They arrived at the University of Georgia in 2011 as 19 in-state football signees in a 26-member class.
Dubbed the "Dream Team" as a recruiting pitch by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, they were high on fanfare, with the most notable dose of publicity occurring when Columbus tailback Isaiah Crowell hoisted an English bulldog at his signing ceremony. Crowell and four other Dream Team members had been dismissed by the start of the 2012 season, but 14 still remain and hope to experience their best season yet in a program that has averaged 10 wins a season since their arrival.
"It's surreal and just unbelievable to see how fast this has gone by," said senior cornerback Damian Swann of Atlanta. "A lot of us talk about it all the time as far as remembering when we all came in and first started summer workouts. We had some guys who believed they couldn't do it, and it was really tough. Now to look back on it, you realize you have to enjoy it while it's here because it goes by so fast.
"A lot of our guys understand that you can't take too much for granted, and we're really ready to get this season going."
The state of Georgia had eight of Rivals.com's top 60 prospects in the 2011 class, with five choosing the Bulldogs: Thomasville defensive end Ray Drew (No. 9), Crowell (No. 23), Valdosta receiver Malcolm Mitchell (No. 30), Swann (No. 47) and Valdosta tight end Jay Rome (No. 56). The three who went elsewhere were Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt (No. 22), Alabama defensive end Xzavier Dickson (No. 48) and Stanford linebacker James Vaughters (No. 54).
Richt has admitted the Dream Team concept could have backfired and been embarrassing, and it's not a theme he evokes now.
"They all blend in after a while," Richt said. "They were a group of guys just like all the rest. Some of them redshirt, some transfer, and some leave for other reasons. They almost never stay together as a group, so I don't know that I look at them that way anymore."
Crowell rushed for 850 yards in 2011 and was named freshman of the year in the Southeastern Conference, but he was suspended twice that season and was dismissed from the program in June 2012 on felony weapons charges that later were dropped. Safety Quintavious Harrow, a high school teammate of Crowell, left due to academics a few days later, and those departures occurred five months after cornerbacks Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders and receiver Sanford Seay were dismissed following a reported dormitory theft.
Marshall went to junior college before transferring last year to Auburn, where he quarterbacked the Tigers to the SEC championship and a berth in the BCS title game.
Those who remained in Athens have been part of teams that have compiled a 30-11 record with two SEC East titles. They arrived at a school that had gone 3-18 in its past 21 meetings against rival Florida but have since tasted three consecutive victories, with Mitchell's 45-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter helping the Bulldogs upset the Gators 17-9 in 2012.
"The biggest thing we've done is go 3-0 against Florida, but we haven't met all our goals," Swann said. "We want to get back to the SEC championship and win one before we get out of here, and we want to compete for a national championship."
Said safety Corey Moore of Griffin: "I know we've won a couple of SEC East titles and turned around the Georgia-Florida rivalry, but our biggest goal coming in was to win a national championship, so it's definitely unfulfilled."
The Bulldogs are the only program with two SEC title-game appearances since 2011, yet Alabama, Auburn and LSU have played for national championships during that time.
Georgia came within 5 yards of a BCS title appearance in 2012, when Dream Team receiver Chris Conley caught a tipped pass and was stopped by Alabama's defense as time expired in the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs were in the national landscape again last season after September wins over South Carolina and LSU, but offensive injuries and defensive miscues added up to an 8-5 disappointment.
"I don't mind that kind of talk, I guess," Richt said, "but I would rather them focus on the process of winning a national championship and all the work it requires than just talking about it."
The only member of Georgia's 2011 signing class to be named All-SEC to this point is inside linebacker Ramik Wilson, a senior from Tampa who led the league last season with 133 tackles. The Dream Team members with the best chance at earning laurels this year are center David Andrews of Johns Creek, who has started the past two seasons, and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera of College Park, who racked up 112 tackles last season.
Whether or not Dream Team members still revel in the name -- "We weren't really a part of it, because we were just kind of linemen," senior Watts Dantzler of Dalton said -- there is no doubting a shared desire to succeed like never before.
"It's our last go-around," Andrews said. "It's been a fun time. I love my class and the guys I came in with, and I wouldn't trade any of them for anything.
"I am really excited about this senior year and going out with a bang."
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 ...