Crisp's Robert Tyler, Lee County's Jess Posey and Daniel Nichols, and Deerfield's Harris Webb and Davis Hines all told The Herald this week that they plan on staying firm on their commitment to UGA, despite the fact head coach David Perno left the program Monday.
ATHENS — Moments after Georgia recorded the final out against Florida on Saturday for a 9-2 win in the Bulldogs’ regular-season finale — a nice ending to an otherwise dismal season — coach David Perno gathered his guys in the clubhouse for what felt like a farewell speech.
Turns out it was.
“He said, ‘Guys, I love you all, I appreciate your efforts this year and I’m sorry it wasn’t a better season. I may not be here Monday, and if that’s the case, I just wanted to tell everyone in this room how proud I was to be your coach,’ ” recalled former Lee County star and UGA freshman Daniel Nichols, who was a little in shock at what he was hearing. “I mean, we had heard whispers that there would be some staff changes after this season, but I don’t think any of us thought he’d be fired after how long he’d been at Georgia and all he’d done for the program.
“He did so many great things, but when he started talking like that, we knew.”
Less than 48 hours later, Perno, a two-time SEC champ, was asked to resign after 12 years in Athens.
Standing near Nichols that evening was his former Trojans teammate Jess Posey, a fellow freshman who — like Nichols — made a commitment to UGA and Perno last year having no idea they’d be losing their beloved and respected head coach.
But even now that Perno is gone, both say that commitment will stick.
“I think I speak for me and Jess when I say we know there’s opportunities to leave and go somewhere else, but neither of us wants to. We love Georgia, love the fans, love our teammates and love being Bulldogs,” said Nichols, The Herald’s reigning Player of the Year. “I didn’t expect to play that much this year, but coach Perno gave me an opportunity, and I can never thank him enough.”
Posey and Nichols make up just two parts of a Southwest Georgia contingent of baseball players either currently in Athens or headed that way. Deerfield senior standouts Harris Webb and Davis Hines both signed preferred walk-on offers earlier this year to play for Georgia, and Crisp County senior ace Robert Tyler inked with the Bulldogs his junior season.
And like Nichols and Posey, all three UGA commits told The Herald this week that while they hated to see Perno go, they will remain loyal to the University of Georgia and its baseball program in hopes of being part of the group that helps right the ship.
Tyler is easily one of UGA’s most prized prospects, although he may never throw a pitch in Athens. Many scouts predict the Cougars’ ace will be taken in the early rounds of June’s Major League Baseball Draft, and Tyler says that while the allure of playing for Georgia was dimmed by Perno’s firing — and its losing season in 2013 — he will definitely pitch for the Bulldogs next year if he opts not to turn pro.
“(Perno’s firing) doesn’t change anything. I grew up liking Georgia, so that’s where I have always wanted to go,” he said Monday after Crisp was eliminated from the GHSA Class AAAA Final Four in a two-game sweep by Marist. “My plans have always been to get drafted, so Georgia is just my fall back. I want to go to a college that’s going to win, and Georgia hasn’t been, (but I remain committed to them).”
Posey said he would keep his options open based on who was hired as the next coach, but as of now he has no intentions of transferring.
“I would like to stay, of course, but it depends who comes in. I mean, who doesn’t want to play for Georgia? I think we have a really good baseball team, we just didn’t play up to our potential this season,” said the freshman, who finished his first season with action in 30 games (16 starts), batting .297 with two home runs. “But I plan on staying, and I hope the guys from Deerfield who are coming up stay, too. I really want to play with them.”
It looks that will happen.
Hines and Webb said Wednesday they were no doubt disappointed to hear about Perno being let go, but they have been die-hard Bulldog fans for life and their dreams have always been to play for Georgia.
“I was definitely disappointed (to hear coach Perno was leaving). Ever since I was young going to games, Perno has been the coach. I always dreamed of going to play for Georgia, and Perno has already been associated with that,” Hines said. “But whether or not he is the coach, you still have to go and adjust to a new coach and work hard no matter who is up there making the calls.”
Hines said he hasn’t even considered backing out of his commitment to UGA.
“That’s where my entire family has gone to college, so growing up Georgia has been in my blood. There is nowhere else I would rather be,” he said.
Webb admitted he was “nervous” about Perno not being there, but he also remains optimistic.
“It makes me nervous, but I’m still excited to go up there,” he said. “I will fight for a spot either way.”
Nichols is glad to hear that.
“We have a good group, and I hope the guys who are here stay, and the ones coming decide to still come,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of years left to turn this around.”
— Herald sports writer John Millikan contributed to this report