2021 SEC Media Days - Kirby Smart

University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media during the 2021 SEC Football Kickoff Media Days on July 20,2021 at the Wynfrey Hotel, Hoover, Alabama. (Jimmie Mitchell/SEC)

HOOVER, Ala. — Head coach Kirby Smart was center stage on Tuesday to kick off Georgia’s media availability for SEC Media Days.

Smart was joined by starting quarterback JT Daniels and senior defensive tackle Jordan Davis as they gave a look into the Georgia football program ahead of the 2021-2022 season.

Program vaccination progress

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey made it apparent on Monday that games were not going to be rescheduled if a program could not field a healthy team. It is up to the teams to make sure they are vaccinated above the recommended threshold of 80% to avoid any disruptions.

Smart wasted no time in giving an update on vaccination progress among the football roster.

“Our roster is over 85%,” Smart said. “I think everybody wants to write who's over and who's under [the 80% threshold]. What it's really about is being able to save our season, being able to keep our players safe.”

On top of mentioning that the Bulldogs’ roster was over the 80% threshold, Smart added that it was important that every program strives for a 100% vaccination rate, although he noted it is still a personal decision whether a player gets vaccinated or not.

Smart mentioned Ron Courson, Georgia’s executive associate athletic director, as someone who was instrumental in keeping players safe last season and leading the charge on vaccination this season. Courson was a key player in helping the University of Georgia’s Vaccine Ambassadors program, where students are educated about the vaccine to help encourage others to be vaccinated.

“The school created [Vaccine Ambassadors] and took 25 students out of 35,000 and made them vaccine ambassadors. Six of them are student-athletes,” Smart said. “They got trained on how to recruit and encourage others to get the vaccine. There’s a lot of things that played into it where Ron Courson was an integral piece.”

Name, image and likeness

The last three weeks were an introduction to the new reality of college sports. On July 1, all college athletes were able to begin profiting off their name, image and likeness.

Smart backed the decision made by the NCAA but wanted to emphasize the need for NIL education for players across the country.

“What we have really been focused on is the education of our student-athletes. You are now putting on 18-21, 22-year-olds tremendous time demands,” Smart said. “They already have time management between being a student, being an athlete and doing everything we ask them to do, and now they have extra demands placed on them.”

Coaches can only help educate players in how to approach NIL deals. They can’t arrange deals for a player. Georgia’s football roster has seen an influx of players making deals, but there are also players like Davis who have yet to jump into the world of endorsements.

“I definitely think the NIL thing is a great addition to the NCAA. It gives us an opportunity to use our platform for profit,” Davis said. “But in terms of me, I haven't touched it. I'm confused by it, honestly. It's a lot.”

Smart reiterated Sankey’s Monday sentiment of needing federal legislation for NIL, given that many of the states have differing legislation or no legislation to begin with. He added that federal legislation would help clear up confusion that incoming recruits and their families may have.

“Do you want people making a decision on where to go to school based on state law, or do you want kids making a decision to go to school based on the best education and football program?” Smart said. “The best decision for them and their family should not be based on NIL.”

Managing expectations

Once again, Georgia football enters a new season with high expectations and pressure to win a national championship for the program. Smart came ready to deal with questions about expectations with a quote from Henry David Thoreau.

“'Success comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.' That's Henry David Thoreau,” Smart said. “For me, that's it. I'm too busy working. I'm too busy trying to do the next thing. I'm too busy trying to take the next step to give our team a competitive advantage to really worry about expectations.”

Smart mentioned that the best way to help manage expectations was to build connections among the team so that they were able to rely on each other, something that both Daniels and Davis reiterated.

“I definitely think the key to a successful team is a cohesive team. We need to know the brother beside us,” Davis said. “I always say, if you can't trust the person next to you, then you won't be willing to play your heart out for them.”

Daniels maintained that the Bulldogs are focused on "the day-to-day" in their preparations, growing closer as a team and getting better on the field.