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Scholarship opportunity inspires sixth-year senior.


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Whether it's wearing black jerseys against Auburn, celebrating a touchdown against Florida or awarding a scholarship to a walk-on, Georgia coach Mark Richt loves surprises.

Richt dumbfounded safety Andrew Williams for the second straight season when he gave the sixth-year senior a scholarship at the start of preseason drills.

Richt informed Williams in the middle of one of the first team meetings during a get-to-know your teammates segment.

"We do this thing called the hot seat," Williams said. "Seniors get up there and they talk about their past experiences and our thoughts on the season and whatnot. I was getting up to come back and sit down, he told me in front of everybody. I was just as surprised as everybody else was so it was kind of neat. I hope I didn't act ungrateful I was just kind of so shocked I didn't know what to do."

Williams has been a backup safety and a special teams stalwart since arriving at Georgia as a walk-on. Richt gave him a scholarship as a fifth-year junior last season but made no promises about another one if he received a sixth year of eligibility. Williams was redshirted his first season because of a severe injury to his left knee in high school. Williams returned but missed nearly all of the 2005 SEC title season because of a severe injury to his right knee and was granted an extra year to play.

Williams' stupefied reaction to the scholarship was much different from the mother of all scholarship responses. Last season, Chris Gaunder celebrated by giving Richt a bear hug.

Williams has made an impact as a wedge buster in his Georgia career. This season the Bulldogs are looking for a wedge-busting replacement for Gaunder who graduated to medical school last spring. Another wedge buster, Benjamin Boyd, has switched from linebacker to fullback but still participates on special teams.

"Boyd and I are the only two who are full time," Williams said. "Everybody else is pretty open. We're looking at a lot of other guys to see if they can do it. A lot of it is mental. I'm not really athletic so you've got to have something else. You've got to have that will behind you. It's our 11 against their 11 and may the best man win. It's the purest play in football."

Defense crowded at corners

Cornerback might be Georgia's deepest position on the team with five players in serious competition for snaps.

Thorpe Trophy candidate Asher Allen leads the group along with fellow returning starter Prince Miller. Former starters Ramarcus Brown and Bryan Evans are also back along with sophomore Vance Cuff.

"We've got a lot of guys who are trying to compete and make each other better," Brown said. "The more comfortable the coaches feel with guys, the better they feel when they get the rotation going. If you go out and make some plays out there and show what you can do, you'll get a chance to play, if not at corner then on special teams."

Special teams might be the first place for projected reserves like Brown, Evans and Cuff can shine. Working on returns and coverages are a source of pride for the reserve corners.

"Special teams are very important," Brown said. "That's where games are won and lost. That's what the coaches preach day-in and day-out. Special teams wins the close games. Field position is important so we've got to excel at returning kicks and covering kicks."

Cuff no longer catching up

Cuff started his Georgia career under a cloud of uncertainty. But with a full off-season behind him, he sees a chance to make an impact.

Cuff missed all of summer workouts before his freshman season last year while Georgia and the NCAA resolved a clearinghouse issue. Cuff received the green light to play at the beginning of preseason camp. But he had to make up ground on established defensive backs who had gone through the voluntary summer workouts.

"I missed about two months of summer workouts," Cuff said.

"I tried to train at my high school. But when you're on campus, you build relationships with your teammates and coaches and going through Division I conditioning. I missed all of that. Plus, working out at high school just isn't the same as what you see here. It's like going from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond. It's not the same."

Although he started behind, Cuff played in all 12 games last season and made six tackles, primarily on special teams.

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