Ladd McConkey was a 2020 University of Georgia football signee during his waning months at North Murray High School, but he sure didn't look like one.
"At the end of my senior year, I was maybe a buck 65 soaking wet," a smiling McConkey said this week.
Yet there he was last Saturday night, taking the field at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the starting offense of the Bulldogs in their eventual 10-3 topping of Clemson. With 185 pounds now on his 6-foot frame, McConkey collected two receptions against the Tigers for 12 yards, with both catches in the first half.
McConkey never got in a game during last year's coronavirus-altered season, contributing instead via the scout team.
"It was a great experience finally getting out there and with the full capacity," the redshirt freshman said. "The atmosphere was great. Getting to go out there and compete with my teammates — there has been nothing like it."
McConkey's starting opportunity and significant playing time in last Saturday's season opener were fast-tracked due to injuries in recent months and weeks to fellow receivers George Pickens, Dominick Blaylock, Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson. Those setbacks coupled with McConkey's desire to compete on the field and bulk up away from it made him the right man at the right time.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has appreciated McConkey's savvy, toughness and lack of fear, adding that he takes a lot of shots in practice but keeps going. When asked about adjusting from the Georgia High School Association's Region 6-AAA to the elite athletes that Smart and his staff have assembled, McConkey didn't detail any specific practice hit that welcomed him into the college world.
"I'm not sure there was a particular one that off the get-go happened," McConkey said. "Our practices are physical every day, so even when they're not full contact, we're getting after it. We were going against the ones while we were on scout team last year, and that improved me so much.
"I don't know if I can recall a specific time, but there have been a couple, that's for sure."
McConkey will be looking to make even more contributions Saturday, when the No. 2 Bulldogs host the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Reports have surfaced that Georgia starting quarterback JT Daniels has not been practicing at full strength, so McConkey may be a target of Daniels, backup Carson Beck or a combination of the two.
Either way, he'll look much more like a Southeastern Conference receiver than he did 18 months ago.
"I've always kind of struggled gaining weight," McConkey said, "but when I got here, our strength staff and our nutritionists are great, and they put the weight on me."