Ex-walk-ons reflect on scholarship rewards

ATHENS, Ga. -- A moment of great celebration for most of Georgia’s football team actually has a bit of a downside for Bulldogs coach Mark Richt.

Richt announced during a team meeting on Saturday night that five walk-ons -- cornerback Luis Capella, fullback Merritt Hall, receiver Rhett McGowan, safety Connor Norman and linebacker Kosta Vavlas -- would receive one-year scholarships for the first time and that scholarships for former walk-ons Blake Sailors and Brandon Harton would be renewed for another year.

While that was an exciting moment for the new scholarship players, Richt said he also knew it was one of great disappointment for other Georgia walk-ons.

“Believe it or not, it’s a bittersweet moment for me because as many guys that are getting scholarships, there’s a lot that aren’t. And there’s a lot of guys deserving,” Richt said after Monday’s practice. “It’s very difficult to narrow it down to the group that we narrowed it down to because there’s some other young men that really were probably just as deserving.

“So for me, I even debated if I should do it in a team meeting because I know as exciting as it is for the guys who get it, it’s kind of heartbreaking for the other guys.”

Nonetheless, for a player like McGowan who is entering his fourth season in the program, such recognition is not just exciting for him, but also his friends and family.

“Rhett’s one of my best friends on the team and I was super pumped when he got that scholarship,” sophomore receiver Michael Bennett said. “I just remember when I got offered, it’s one of the best feelings ever -- knowing that your parents basically don’t have to pay for you to go to college.

“I know Rhett, he told his mom and he told me his mom couldn’t even sleep that night she was so excited. You could tell on his face that it just meant the world to him, so I was pumped for him and everyone else.”

McGowan admitted that it was an enormously flattering moment, but said earning a scholarship was not his top goal when he started preseason camp. He appeared in seven games last season -- including a season-best four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown against New Mexico State -- and he wants to again find ways to contribute for Georgia’s offense.

“I’m so thankful for it. One of the first things I did was I went up and hugged Coach Richt and said thank you,” McGowan said. “But that’s just a bonus. It’s unbelievable. But I was working this camp to get ready to get on the field and play. But for them to give me that, I’m honored.”

Hall is another new scholarship recipient who seems to be on track to contribute this fall. The redshirt freshman continues to lead Georgia’s fullback competition, so he had high hopes that Richt would place him on scholarship.

“I was still surprised,” Hall said. “I was still in shock and excited. It was a good feeling.”

Quarterback Aaron Murray estimated that 40 or 50 players rushed to the new scholarship players at the front of the team meeting room to celebrate Richt’s announcement and that the rest of the team stood and applauded.

Although it left a few Bulldogs disappointed, it was an overall moment of revelry for nearly everyone in the room.

“It’s a lot of fun in a lot of ways and in some ways it’s tough, too, when you’re thinking about the feelings of the other guys that didn’t get it,” Richt said. “And I told the team that. And I told them how much we appreciate all of our walk-ons. But it was fun, no doubt.”