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What can you tell us about Matthew Stafford and his chances of being a top-ten pick?
Richt: Well, everything I’m hearing is he will be a top-ten pick. I think he is worthy of that grade. Very talented guy, he is built to be an NFL quarterback - in my opinion - (he is) six (foot) three-ish, maybe closer to six-three and a half and he’s a trim 230-235 (pounds). He is very strong and durable, he is very agile. His arm is unquestioned in its strength, but also he can make really any throw you would want a guy to make. He is highly intelligent. He loves the game. He’s a humble guy who wants to put the team first, he’s exactly what everyone is looking for. I think he will be a very high pick - if not the first pick.
Have you ever been around anybody who can spin the football the way Matt does?
Richt: Well, the guys that I saw spin the football like that were: (John) Elway, (Dan) Marino - really those two - up close because I was a free agent quarterback with the Broncos when Elway was a rookie. We were both rookies at the same time...he stayed about seventeen years, and I stayed about seven days. But I got to see him (Elway) up close, and he was very, very impressive - even though I was supposedly competing with him. And then Marino, the very next camp when I was with the Dolphins, I got a chance to see him throw and he was different than most anybody else I had ever seen. Jim Kelly (college teammate at Miami) was a fantastic passer also. But just pure arm-strength, I think Elway and Marino were those kinds of guys. Stafford absolutely fits into that category.
Do you think Stafford made the right decision to leave, and what’s something – had he returned – that he could’ve improved on?
Richt: Well, the thing about Matt is that he had to make the best decision for him and his future. He’s not afraid of a challenge. He felt like he was ready; he didn’t feel like his draft-status could’ve improved much at all from this year to next-year’s draft. I would have had a very difficult time saying, ‘Hey Matt, you need to stay because next year you might be a higher draft pick.’ So it came down to: ‘Do you want to try and stay and win a championship, or do you want to try and win a national award?’ But the reality is if he gets drafted as high as most people think he is (going to be), in order to get enough insurance, disability insurance, at the college level, it would have been impossible to come even close to the money he probably will make on his first contract. It would have been tough for him to stay.
Would you say there is a difference between a quarterback leaving early opposed to another position, like a running back?
Richt: I will say this, the running back position is one that, everybody knows, if you hold that ball everybody is going to hit you, and everybody is going to try and tackle you. Every time you run the ball you’re probably going to get hit by two or three defenders every single time. So with Knowshon Moreno’s situation, he would have been exposed more than probably any other (player). He probably would’ve been exposed as much, if not more, than Matthew would have been exposed. Again, from what we heard from the NFL people I talked to, most people felt like he (Knowshon) will be a top pick, but things may change, you know, and he may not get drafted there, but the people that I asked, they told me that. My goal when I talk to these guys is to try and tell them the truth, even if the truth is going to hurt. I’ll say: ‘Hey Matt, they think there might be some things that you could get better at, but quite frankly there’s not much out there in that draft right now and you probably will be the first or second quarterback taken in the draft.' So I’m going to tell him what people tell me, and I can spin it the best way for Georgia, but the one thing that we’ve based all of our relationships on at Georgia is trust and honesty. Now there’s other guys on our campus that were thinking about turning pro and I told them what people were telling me about them, and they didn’t like what they heard so much, and felt like maybe they should stay and improve, and that they could make a big jump in their draft-status from one year to the next. I told them that part too, so we tell them all the truth, so they know your credibility is good and they trust what you say.
Who were some of those guys that maybe stayed, are we talking about Reshad Jones and Geno Atkins, guys like that?
Richt: Well Geno was going to stay, period. Geno really never got too interested, he might have been interested, but his mother said, ‘You know what, you’re staying.’ Jeffery Owens had thought about going, even though he got hurt. It just wasn’t going to make sense for him to go to the combine and go through the physicals while he was still rehabbing from an injury, so he realized it was in his best interest to stay.
What’s Owens' status now, how’s he doing in the rehab process?
Richt: He’s doing great, he’s excited, you know? I’m excited because I get to hang around him another year. He’s one of the most pleasant guys in the world, he loves the game, he loves to practice, he loves his teammates - he loves Georgia. If he would’ve had a great senior year and would’ve been healthy, I would’ve been happy to see him move on to the next level. But he got hurt, and even though that was very bad, the good news was that I get to be around the guy.
Out of all your guys, did Corvey Irvin help himself the most from the beginning of the season up until this point?
Richt: Let me tell you, Corvey came in as a junior-college kid and when he came in, he came at the mid-year and that guy was so far from being ready to play SEC football. But in his defense and Georgia Military College's defense, he was coming off an injury. So he was not in the best shape, he was not as strong as he could be, and he was still trying to figure out what to do and how to do it the ‘Georgia way’. But that kid just started working and he got better, and better, and better. This summer our strength coaches said that guy was the greatest leader we had, the hardest worker we had, and then he actually got voted team captain. There aren’t many junior-college kids who come and play two seasons and end-up getting voted – by their peers – to be the captain of the football team. He just worked, got in-shape, played hard, did it the way we asked him to do it and now he’s really being blessed for it.
Ten of the 12 SEC teams are ranked in the top-25 in recruiting for 2009, is that just life in the SEC right there?
Richt: That just the way it goes. You know, we’re all recruiting the same guys; we all get our share, we all at one-time or another might sign a bigger class than another year depending on who’s departing and how long you hold onto the guys you got. That’s just part of life. We always gauge our class by asking, ‘Did we fill the needs we have?’, and we certainly did that, so we’re excited about that. The only positions we didn’t sign were a punter and a kicker, and we’ve got two on scholarship that we believe can do it, so we feel we did a very nice job.
Could we see incoming freshman Marlon Brown have an immediate impact like A.J. Green did last season?
Richt: We’re going to allow him to prove us otherwise. He’s going to get a great opportunity to play, just like when A.J. came in and had nine scholarship receivers ahead of him, he was the tenth. By the time the season ended he was not only the number-one receiver in yardage on the football team, but the number one in the Southeastern Conference. We’re going to give Marlon an opportunity, and all of our guys, we are going to flat-out let the best man play. Last year Ben Jones started as a true freshman, Cordy Glenn, our guards – our center-guards – started as true freshmen, of course A.J. ended-up starting as a true freshman. But we’ve had multiple guys, Stafford of course started as a true freshman, and there’s many, many more that we’ll give them that chance, and if they can do it, then they’ll get it.
In your time recruiting, who is the one guy that got away and turned out to be as good as you thought he was going to be, and you really wished you had a chance to coach him up?
Richt: One guy that said that he would come to Florida State, if he was the only one at his position, was Danny Wuerffel. We told Danny that we wanted to sign two (quarterbacks) that year, of course we signed Danny Kanell and he had a great career and played some pro ball too. So it wasn’t like Danny (Kanell) wasn’t a good one, but Wuerffel turned out to be a good one too.
Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media