Ladd McConkey’s mileage with the No. 1 Bulldogs knows no limits

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia redshirt sophomore receiver and former North Murray High standout Ladd McConkey has amassed 46 catches for 606 yards and four touchdowns entering Saturday afternoon’s Southeastern Conference championship game against LSU in Atlanta.

Just how much more mileage can the Georgia Bulldogs get out of redshirt sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey?

McConkey is always up for finding out.

Arguably the least-heralded signee of the Kirby Smart era continues to have an increased workload and continues to deliver as the top-ranked Bulldogs prepare to face No. 11 LSU in this Saturday afternoon's Southeastern Conference championship game inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The 6-foot, 185-pounder out of North Murray High School is tied with all-world tight end Brock Bowers for the team lead in receptions with 46 and is proving to be a special-teams menace as well.

Even the self-effacing McConkey, who tallied rushing and receiving touchdowns at Mercedes-Benz during this season's 49-3 opening rout of Oregon, has a hard time finding fault with how things are going deep into his third autumn in Athens.

"Obviously we've had some great success since I've been here," McConkey said this week. "I mean, we've won a lot of football games, so that always makes it a lot better. I've just kind of been able to go out there and obviously have had some great players around me on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

"It's been great being able to have the success we've had, and I obviously want to have some more this year and in the years to come, but it's been awesome, and it's been a great time."

Georgia has won 27 regular-season games in a row since falling to Florida 44-28 on Nov. 7, 2020, having gone 12-0 each of the past two years before postseason play. Last year's postseason began with a 41-24 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game, but the Bulldogs regrouped to rout Michigan 34-11 in the Orange Bowl national semifinal and break free from Alabama 33-18 in the title game of the College Football Playoff to earn the program's first national championship since 1980.

McConkey had 30 receptions for 444 yards (14.8 yards per catch) and five touchdowns for last season's champs, and he also rushed three times for 47 yards (15.7) and a score.

This season, McConkey has been even more active, with his 46 receptions yielding 606 yards (13.2) and four touchdowns. He has rushed six times for 120 yards (20.0) and two scores, and he also has amassed 197 yards on 16 punt returns, with his 12.3-yard average ranking seventh nationally.

Yet perhaps no play has typified McConkey's dedication more than one from the second quarter of this past weekend's 37-14 dumping of Georgia Tech, when he raced down the field and jumped up to tip a Brett Thorson punt to where it could be downed at the 2-yard line of the Yellow Jackets.

"What he's been is tough," Smart said. "He gives you hard work every day, and he never wants to miss anything. If anything, we've had to overuse Ladd. You would like to have a rotation of guys at that position, and we haven't been able to have a large rotation. He's been durable for a guy his size and his position, and I'm really proud of the toughness he's shown to push through some injuries he's had.

"He's been good for us in the return game, and he's also been one of our best gunners in downing punts and making tackles on punt coverage, so he's been extremely valuable."

McConkey arrived at Georgia in 2020 as the nation's No. 1,160 prospect on the composite rankings. He was overshadowed amid a collection of Bulldogs signees that contained three receivers ranked among the top 15 in the country -- Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton.

Then the 2020 preseason practices started, and McConkey started proving his value as a scout-team member.

"He hasn't surprised me at all, because he's been like this since day one," Bulldogs fifth-year senior safety and Bronko Nagurski Trophy finalist Christopher Smith said. "He's always going out day in and day out to put in the work to compete at the highest level. He's a very special, talented and gifted athlete, and he's a very special man as well on and off the field.

"He's just a really humble guy who always puts his head down and works. I respect that a lot about him. He presents challenges for me every day, and I'm just honored to go out there on the field and go to war with him."

McConkey's role quickly shifted from 2020 to 2021, when he catapulted from the scout team to the starting lineup in the Clemson opener in Charlotte. There has been further change from a year ago, as the once-undervalued recruit is now among the team's leaders.

"I definitely feel like with this being my third year and really being one of the older guys on the team from that aspect, you kind of have to step into that leadership role and be someone that the younger guys can look up to and show them how to practice and show them how to do the right things," McConkey said. "I feel like that's something I've really been trying to work on and trying to build on, because I had some guys in front of me when I first got here who did that for me and did a great job at it.

"I love to be able to kind of give back to the younger guys the way so many guys invested in me."

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