Receiver Chris Conley (31) fights off Nebraska cornerback Ciante Evans and catches this 49-yard pass for a Georgia touchdown in the third quarter of the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. Conley is hoping for a quick season start for a change.Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Georgia's top two returning receivers from a year ago, Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, have a shared goal of staying healthy for an entire season.
For third-leading receiver Chris Conley, it's all about a strong start.
Conley finished his sophomore season with 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-31 Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska on New Year's Day, sealing that win with an 87-yard touchdown with 11 minutes remaining. He didn't compile 100 yards last season until the 10th game against Auburn.
"I don't want to be a late-season bloomer," Conley said earlier this month. "I want to play well at the beginning of the season. Everyone always says, 'If you had played that way at the beginning of the season, what would your season have been like?' I want to start the season strong, and when this season is over, I want people to say, 'So that's what he can do.'
"I really want to see what my potential is."
Conley and his fellow Bulldogs will start finding out Saturday night when they visit Clemson in college football's only opening matchup of top-10 teams.
A 6-foot-3, 206-pounder from Dallas, Ga., Conley was on track to redshirt two seasons ago until Mitchell and Marlon Brown developed nagging injuries that kept them sidelined for multiple games. Conley got in the mix and collected 16 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns, including a 126-yard, one-score performance in a rout of New Mexico State.
That 14 of his 16 catches in 2011 were during the second half of the season was understandable given the situation.
Last year, Conley found himself down the depth chart until Bennett and Brown sustained season-ending injuries. Conley broke into the starting lineup three times late last season and wound up making 15 of his 20 catches for 342 yards and six touchdowns in the latter half of the year.
"He is a guy who has been doing it right ever since he got here," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He is a hard-working guy. We have a few guys in our program who are workaholics, and I would say he is one of them. Every snap, that guy goes full speed."
Conley is a "Dream Team" signee who has been highly successful off the field. He has been inducted into Georgia's Student-Athlete Leadership Academy and is the SEC's representative on the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
In April, Conley was named offensive MVP of Georgia's 15 spring workouts, so he enters this weekend with momentum and a higher probability for a quicker start.
"There has been a culture change here, and I think it speaks to the kind of players who are at Georgia now," he said. "Each year it's getting better, and each year everybody is pouring more of their heart into this. Hopefully in 2013, you will continue to see things improve in that light. I'm extremely excited.
"I really want to see where this offense can go. I want to see how far this team can go, and that's winning a championship."
Odds and ends
Freshman safety Tray Matthews went through Monday's 90-minute practice in full pads and "looked fine," according to Richt, who wanted to wait a couple of more days before declaring him over his hamstring pull. ... Georgia's depth chart released Monday listed freshmen Brendan Langley over sophomore Sheldon Dawson at the cornerback spot opposite Damian Swann and listed Marshall Morgan as the kicker. It's unknown whether Morgan will play after a boating-under-the-influence arrest this summer.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...