J.R. Reed studied for the spelling bee growing up.
If it was a competition, he intended to win it. His family taught him that mentality when they played games like Connect 4 and checkers. Reed’s father Jake, a former 12-year NFL veteran for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints, was notorious for doing whatever it took to win, even going so far as to switch up the cards.
“It doesn’t matter how big or how small the game is, we’re going to compete,” Reed said.
It goes without saying that No. 3-ranked Georgia’s game against No. 7 Notre Dame on Saturday carries more magnitude than a spelling bee. The last top 10 matchup in Sanford Stadium was in 2013 when the Bulldogs defeated LSU 44-41. This is also the first time ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to Athens since that LSU game. CBS will broadcast Saturday’s game at 8 p.m.
So Saturday night will be a big deal. But it’s not like Georgia hasn’t been in a big games these last few years. Reed, a starting senior safety, played for the Bulldogs when they beat the Fighting Irish 20-19 in South Bend, Indiana, in 2017. Since then, Georgia has played in two SEC championships and a national championship.
“We’re used to games like this,” Reed said. “This is what you come to Georgia for.”
Sophomore Cade Mays was a senior in high school when Georgia lost to Alabama in the national championship. He’s still seen enough and talked to enough people to know that this isn’t unfamiliar territory for Georgia.
“We’ve been on the big stage before,” Mays said. “A lot of these guys went on that national championship run. We’ve been in big games before. When Saturday comes, I think we will be able to block out all that outside noise.”
Notre Dame players are also familiar with a national spotlight, thanks to a partnership with NBC that dates back to 1991. The contract was most recently renewed in 2013 for a reported $15 million annually.
In a teleconference on Sunday, Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said playing for Notre Dame is like being on Broadway.
“They [Notre Dame players] know that all their games are broadcast either on NBC, or CBS, or ESPN or ABC,” Kelly said. “So they know they’re in that spotlight and they choose to come to Notre Dame because they want that. They relish that opportunity.”
Georgia graduate transfer and former Tennessee tight end Eli Wolf doesn’t have the same big game experience as some of his teammates. But he said he understands how to handle the situation.
“Gamedays in Athens are electric regardless,” Wolf said. “For us, I think we’re just going to try to not get caught up in the hype and focus on the game. For the fans, it should be a great time. Everybody has to take a moment and not take it for granted and appreciate you’re at the University of Georgia playing against No. 7 Notre Dame because that’s a moment that comes around once in a lifetime.”
Reed will go through the same routine he always goes through before a game. Eat breakfast, call his parents, rest a little bit, then listen to music. One thing Reed doesn’t have to worry about is school. He has already graduated with a degree in communication studies.
“The vibe on campus is it’s test week,” Reed said. “That’s the vibe I’ve been getting. Everybody has been telling me they’re worried about their tests then the game. But I think everyone is going to show up.”
It’s not a spelling bee, but it will do.