even noticed his name.

About four hours later, at 8:12 a.m. — around the time we’d been due to show up at Piedmont anyway for the doctor to begin inducing labor — Olivia James Parry King was born.

A birth story that involves a police escort is something special, but that’s pretty much been the story of the ensuing 21 years as our daughter — now a junior anthropology-classics major at UGA who plays on the Ultimate Frisbee team and plans to go to nursing school — has grown into a remarkable young woman who makes her parents endlessly proud.

Happy birthday, Livvy!

Oh, and the Atlanta cop was right. God indeed blessed us with you.

Now, let’s get to some Junkyard Mail. …

Brice Ramsey enters spring practice with an edge because of game experience.  (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Brice Ramsey enters spring practice with an edge because of game experience. (Sean Taylor / UGA)

Danny Jackson writes: I’m concerned whether the “open” competition for quarterback will truly be open. It seems to me that Mark Richt has a track record of deciding ahead of time who his quarterback is going to be and then sticking with that player, no matter what. I think back to quarterback battle between Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. Before Mett got kicked off the team, he outshowed Murray badly in the G-Day game, and yet afterward Murray was still ranked No. 1. And I don’t think any serious consideration was given to Hutson Mason during the rest of Murray’s career. Now, I’m afraid that Brice Ramsey will end up the starter just because he was Mason’s backup. What do you think, Bill?

I think Murray proved in his four years as Georgia’s starter that Richt and Mike Bobo knew what they were doing when it came to picking a starting quarterback. And if you look at Mason’s one year as starter, the reasons why he never was able to pry more playing time away from Murray seem pretty obvious.

Here’s the bottom line, as I see it: Richt and new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer want the team to win, and that means they’re going to start the QB they believe gives Georgia the best chance to do that.

At this point, Ramsey has the most playing experience and so is naturally seen as having a bit of an edge, but Richt said a couple of times this week that the competition at that position is open, and I have no reason not to believe him.

Speaking of the three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster on the SEC Network’s “Paul Finebaum Show,” Richt said: “I don’t really see a frontrunner right now. I see three guys that have a lot of talent, that have a lot of competitive spirit about them. I think it’s going to be a great competition. We’re going to give them all a really good opportunity to have reps with the first and second units and try to make it as fair as we can, So we can make a really good judgment on where we need to go with that position. But I’m looking forward to seeing them compete.”

And in an appearance Friday at a coaches clinic in Columbus, Georgia’s head coach said “the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say.”

That doesn’t sound like a guy who has already made his mind up.

Phillip Joiner writes: Hey Bill, Love your Blawg, especially in the doldrums of the offseason. I’ve actually got two questions, feel free to answer either/neither/both: It seems to me that many pundits are bemoaning our lack of proven WR’s, but I see it differently. Rather than look at it by position title, why not view it as “who do we have who can catch the ball downfield”? In addition to [Malcolm] Mitchell and JSW, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel have shown they can run routes and have great hands. Our “Human Joystick” [Isaiah McKenzie] and Reggie Davis clearly have the speed and hands — as they both return kicks, and we have 3, arguably 4 tight ends who could play in the slot or lineup wide. By my count, we’ve got 7-8 proven pass catchers. Thoughts on that logic? [Also,] how lucky is Mark Fox to have the bigs he has this season? [Nemi] Djuresic has been unbelievable, [Yante] Maten is getting better by the game and, when Marcus Thorton is healthy, look at the record. You think a fully healed hoops squad could make a Sweet 16 run?

Can Isaiah McKenzie become a downfield receiving threat as well as an ace kick returner?  (Andy Harrison / UGA)

Can Isaiah McKenzie become a downfield receiving threat as well as an ace kick returner? (Andy Harrison / UGA)

I think there definitely are a bunch of folks who can catch the ball, including Nick Chubb. Behind Malcolm Mitchell, however, the wide receiver corps needs a little work. Of course, with Hutson Mason, Georgia didn’t really have a QB who could consistently test opponents deep, but Justin Scott-Wesley, Reggie Davis, Isaiah McKenzie (who primarily made his mark as a kick returner) and the rest of the receiving corps were inconsistent last season in both getting open and in holding on to the ball when they were open. Hopefully, whoever winds up at quarterback this season will bring that aspect of Georgia’s game back to the fore. In the meantime, I think the tight ends, particularly Jeb Blazevich, and the running backs may join Mitchell as the Dawgs’ chief receiving threats.

As for the basketball Dawgs, if they make the tournament as expected and manage to get and keep everyone healthy, yeah, I could see them making the Sweet 16 run. Here’s hoping …

Jim P. writes: Bill, Do you think we can possibly go a few weeks without somebody demanding some UGA coach to be fired? It’s only February. It has become so boorish reading blog comments or a letter to the Junkyard Blawg calling for a coaches head. Richt has his vocal minority of hateful enemies 365 days a year. [Mark] Fox was getting bashed in letters you published the last couple of weeks. Pure lunacy. Anybody that actually has watched the B-ball team knows of their injuries and how well they do play. Also they would know Fox is very well respected by his peers and analysts. Who’s next? The baseball team is off to a good start. If they lose a series, will the lunatics be calling for [Scott] Stricklin’s head? We’ve just about gotten to the point to where these idiots go completely crazy if any team does not go undefeated in their long seasons. Do you see the same pattern with these negative people, as I do?

It’s not just UGA, Jim. Coaches in any sport at any level tend to be the lightning rod for criticism from fans if the team isn’t performing up to expectations. That’s just part of the job, and at the SEC level they’re compensated very well for putting up with it.

Andy Landers and Greg McGarity go way back together. (John Kelley / UGA)

Andy Landers and Greg McGarity go way back together. (John Kelley / UGA)

Scott in Kentucky writes: Bill, First of all, I love your blog posts, always sound thinking from a very loyal Dawg.  My question;  While I am not a huge follower of the Lady Dawgs basketball, I can remember back in the day when the Lady Dawgs were the most dominant team in the SEC outside of Knoxville. That being said, it seems that over the years the Lady Dawgs have settled with being less and less of a force in the conference.  I am wondering if it is time for the Dawgs to retire Andy Landers and go another route.  This might sound like treason to those who are Lady Dawg fans, but how about shelling out the bucks to get Tyler Summitt, son of Pat, who is right now at Louisiana Tech but you know will get scooped up by an SEC team sometime in the near future?

One thing I’m pretty sure of: Even if the Lady Dogs’ incredible string of NCAA tournament teams ends this season, Andy Landers isn’t going to be forced out because of it.

For one thing, he has an incredible body of work, with 31 NCAAs, 20 Sweet 16s, 11 Elite Eights and five Final Fours. Before this year, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member had 29 20-win seasons, 18 25-win seasons and three 30-win seasons.

Secondly, he’s incredibly tight with Athletic Director Greg McGarity, who was Landers’ original sports information guy when he arrived at UGA in 1978. Just last year, McGarity said of Landers, “We’ve got one of the best coaches in the history of the women’s game.”

Also, the recent string of eight defeats coincides with a rash of injuries that includes star Shacobia Barbee and four other players being lost for the season. Until then, the Lady Dogs were doing quite well and on track to make the NCAA tourney again in a season where the expectations weren’t all that high. They sported a 17-3 overall record (5-2 in the conference) following a Jan. 22 upset win over No. 10 Texas A&M. And that string of eight losses has included four more Top 10 opponents.

You’re right that there’s no denying a general decline in the program’s status in the conference in recent years as the rest of the SEC has started to catch up with Tennessee and Georgia. But it’s still unthinkable that Landers would get forced out against his will. The more interesting question is, would Landers voluntarily step down if he thought the program he built was suffering and Georgia had an opportunity to make a great hire? That wouldn’t surprise me, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.

Finally, DeWitt Burton of Athens writes: Hello Bill, I know this has absolutely nothing to do with Bulldog sports (of which I am a big fan), but I was curious if you saw the band Big Star when they performed here many years ago (1970s). The UGA performance was one of [just] 20-25 touring shows they ever did.

That was before my rock critic days, DeWitt, and although I was a junior at UGA when Big Star played there sometime in the early fall of 1972, I was not aware of the band at the time (few were) and did not see them. For those who don’t know Big Star, they’re probably the ultimate American rock cult band of the 1970s, but it was only in later years, after they’d broken up, that the Memphis-based power-pop group led by Alex Chilton and Chris Bell started attracting attention. Their British Invasion-meets-Memphis-soul sound has been cited as an influence by a lot of acts, including Athens’ own R.E.M. It’s interesting to me that Big Star actually opened some shows in 1974 for one of my favorite bands, Badfinger, with whom they had a lot in common musically. Most folks know Big Star’s song “In the Street,” which became the theme song of “That ’70s Show,” as done by Cheap Trick, another band they influenced.

Here’s another of Big Star’s classic numbers …

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question for the Junkyard Blawg? Email junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.


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