If Georgia Coach Mark Richt hadn't persuaded quarterback D.J. Shockley to stay with the Bulldogs in 2002, things might have been a lot different for the Bulldogs and the Maryland football team this coming season.
Shockley, who was considered one of the country's top high school quarterbacks in 2000, nearly transferred after his second season at Georgia. Shockley said Maryland probably would have been his new destination because of his familiarity with Terrapins Coach Ralph Friedgen, who was Georgia Tech's offensive coordinator when Shockley played at North Clayton High School in suburban Atlanta. Shockley said he also contacted Florida State and North Carolina about transferring.
"Leaving was definitely a possibility," Shockley said. "I probably came down to within a couple of days of transferring. But then I talked with Coach Richt and decided this was the best place for me."
If Shockley had left Athens, Georgia's expectations for the 2005 season might be much more modest. The Bulldogs are expected to contend with Florida and Tennessee for the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title this season, partly because they have Shockley replacing David Greene, whose 42 career victories are the most by any quarterback in NCAA Division I-A history.
And, if Shockley had left Georgia for the Terrapins, who are picked to finish near the bottom of the ACC's Atlantic Division, Friedgen would have had an athletic, experienced quarterback who might have helped turn things around after a disappointing 5-6 finish last season.
Few Georgia fans could have faulted Shockley for leaving. When Shockley arrived at Georgia, Greene was coming off a redshirt season and was the heir apparent to Quincy Carter, who had three tumultuous seasons as the Bulldogs' starter before he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 2001. When Greene flourished as a freshman and then led Georgia to its first SEC championship in 20 years in 2002, Shockley knew he was going to play sparingly, if at all, during the next two seasons.
Richt, a former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Florida State, often went out of his way to make sure Shockley played in games, sometimes to a fault. When Greene struggled during his junior season, throwing only 13 touchdowns with 11 interceptions (he had 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a sophomore), some criticized Richt for rotating Shockley into games on alternating series, claiming it threw the starter out of rhythm. Richt was criticized for being too loyal to Shockley, who was the first recruit to orally commit to the Bulldogs after he was named coach.
With Greene now playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Richt said he is eager to see what Shockley can do.
"I am very excited about what's going to happen with D.J. Shockley," Richt said. "He is a great football player. I'm just happy for him. You know, guys can mope about the situation, or guys can decide, 'I just don't want to be here,' and take off. He didn't do that. Not only did he stay, but he thrived at Georgia. He is in great shape academically, and he has won community service awards for us. He's just a fantastic guy, a great man. He's probably the most respected player we have on the team."
But Shockley's development was retarded by Greene's presence and foot and knee injuries, which caused him to miss 10 games during the past two seasons. Shockley completed only 43.3 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and one interception last season and sometimes seemed overwhelmed when he played.
Shockley, 22, will have an experienced offensive line and a deep stable of running backs behind him. But Georgia is very inexperienced at wide receiver after losing seniors Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson to graduation. If young receivers don't develop quickly, the Bulldogs might have to rely heavily on Shockley's athleticism.
"With Shockley, he becomes a weapon himself with his ability to run above and beyond the basics," Richt said. "You've got to be an accurate passer, you've got to be a good decision-maker, you've got to be able to handle the pressure of the job and you've got to be a leader. He is all those things, plus he has the bonus of being able to run. It's exciting for us."
Shockley is looking forward to life on his own, even if he had to wait four years for it to happen.
"It's so exciting," Shockley said. "When you go out there, you don't have to worry about being the backup, and you know you'll get all the reps. I don't have any regrets. Once I decided to stay at Georgia, that was it. At the end of the day, this is why I stayed."