Dawgs' Blue collars opponents, degree

It would be difficult to paint Greg Blue's legacy at Georgia with the swipe of one broad brush.

He'll be remembered as the enforcer in the Bulldogs' secondary, a fearsome hitter who caused anyone who dared to venture across the middle to first look out the corner of his eye for that red, silver and black No. 17.

And no. We're not talking NASCAR, either.

David Cutcliffe, Tennessee's new offensive coordinator, said Blue was the best tackler he saw play last season while monitoring the SEC for his radio talk show duties.

A 6-foot-2, 218-pound specimen, Blue heads into Monday's Nokia Sugar Bowl matchup with West Virginia as Georgia's leading tackler from his free safety position with 88 total hits.

"I want to be remembered as one of the hardest hitters to ever play here," said Blue, a consensus All-America selection this season.

He'll also be remembered as a winner. On and off the field.

In Blue's four seasons at Georgia, the Bulldogs are a combined 44-8 with two SEC championships, three SEC Championship game appearances and three consecutive top 10 finishes in the polls.

A win over the Mountaineers would make it four straight top 10 finishes.

The sweetest part for Blue and the rest of Georgia's seniors is that the Bulldogs were forgotten this season after they lost five players (including a pair of juniors) on the first day of the NFL draft last April.

All of the preseason hoopla centered on Florida, LSU and Tennessee. Only when Georgia started out 5-0 and blasted Tennessee in Knoxville did the Bulldogs start to get any love.

"We'll take it any way it comes, whether we're the favorite or whether everybody's forgotten about us," Blue said. "We didn't care what other people thought about us. We knew what we had coming back. We had a lot of experience in key areas and had a quarterback who was hungry.

"We never expected anything but a championship."

Earning a college degree was a different story.

When Blue showed up at Georgia in 2001, the truth is that there probably weren't many people banking on him leaving school with a diploma.

He was one of the last partial qualifiers admitted at Georgia before SEC schools stopped accepting players who weren't fully qualified academically.

Under the old partial qualifier rules, Blue was forced to sit out his first season and had to graduate within four years in order to get back his final year of eligibility. That requirement was later changed to five years, and Blue graduated earlier this month with a degree in child family development.

"It was hard for me my first year," Blue said. "I couldn't play. I couldn't go to the bowl game or nothing. I couldn't even be on the sideline during games with the rest of the team. All I could do was practice.

"I made it, though. Really, I needed that because it showed me that I could beat anything. I could have easily been at junior college and that's really just two years wasted."

Beating the odds is nothing new to Blue, who grew up in a drug-infested neighborhood in Atlanta and saw his father, Greg Blue Sr., sentenced to a 30-year prison term without parole. Several other uncles and cousins also ran into trouble with the law.

The elder Blue first landed in prison in 1980 and was in and out four more times for charges ranging from armed robbery to drug possession before being convicted in 2003 of drug trafficking. He's not scheduled for release until 2032.

Blue went to visit his father at Telfair State Prison in Helena, Ga., on Christmas Day.

"It was hard seeing him there," Blue said. "He knows he's made mistakes. We all do. But he told me he was proud of me and that I was an example for the rest of my family for years to come."

Blue's father is able to watch some of his games on television in prison, but he hasn't seen him play in person since the 2002 season.

When his father went away to prison in 2003, Blue's greatest concern was for his four younger brothers and two younger sisters.

He didn't want them falling into the same trap he was able to avoid.

But what's happened, according to Blue's mother, is that Greg has become the example of the way it's supposed to be.

His father -- and the path he took -- have become the example of the way it's not supposed to be.

"He's going to be the one to break the cycle in our family," Blue's mother, Teresa Webb, told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. "Now, all his [siblings] talk about is Greg and how they're going to do what he does."

Nearly 50 family members and friends attended Blue's graduation ceremonies. He's the first member of his family to graduate from college, and they had a big party afterward.

"I had my problems," Blue said. "I could have been anywhere. Georgia believed in me and gave me a chance. I was going to do everything I could to pay them back.

"It was hard. But luckily, I was able to stay in school, stay focused and had a dream I wasn't going to give up on. I kept all that in front of me, and I am where I am right now -- a college graduate."

All that remains is going out the right way on the football field.

"It's come down to this one last game," said Blue, who's certain to be a first-day pick in the NFL draft. "It's been a great ride. I couldn't have envisioned all this.

"I just want to make sure I go out on top."

Chris Low covers the SEC for The (Nashville) Tennessean.