I will never forget the first time I walked on to the University of Georgia (UGA) campus. I was 11-years old and grew up dreaming of one day becoming a part of Bulldog nation.
Growing up watching Georgia football, I knew how to say “Go Dawgs” long before I knew what it meant. I still cherish the day I bought my first Georgia T-shirt and how proud I was to wear it.
Eleven years later, I have achieved what I dreamed of as a child, and am a senior at the University of Georgia. Life as a Georgia Bulldog is better than my wildest dreams, thanks in no small part to watching the Dogs between the hedges of Sanford Stadium on Saturdays.
Each and every memory of UGA football, both while I have been in Athens and as a fan growing up in Newton County was with Mark Richt as coach. Now that has all changed..
On Sunday, I, along with the rest of the college football world, was left in shock with the announcement of Richt being fired.
I was left with many mixed emotions.
As a student, I felt betrayed by the athletic program.
As a football fan, being on hand to witness a brutal defeat to Alabama, I had seen it coming.
I watched as other heartbreaking defeats gradually dropped Georgia down the national rankings. Yet, I had to ask myself, was it all Richt’s fault? Did he really deserve this?
Driving to Athens Monday, I knew that there would be a cloud of emotions surrounding the school I love so much. I also knew talk of Richt would be everywhere. It wasn’t long after I hopped on my first bus to my class that I heard the same question I had been asking since early Sunday.
“Do you think that he should really be the one to blame for everything?” one girl asked.
The guy she was talking to said, “No.” I had to agree with him.
Yet, football is football, and football is about championships. Even with Richt’s overall record standing at 145-51 and having an 83-37 SEC record, there has always been one thing missing — a national championship. Two SEC titles are great, but the last one Georgia won was in 2005; therefore, it has been a long time since Georgia had something to celebrate.
Still, one thing has always remained to be true: Everyone loves and adores Richt. From his players to Georgia fans, everyone agrees Richt is a class act guy whether or not they agree he’s a good coach. I think that is why so many people at the University of Georgia are sad to see him go.
It’s why I heard so many people say: “We knew it was possible, but we are still heartbroken over it.”
You see, I was also there to witness the devastating injury of Devon Gales during the Southern University game. Richt took Gales and his family on his shoulders and did whatever he needed to do to help them. He didn’t have to, but he did it anyway. On Nov. 21, I joined the rest of the people in Sanford Stadium in cheering on, with tears in my eyes, Gales when he was honored at the game. Richt was right there on the sidelines giving him a round of applause. It gave me chills.
At the end of every game, Richt gathered his players to pray and give glory to God despite winning or losing. It’s the moment that captures my attention even in the midst of celebrations. Faith and football have not always mixed together, but still Richt and his team don’t let anyone stop them. I will always be thankful for Richt’s faith and charisma, and it will be something that I will personally miss at Sanford Stadium.
All-in-all, losing Richt was tough to swallow not just in the college football world but for those of us still at UGA. He was a part of our school for 15 years, and being at Sanford Stadium without him will not be easy.
Wherever he goes next, they will be lucky to have him.
I know we were.
Joy Bratcher is a student at the University of Georgia, an Eastside High School graduate and former intern at The Covington News.