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UGA’s Stripling ready to finish career strong

After a brutal injury during his freshman season, T.J. Stripling (44) wasn’t the same player for years. But now that he’s finally healthy, he’s aiming to finish his UGA career on a high note. (Photo: University of Georgia)

After a brutal injury during his freshman season, T.J. Stripling (44) wasn’t the same player for years. But now that he’s finally healthy, he’s aiming to finish his UGA career on a high note. (Photo: University of Georgia)

ATHENS — T.J. Stripling has stood out among Georgia’s outside linebackers in preseason practices. That starts with the fact that he hasn’t broken anything.

Three outside linebackers suffered fractures somewhere on their left hands last week — freshmen Davin Bellamy (thumb) and Leonard Floyd (hand) and sophomore James DeLoach (thumb). Each was out a week as he recovered from surgery. Meanwhile, fellow outside linebacker Chase Vasser also has been out for a week, with a sprained ankle.

All along, Stripling just kept on keeping on.

“I guess they just need to start drinking more milk or something,” Stripling cracked.

The important thing to take from Stripling’s comment is he still has a sense of humor. The senior’s career at Georgia has been anything but a smooth ride. It got off to a bumpy start with a devastating injury five games into his freshman season and hasn’t gone as expected since.

A former AJC Super 11 selection and four-star recruiting prospect, expectations were for Stripling to be at least a regular starter by now, if not an early NFL draftee. As it is, Stripling has reached his final season without logging a start and has only 11 career tackles.

But you won’t hear him complain.

“My time here has really helped me grow up,” he said. “After the injury, my whole mindset was kind of like, ‘do I really want to do this or not.’ … But I got past that and just tried to help the team anyway I could.”

Stripling was considered an up-and-comer among Georgia’s freshmen in 2010 and quickly played his way onto Georgia’s kickoff team. But in the first quarter of an early October game at Colorado, Stripling took a helmet to his right kneecap covering a kick. He was carted off the field wincing in pain and did not return that season.

“It really took something out of me,” Stripling said. “I think that comes with any injury, but especially for a freshman coming in. You never know the extent of an injury, whether it’s going to be a week or a year, like mine was. But that really made me think about a lot of things, whether I really wanted to play football or even if I wanted to come back from the injury. It was a horrible one. But the guys around me really kept my spirits up, and that was the biggest thing.”

So Stripling kept playing, and while his primary work has come on special teams, Stripling is getting more and more work on the defense. He was singled out by coaches for his performance in the Bulldogs’ first scrimmage of the preseason, and he continues to alternate in with the first and second units at the strongside and weakside positions.

“I think Strip has done a good job of making himself a better player,” Grantham said. “I’ve seen him out there working a lot on his own in the spring and summer … and it has shown up in preseason camp. He’s made some plays and been effective. We’ll definitely have a role for him.”

Said Stripling: “Coach Grantham told me I needed to get after it, so that’s what I’ve been doing, getting after it.”

LONG’S CAREER OVER: University of Georgia senior offensive lineman Austin Long’s career has ended due to academic reasons according to UGA head football coach Mark Richt.

Long, a native of Memphis, Tenn., had an injury-plagued career but appeared in two games in 2011 and 13 games in 2012 as a reserve offensive lineman.

Etc.: DeLoach, Floyd and Bellamy each had their hands encased in club casts, but were able to practice at full speed. Floyd worked with the No. 1 defense Thursday. … Some other important players were back on the field, but remained limited. Freshman free safety Tray Matthews (shoulder) and tight end Jay Rome (ankle), limping noticeably, ran through plays and drills, but were held out of contact. Several others remained sidelined with injuries, including safety Shaquille Fluker (illness), tailback A.J. Turman (ankle, knee), receiver Rantavious Wooten (hamstring) and Vasser.