Mark Richt fell in love with D.J. Shockley's strong arm and exceptional mobility the first time he laid eyes on the quarterback, when Shockley was a ninth-grader participating in Florida State's summer camp. Upon landing the head coaching job at Georgia in January 2001, Richt, formerly the Seminoles' offensive coordinator, made his first recruiting visit to the College Park, Ga., home of Shockley, by then a high school senior who was rated the nation's No. 2 quarterback by SuperPrep magazine. With Bulldogs starter Quincy Carter skipping his senior season for the NFL, both coach and player left that meeting with visions of Shockley starring in Athens, 80 miles away, that fall.
Instead, nearly five years later, the 6'1", 206-pound Shockley will be making his first collegiate start on Saturday when No. 13 Georgia opens its season against 18th-ranked Boise State. At the time of that home visit, Richt says, "I really had no idea who David Greene was." Neither did Shockley, but he found out soon enough. An unheralded redshirt freshman, Greene edged out Shockley for the Bulldogs' starting job in September 2001. In Georgia's fourth game that fall Greene led the Dawgs to a last-second upset of sixth-ranked Tennessee at Neyland Stadium, making it clear that he would not be relinquishing the position anytime soon. Greene would finish his career with an NCAA-record 52 straight starts and set a Division I-A mark for victories by a quarterback (42).
Shockley redshirted in '01, and then, faced with the possibility of sitting behind Greene for another three years, he did something unheard of in this day and age: He stayed and waited his turn. For three seasons the dual-threat QB humbly accepted his role as the Bulldogs' "change of pace" quarterback, usually replacing Greene on the game's third series or at other times when Richt saw fit. In 26 appearances Shockley has thrown for 967 yards and 10 touchdowns while running for another 329 yards and three scores. "He's never once complained to me," marvels Georgia quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo. "He'd sometimes say, 'What can I do better to get on the field?' But not, 'Why am I not playing?'"
Shockley, a 3.4 student who has earned several community service awards, did consider transferring toward the end of the 2002 season. He zeroed in on three schools: Maryland, Florida State and North Carolina. "I came within a couple of days of leaving," says Shockley. "It came down to wondering, What if I left and ended up in the same situation I'm in now? What if I got there and didn't like my teammates? The one thing I was really sure about was how much I loved the environment at Georgia."
For his extraordinary loyalty the Bulldog Nation loves him back--as evidenced by the long line of fans waiting to pose with him on Georgia's recent Picture Day--though not without some reservations. "You hear people [around Athens] say, 'I'm glad it's finally his turn,'" says defensive tackle Quentin Moses, a close friend of Shockley's, "but there are still some people who say, 'Can he get the job done?'"
Richt, who also coached future pros Brad Johnson, Danny Kanell and Chris Weinke, is confident enough in his latest pupil to predict that Shockley will "play in the NFL for years. If I didn't think he could, I would have suggested he play another position years ago." Though known primarily as a runner, "people will see he's an outstanding pocket passer," says Richt. Shockley has just one year in Athens to prove he was worth the wait.
Head to Head
<Auburn CB David Irons vs. Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson>
A highly touted transfer from Butler County (Kans.) Community College, the 6'1", 189-pound Irons was slated to start opposite All-America Carlos Rogers last season before tearing a knee ligament in practice. Now, having taken over Rogers's old job, the trash-talking Irons faces a gargantuan first assignment: shutting down the 6'4", 230-pound Johnson, a freshman All-America last season (48 catches, 837 yards, seven touchdowns) whose ability to jump high for the ball reminds many of Larry Fitzgerald.