Georgia tight end John FitzPatrick (86) celebrates with Georgia wide receiver Demetris Robertson (16) after Robertson caught a touchdown pass during the second half of Georgia’s home opener against Murray State University in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sep. 7, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs won 63-17. (Photo/Ryan Cameron, rcameron@randb.com)

John FitzPatrick was sitting on his couch at home in Atlanta the last time Georgia played Notre Dame in 2017. He had recently committed as a tight end to Georgia’s program, and he watched as former Georgia linebacker Davin Bellamy came across the edge around Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey to strip sack Brandon Wimbush. 

“That was the coolest thing and I was like, ‘Wow, I am going to be a part of that team soon,’” FitzPatrick said.  

What FitzPatrick did not know was that he would be playing against the Fighting Irish in a Top 10 matchup two years later and that the game would be the first non-conference matchup of Top 10 ranked teams that has been seen between the hedges since 1966. 

Sitting in the comfort of his own home, FitzPatrick also did not know that he would be competing against one of his best friends in the 2019 rematch.

Kyle Hamilton, a freshman defensive back at Notre Dame, went to Marist School with FitzPatrick. The two played football together there and eventually headed separate ways for college, where they are now opponents.

“[Hamilton is] a year under me but still one of my best friends. He’s strong, he’s fast, he can run side to side and then he can come and plug the holes,” FitzPatrick said. “He’s a good player.”

FitzPatrick said that he and Hamilton talk on the phone nearly every day and exchanged text messages earlier this afternoon. This time, it was about the upcoming game.

“[Hamilton] says he’s going to come take me out, and I’ll say the same thing back,” FitzPatrick said. It is clear that Notre Dame is the first game so far this season that Georgia has experienced an excessive amount of hype and anticipation around. However, head coach Kirby Smart reminds his players that Notre Dame is just another name on the schedule.

“We just approach it like a regular game, not try to make it bigger than what it is,” offensive lineman Trey Hill said. 

Hill said as he has walked around campus this week, it just seems like another normal home game weekend to him. He said that no one has come up to him to ask about Saturday, and his routine has not changed prior to this game. 

Despite what Smart and his players have said, there is a lot riding on the outcome of Saturday in Sanford Stadium. Seats are being added to the end zone, ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to Athens for the first time since 2013, and ticket prices are sky high — it is clear this is not just another game.

The Fighting Irish defensive line will prove to be a challenge for Hill and the Bulldog offense, but Hill said his main focus is to get off the ball fast, stay agile and move the Notre Dame defense around. 

“[Notre Dame’s] defensive line has a bunch of good players,” FitzPatrick said. “They’re fast, they’re strong, they cover well, so we have a good challenge ahead of us, and it’s going to be fun.” 

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