Ever since leaving Mitchell County as a three-time state track champ in the 100 and 200 meters and signing a football scholarship with UGA, Justin Scott-Wesley has been working hard to prove he’s more than just a fast guy who can beat the defense down the field. And with injuries to UGA’s top two wideouts, the redshirt freshman will finally get his shot Saturday against Auburn. (University of Georgia/Special to The Herald)
WHO: No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 6-1 SEC) at Auburn (2-7, 0-6 SEC).
WHAT: UGA can punch its ticket to SEC title game with victory.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Auburn, Ala.
RADIO: Albany— 1450 AM or 103.5 FM; Americus — 98.7 FM or 1390 AM; Donalsonville — 106.3 FM; Moultrie 93.9 FM or 1300 AM.
LINE: Bulldogs by 15 1/2 points.
By Seth Emerson
SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
ATHENS — Justin Scott-Wesley showed up to interviews on Monday night wearing a Georgia team sweatshirt.
Except it was for the track team. Not football.
It may not have been quite the best message for Scott-Wesley to send. He’s been trying to convince everyone — especially his coaches — that he’s more than just a fast guy. And this week against Auburn is the time he’ll probably get that chance.
“I had to show people I was a receiver,” the former Mitchell County High School two-sport star said. “People didn’t really acknowledge my skills as a receiver much. So I just had to show people I’m a football player.”
If he’s not the fastest member of the football team, he’s in the top three or four. That was part of what attracted Georgia to Scott-Wesley when the time came to leave Camilla and choose a college in 2011: He was a three-time state champion in sprint events.
So it was no surprise last year that Scott-Wesley, while taking a redshirt year for football, joined the UGA track team as a side project. Hence, that sweatshirt he was wearing Monday night.
But Scott-Wesley was there to talk about his football abilities, and why he thinks they will, or at least should, finally be on display for the Bulldogs. The season-ending knee injury to Marlon Brown, coming a month after a similar injury to Michael Bennett, has likely moved Scott-Wesley into the rotation Saturday against the Tigers.
“Justin has a great opportunity,” head coach Mark Richt said.
Scott-Wesley has one catch this season: A 43-yarder against Florida Atlantic. Otherwise, he’s been a non-factor.
And that shouldn’t be considered a shot at Scott-Wesley. The Bulldogs have a deep group of wideouts, and despite the injuries they can still trot out talents such as Malcolm Mitchell, Tavarres King and Rantavious Wooten. That trio has combined for 65 catches, 1,063 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore Chris Conley and former walk-on Rhett McGowan are also due for more playing time.
But Richt has mentioned Scott-Wesley numerous times this week when talking about guys who are about to see an increased role.
“We have some great guys in front of me, and they’ve been here, they know the system, they’ve paid their dues,” Scott-Wesley said. “I just had to wait my turn. When guys go down, people have to step up, so I guess it’s my time to step up.”
He’s also up front about the fact that he needed to redshirt last year.
“I wasn’t ready. I know I wasn’t ready,” he said. “Just coming in, getting acclimated with the system, learning everything, learning how to be a receiver.”
The main hurdles? Scott-Wesley said it was route-running and learning the nuances of the game, getting leverage on defenders and getting in and out of the break on his route.
In other words, doing more than just sprinting downfield faster than the opponent and waiting for the pass to land in his lap.
“Up to this point, I’ve really been trying to show the coaches I’m more than the deep threat. I’m more than the guy that can run in a straight line,” said Scott-Wesley, who originally committed to Stanford prior to his junior season before switching to Georgia — announcing his decision after winning the state track title in the 200 meters in 2010. “Day in and day out, I just show people I’m more than just a fast guy. I can catch the ball, I can take a hit, I can give a hit, I can block.”
Tony Ball, who coaches Georgia’s receivers, has been telling Scott-Wesley and other backups that they’re one play — one injury — away from being a starter.
“You’re one play away from being a starter,” Ball said. “You’re one play away from being on the field.”
Ball said he’s noticed vast improvement in Scott-Wesley during practice, and he also agreed that the redshirt year did Scott-Wesley some good because of all the hard work he put in to getting better during the offseason.
“Sometimes guys will say I’m not playing this year so I’m just going to go over here and feel sorry for myself and wait until the spring. Justin has not done that. He’s come to work every day to improve,” Ball said. “We watch film as coaches, and his effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think he’s going to play more than he’s played, and if you are in the game you could get a ball. We’ll call a play and we don’t know who it’s going to go to a lot of the time. It just depends on the coverage and the protection, so he may get his hands on the ball a couple of times and maybe something good will happen and give him some confidence and give us more confidence in him.”
Scott-Wesley now has his chance — and his teammates have made him aware of it.
“I talked to Justin (this week) and told him it was time to step up,” King said. “He’s gotta be someone we can depend on. He’s up for the challenge. Losing a guy like Marlon is huge to this offense and our receiving corps. Justin has come a long way since fall camp — he knows it’s his time.”