The Georgia football team is not afraid to have some fun. The players are also not afraid to admit when they are out of their element.
Matthew Boling, a freshman track phenom at Georgia whose performances in high school went viral on social media, beat out Richard LeCounte in the last leg of a relay race that was supposed to feature head coach Kirby Smart.
Boling’s appearance is part of a sustained effort by the Bulldogs to keep things loose at practice.
The team also held the “Georgia Olympics” on July 31 — two days before fall camp started — where the players competed in events that included Pop-A-Shot, golf and running.
In 2020, Boling might compete at the actual Olympics in Tokyo. It would represent one more accomplishment in a young career filled with so many. He already has an ESPY, a Gatorade National Boys Track and Field Player of the Year and a Sports Illustrated profile story to his name. He also ran the 100-meter sprint in a wind-assisted 9.98 seconds on April 27.
Sophomore offensive lineman Cade Mays said Boling is the fastest runner he has ever seen.
“He looks like Road Runner,” Mays said. “You can’t see his legs. You just see his upper body standing still, legs are churning.”
So it wasn’t a surprise to see Boling defeat LeCounte, a safety who happens to be one of the fastest players on the football team.
But it was a surprise to see Boling out there at all. The sequence started at practice on Aug. 16 when the players were lined up for sprints on the practice fields. Smart then asked if they wanted to have a players vs. coaches relay race instead, a proposition the players quickly agreed to.
In the last leg of the 4x100 relay race, everyone gathered at Spec Towns Track that afternoon was treated to a streak of blonde hair emerging from a hidden location.
“I wasn’t really paying attention to the first three legs,” sophomore offensive lineman Cade Mays said. “Then I wanted to pay attention to the fourth leg because I wanted to see coach Smart run. I was like, ‘There’s no way he’s going to get out here and actually run’. So I peeked out there, and I just saw curly blonde hair. I’m like, ‘OK, that dude is fast.’ Then it finally registered to me [who it was].”
Senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett said the players were ready to “dust” the coaches in the race. But then Boling had to come along.
“It was pretty much a setup,” Barnett said. “We should have known from the jump.”
Smart, the architect of the setup, said fun competitive situations bring the team together.
“I enjoy those situations, and I think the kids do [as well],” Smart said on Aug. 2. “They want the chance to compete, they want the chance to have fun and a chance to change things up. As long as they’re getting the work, the difference between running around that track and running around that field is not that big.”
But when it includes Boling running at full speed, running around the track instead of the field is the difference between winning and losing. When Mays saw Georgia’s Road Runner, he knew one thing for certain.
“That’s not coach Smart,” he said.