Brandon Boykin was close to being out of the Bulldog door.
Georgia’s senior cornerback basically had his bags packed for the NFL shortly after a solid junior year, and it seemed like he’d thrust himself over the fence and onto the side filled with millions.
After all, there was one point in which Boykin was considered one of the top corner prospects available for last year’s NFL draft.
Boykin, along with others juniors thinking of foregoing their senior seasons, went to meet with Georgia coaches when a snowstorm -- a blizzard by Georgia standards -- shut down Athens, Ga.
Conveniently trapped with his coaches for a couple of days, Boykin was left with his thoughts. He took more time to mull over turning pro and discussed feelings with coach Mark Richt.
“I felt like it was kind of a sign from God,” Boykin said.
Boykin took that sign, turned down his shot at jumping to the league and decided to stay in school for one more year.
Looking back on his decision, Boykin couldn’t be happier with sticking around. He’s headed to the SEC championship game to face No. 1 LSU (12-0, 8-0), he might have helped save his coach’s job and he got one more go-round with his teammates.
Just thinking about giving all that up seems like madness to Boykin.
“I feel foolish for even considering it just because of the impact of this senior season on my life and the way that it turned out and just how much more I've learned and just the overall effect of coming back for a senior year,” Boykin said.
And while this year has had an effect on Boykin, he and his fellow seniors have had a profound effect on the rest of this team.
Richt gets a lot of credit for leading the 14th-ranked Bulldogs' turnaround after its 0-2 start, but this senior class helped push the Bulldogs out of their early rut and toward their run back to the Georgia Dome.
To Richt, this senior class’ positive influence began when the NFL-ready ones returned for 2011. They showed they not only wanted to be around the program but they wanted to bring a championship back to Athens. Their buying into Georgia’s offseason training was infectious with younger players.
“Boykin and Ben Jones and Cordy Glenn and guys like that, they had the opportunity -- they knew they were going to be NFL players or have a shot at that, but they chose to stay and wanted to have a special season,” Richt said.
So when that 0-2 start sent Georgia fans into a panic, the seniors stood tall, making sure the Bulldogs didn’t fall to the enemy that is adversity. The seniors made sure there was no internal dismay or finger pointing. The focus remained.
While people were ready to dub this as the “same old Georgia,” Boykin took it upon himself to step forward and say something to his team after the opening loss to Boise State.
“I kind of wanted to make it a point to just step up and tell everybody to continue to grind and we were a great team, no matter what this first game had,” he said. “And after the second game as well, people would continue to stay positive. It definitely worked out for us.”
Sophomore linebacker Jarvis Jones said the seniors’ attitudes definitely rubbed off on the underclassmen. The younger players watched as the upperclassmen went longer in harder in practices. They owned the film sessions. That approach forced younger players to replicate the seniors’ efforts.
It wasn’t just that the seniors wanted to energize this team and get it past a rough opening to the season, they wanted to win and make their last season memorable.
“They really didn't want their last time here at the University of Georgia go out like it started,” Jones said, “like most people thought it was going to be.”
Georgia has now won 10 straight, sports a quarterback leading the SEC with 32 touchdown passes and has a defense that ranks fifth nationally. The Bulldogs are plus-10 in turnover ratio and are in play for a BCS bowl berth.
The Bulldogs’ level of play has helped guide them to their strong finish, but Jones said the poise and leadership of the senior class kept the spirits of the other players up. As long as the old guys stayed the course, the youngsters would follow suit.
“They're the reason why we kept our faith,” he said. “We gelled closer together, and we just kept believing in each other. Every day, they were like, ‘Just believe. Just come out here and work hard, and we control our own destiny.’
“Every day, that's what we did.”