ATLANTA — As the Georgia football team sat in the home locker room inside Mercedes-Benz stadium following the team’s 26-23 overtime loss to Alabama in the national championship game, expressions on the team members faces ranged from anger to stunned disbelief.
Some players comforted each other. Others slammed their hands intermittently on lockers in frustration. Still others sat quietly in shock, slowly coming to terms with what will undoubtedly go down as the toughest loss of their lives to this point.
But through the pain and disappointment, one underlying thought permeated the minds of every athlete in the room.
“Just look around this locker room and see all these guys that I’ve worked, slaved, won with, crying and hurting, that’s just going to add fuel to the fire for next year,” junior wide receiver Terry Godwin said. “So we’re going to go back in this offseason and work harder.”
The loss will certainly be a tough one to swallow for the team, but the mindset of returning to work and improving was a source of comfort for the players who will be returning next year.
According to freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, making it to the title game “definitely sets the standard for Georgia football.” Fromm, who was among the most positive members of the team following the loss brushed off any signs of despair with an optimistic “hope to be back next year.”
Redshirt freshman guard Ben Cleveland was having a bit more difficulty dealing with the result of the game, but he was no less motivated.
“I just never want to have this feeling again,” he said after the game. “It’s only going to make us prepare more for next year.”
Cleveland said the pain of the loss will be on his mind all offseason, as he and the rest of the team gets ready for the coming season.
“It’s definitely going to drive us to accomplish what we did here, so I think it’s going to push us to do better,” he said.
As a freshman, Cleveland could have up to three more tries to get back to the title game. Other members of the team are not quite as lucky.
For the seniors, this was the final hoorah, the last chance to end a 37-year championship drought for Georgia dating back to the days of Herschel Walker.
Senior running back Sony Michel will be playing on Sundays instead of Saturdays next football season, as his four years of college eligibility are now officially up. And even though he won’t be with the team next year, Michel said he hopes what he and the rest of the team accomplished this year and how close they made it to bringing a championship back to Athens will play a role in how the Bulldogs come out and compete in the coming fall.
“That’ll just probably be motivation for this team to want to go back to work and get back to win where we left off,” Michel said.