Georgia’s Van Pran had to juggle leading, mourning this offseason

Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran (63) gives instructions during the Bulldogs' 65-7 rout of TCU in the national championship game this past January in Los Angeles. At right is guard Devin Willock, who died a week later in a car crash.
Georgia photo by Tony Walsh / Georgia center Sedrick Van Pran (63) gives instructions during the Bulldogs' 65-7 rout of TCU in the national championship game this past January in Los Angeles. At right is guard Devin Willock, who died a week later in a car crash.

It’s not that Georgia senior center Sedrick Van Pran isn’t devastated to this day over the January deaths of fellow Bulldogs offensive lineman Devin Willock and athletic department recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy.

It’s just that the 6-foot-4, 310-pounder from New Orleans has others to look out for in a college football program seeking a third consecutive national championship.

“I wish I could tell you that I was able to take time and go into a ball and just grieve, but that’s not the case,” Van Pran said last week at Southeastern Conference Media Days. “I still carry Devin and Chandler with me to this day, because I had a love for them, and especially Devin. That was the guy my freshman year who I was catching rides with and having dinner with.

“To say that he’s not here definitely hurts, but to say I had to change my life would be a lie. At the end of the day, no matter how I’m feeling, I still owe this university a responsibility.”

Van Pran has started all 30 games the past two seasons and has now represented the Bulldogs twice at media days, which is a rare honor.

The two fatalities earlier this year were the direct result of senseless street racing in Athens, which is a problem that hasn’t subsided since, with Georgia players having been arrested for going 30 and even 40 mph over the posted speed limits. It’s a concern that eighth-year head coach Kirby Smart is having to address with regularity these days, and Van Pran is taking it upon himself as well as one of his team’s leaders.

“It takes the realization that we’re all responsible for each other,” Van Pran said, “and when one person makes a mistake, it’s not just on them. It’s on everybody. When one person looks bad, we all look bad. Also, as a brother, you have to understand that usually that guy is beating himself up for the mistake that he made, so you don’t need to curse him out or put him down, because we all make mistakes.

“Yes, you have to take responsibility, but it’s on you to help that guy. It’s those types of things that I think are how we’re looking to handle it and how we’ve been handling it.”

Van Pran emerged his sophomore season, playing more snaps than any other Bulldog during the 2021 championship run. He was needed for every snap in eight games that season, including the opener against Clemson and the national title triumph over Alabama.

Last season brought continued success, which included a lesson learned for Smart out in Los Angeles before Georgia’s 65-7 shellacking of TCU in the title game of the four-team playoff.

“We were at SoFi (Stadium) having the first practice for TCU, and I was frustrated,” Smart said. “We weren’t practicing well. We maybe had a little bit of jet lag, so I said on the mic, ‘You’re practicing like you don’t want to be here. Nobody here is practicing like they want to be here,’ and then after practice, I had forgotten I said it.

“I walked by and Sedrick tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Coach Smart, you really hurt my feelings when you said that I didn’t want to practice and didn’t want to be here.’ I thought, ‘This dude is serious, and he remembers everything you say.’ He cares about this team a lot, and he’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around.”

The Bulldogs no longer have Stetson Bennett IV at quarterback, but the return of Van Pran is enhanced by guards Xavier Truss and Tate Ratledge also being back.

“I’ve probably had 500, 600 or 700 snaps with those guys, and that’s not even including practice,” Van Pran said. “You know how they’re going to step, how they’re going to play a block and how they’re going to work a combo. People talk about how great an offensive line may be, but they don’t really take into account how much playing next to somebody that you know and have a connection with plays into that.”

Smart at media days discussed the challenge of avoiding complacency this season, and it’s a message Van Pran is quick to spread.

“It’s knowing that nobody from the previous two teams are going to go out and play for you,” Van Pran said. “Jordan Davis isn’t putting on a jersey for Georgia this year. What those guys were able to accomplish was great, but this team has not accomplished anything.

“We have not played a game yet, so if you want what they had, you’ve got to work for it.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

  photo  AP photo by John Bazemore / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart watches his former players during the Bulldogs' on-campus pro day on March 15.
 
 

GEORGIA

Last season: 15-0 (8-0 SEC)

Opener: Sept. 2 against UT Martin in Athens (6 p.m. on ESPN+/SEC Network+)

Fun fact: Georgia is opening a season with four consecutive games inside Sanford Stadium for the first time since 1999.

Up next: Kentucky

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