Stafford looking to fill Georgia's pressing need at QB
Posted: Monday May 1, 2006 4:12PM; Updated: Tuesday May 2, 2006 1:08PM
While the rest of the Highland Park (Texas) High School class of 2006 was picking up boutonnieres and corsages and going through last-minute preparations for their senior prom, Matthew Stafford was 853 miles away, lining up under center at Georgia's Sanford Stadium.
On the freshman quarterback's first live snap in a Bulldogs uniform, he play-faked to running back Danny Ware, then launched a deep ball down the left side of the field, hitting a wide-open Mikey Henderson, who maintained his balance just long enough to stumble into the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown.
The prom? Or the talk of G-Day? For the most important recruit to enroll at Georgia since Herschel Walker, it was never a question.
"I definitely had a bunch of good times with my friends in high school, and I miss them, but I've got things to do here," said Stafford, a 6-foot-3, 238-pound Dallas-area product. "They understood why I did it, and I obviously do too."
D.J. Shockley's graduation left Joe Tereshinski III -- a fifth-year senior who has been a career backup except for a start in Georgia's 14-10 loss to Florida last year -- as the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Stafford, one of the top two passers in most major recruiting services' ratings, saw an opening to get on the field right away. So at the advice of Georgia coach Mark Richt, he graduated from Highland Park in January and was in Athens, Ga., three weeks later as a college freshman. But Stafford wasn't alone in his transition: The Bulldogs had six early enrollees -- the most of any BCS conference school -- and Stafford was rooming with three others: wide receiver Kris Durham and offensive linemen John Miller and Kevin Perez.
It's a group he can not only lean on while trying to deal with life away from home, the demands of college classes and a complicated system, but one that also understands why he would be willing to give up those final months of high school.
"[It's trying] to get that step ahead and contribute as quickly as possible," Stafford said. "Trying to get comfortable, whether you play offense or defense, and try to learn the system. When you know what you're doing is really when you'll have the ability to show people what you can do."
Four days before G-Day, Stafford was given his first real taste of defensive pressure during a two-minute drill -- and was sacked on the first play. It was a performance that left a bad taste in his mouth, but opening G-Day with a splash helped Stafford find a comfort zone. "Starting off with that first play, it was big for my confidence," he said. "It helped me relax."