While the Alabama Crimson Tide were celebrating their dramatic 26-23 win over the Georgia Bulldogs, UGA running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were on the bench overcome with emotion. Michel was in tears. So much so as I came over to snap photos, he strapped on his helmet, making sure I was not able to photograph him holding back tears.

Coupled with Head Coach Kirby Smart, those men were the three heartbeats of this year’s squad. Leading by example, the ‘Dawgs were within one possession from winning the National Championship. Yet, it slipped away as wide-receiver DeVonta Smith got behind the safety and caught the game-winning touchdown pass.

“I can’t say enough about the remarkable senior class,” Smart said after the game. “These two young men sitting next to me, they meant more to Georgia than yards. A lot of heart and soul. A lot of fire. Sony Michel came over and talked to the group several times during the game, inspired those guys. But in overtime, we didn’t finish when we had to and Alabama did. Give them credit, but I think everybody can see that Georgia’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”

Georgia fans must pay attention to the next sentence.

“I’m very proud of this team and this university, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs have nothing to be ashamed of. As Chubb and Michel walked off the field for the last time in the Red and Black, Georgia fans applauded them off that stage. It was highly emotional as the best running back tandem in Georgia history laid it on the line tonight. Chubb finished the night with 39 yards rushing on 18 carries and Michel had 98 yards on 14 carries. Both kept freshman quarterback Jake Fromm protected, kept the offense balanced and provided stability tonight.

“I do know this, and I want to say this: The standard’s been set by these young men right here,” Smart explained. “I can’t put into words what these seniors mean. We’re running out of the tunnel tonight, and this guy over here next to me, 27 comes by me and says, I’ll go anywhere with you, and I’ll follow you anywhere, and I’ll fight for you because I believe in you. And that meant more to me than anything.

The way he practices, the way he’s in every meeting, the way he carries himself, the way Sony Michel affects players on our team, Isaiah Wynn, Roquan, all these guys have been incredible leaders. And if we have that kind of leadership, there’s no doubt. The sky’s the limit. Because these guys are hungry. I just hope the younger class doesn’t take it for granted that it’s just going to happen. You’ve got to make it happen, and they’ve got to believe that.”

Kirby Smart came to Georgia wanting to re-establish what it truly means to be a Georgia Bulldog. Even in defeat, that foundation has been laid and these ‘Dawgs will continue to have plenty of bite in 2018.

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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