Former Albany Herald Player of the Year in track & field, Justin Scott-Wesley, has turned on the afterburners of his football career at Georgia after a breakout bowl game last year and one heck of a spring showing. Scott-Wesley, according to UGA coach Mark Richt, could be the Bulldogs’ next star this coming season. (University of Georgia/Special to The Herald)
MACON — Camilla’s Justin Scott-Wesley had the game of his life in Georgia’s win vs. Nebraska in January’s Capital One Bowl, catching three balls for a career-best 67 yards and setting up the Bulldogs’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
But UGA coach Mark Richt believes the best is yet to come from the ex-Mitchell County star.
Scott-Wesley, a sophomore, only caught six passes last season for the Bulldogs, but the speedy receiver has emerged as a budding star in Georgia’s offense and could explode on the scene this fall.
“I think it is time for him to break out and be a playmaker for us because he has speed, has good hands, is tough and knows what to do,” Richt said Tuesday during the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview.
Scott-Wesley was given the “Offensive Hustle Award” prior to this spring’s G-Day Game and then proceeded to haul in the game’s first touchdown catch from quarterback Aaron Murray.
Valdosta native Malcolm Mitchell, who enters the fall as the No. 1 receiver for the Bulldogs, also believes Scott-Wesley has only begun to soar to his potential.
“He will have a lot bigger role this year,” Mitchell said. “You saw a glimpse of that in the last game of the season. He is going to turn into a good player. You could tell in the spring game that he has really come along. He is going to preform at the level he needs to.”
Scott-Wesley told reporters after the G-Day Game that he feels comfortable stepping into a key role for the Bulldogs.
“I am here. I am in the system,” Scott-Wesley said in April. “I have learned the system and have a pretty good feel for it. I am just ready to come out and play ball. … Since my time here I have been progressing slowly but surely and getting better every day.”
Mitchell began 2012 as a defensive back but transitioned to a full-time receiver by the end of the season, and the junior will be back on offense this year along with Michael Bennett and Chris Conley, who both had more than 300 yards receiving and combined for 10 TDs.
But behind that trio, Richt is looking for a star to emerge.
“I want to see Justin Scott-Wesley and Rantavious Wooten rise up to the level of play we need them to,” Richt said Tuesday. “We are going to need more than three guys to do it, but Malcolm playing receiver only will be really healthy for him and Georgia.”
Richt is looking for the same type of depth at receiver that he had last year when six players had at least 20 catches and 11 finished with more than 100 yards, including Marlon Brown, who was leading the team midway through the season before a left ACL injury prematurely ended his college career.
Richt saw glimpses of Brown, who was recently signed as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens, in Scott-Wesley this spring.
“(Scott-Wesley) has been a little bit like a Marlon Brown or somebody where little by little by little he keeps getting better and better and better,” Richt said. “I think if Marlon didn’t get hurt, he would have had a great college career and would have been a draft pick. I think that if Justin Scott-Wesley can do those same type of things, (he can be as good as Brown).”
Last month, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said Scott-Wesley was the player to watch this fall.
“He had a great spring, one of our most improved receivers,” Bobo told ESPN. “I think the confidence level he gained from playing in the bowl game when Malcolm Mitchell went down with a concussion, he caught three passes — two big third-down conversions — and him making those plays in a game gave him confidence to carry over into spring ball and get better and make that next step.”
ZENON INJURED: Former Deerfield-Windsor star Tony Zenon is expected to fight for a starting A-back job at Georgia Tech this fall, but this spring the junior is just fighting to get healthy.
Zenon, who emerged as a big-play threat last year and finished his sophomore season with 440 all-purpose yards, missed spring practices recovering from foot surgery.
A healthy Zenon will likely see an expanded role in the Tech offense this year.
“Tony is very allusive and quick, and we like to get him involved in the return game,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m sure he will be in the rotation at A-back if he comes into fall camp healthy. He’s a guy who has a little wiggle and has the ability make people miss.”
Zenon, a former Herald Player of the Year, played in all 14 games last season and averaged 6.2 yards per carry and 27.9 yards per catch.
GMC’S NEWEST STAR: Albany High 2013 grad and former Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Emanuel Byrd hasn’t even taken a snap yet in a Georgia Military College uniform, but the quarterback is already turning heads in Milledgeville.
Byrd threw for more than 3,300 yards combined the past two years with the Indians and will compete for the starting job at GMC this fall.
“We are expecting him to come in and push the (starting quarterback) we have now,” said GMC defensive coordinator Rob Manchester, the Bulldogs’ representative Tuesday in Macon. “Byrd will play a lot. We won’t have just one guy play quarterback, because we want guys to be recruited and always employ a two-quarterback deal. (Offensive coordinator Ross Robinson) is expected him to come in and push for starting playing time.”
Manchester said the GMC coaching staff is also excited about former Early County star lineman Shaq Powell, who made The Herald’s All-Area team after leading the Bobcats to the Elite 8.
“They are expecting him to come in and do some big things, too,” Manchester said.