Muschamp reminisces on playing career at Georgia


Will Muschamp played strong safety for the Georgia Bulldogs from 1991-94. (Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia).

Published: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.

The question was innocent but loaded.

How does it feel being a Georgia guy coaching the University of Florida?

The answer shot from Will Muschamp's mouth immediately and decisively.

“I'm a Florida guy.”

During Muschamp's SEC Media Days debut on July 20, a discussion of his history on both sides of the border was inevitable.

Even Georgia coach Mark Richt couldn't resist taking a stab at the loyalties of the new head Gator.

“He tells everybody he's Florida through and through,” Richt said, “but I'm sure there's a little red and black running through his veins.”

It's a suspicion shared by many, and one evidenced by Muschamp's standout career as a safety for the Bulldogs.

Muschamp's take at his introductory news conference in December?

“I suffered some temporary insanity there for a while,” he joked.

The early days at Georgia

William Larry Muschamp was born 40 years ago today in Rome, Ga., but he grew up in Gainesville cheering for the Gators. He moved back to Rome and played high school football before walking on to the University of Georgia football team and playing for coach Ray Goff from 1991-94.

When recounting his history at UGA this past December, Muschamp was careful to note the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition as a factor in his choice to walk on to Georgia's football team.

Muschamp was a four-year letterman who played in every contest — 44 regular-season games, the 1991 Independence Bowl vs. Arkansas and the 1993 Florida Citrus Bowl against Ohio State.

After one season Muschamp had earned a scholarship. After three seasons he had earned the respect and admiration of his Bulldog brethren and was named defensive team captain for his senior year.

“It was satisfying for me and my parents when I earned a scholarship at the University of Georgia,” Muschamp told The Sun last week. “There were some setbacks along the way and a lot of hard work and encouragement from my parents and coaches, but the hard work paid off.

“I was also very honored to be selected team captain my senior season. Being selected captain by your peers is probably one of the most prestigious honors you can receive on a football team, and I remember feeling very honored.”

Muschamp's Dawg mentality

Intensity. Enthusiasm. Leadership. Tireless work ethic.

Muschamp forged his reputation on the football field as a player before he joined the coaching ranks.

“He was definitely an intense player and flew around the field looking for some contact,” recalls Chris Doering, a star at wide receiver who walked on to the UF football team in 1991.

It wasn't until his junior year in 1993 that Muschamp began to make a significant impact. A 6-foot, 190-pound strong safety, he finished with 52 tackles (tied for ninth on the team), one interception and one pass break-up.

Though he had a nine-tackle performance in the third game of the season, a 52-37 win at home against Texas Tech, Muschamp's biggest games were late in his junior season. In fact, his seven tackles off the bench in a dramatic 33-26 loss to Florida in rain-soaked Jacksonville spurred Muschamp into UGA's starting lineup. He started the last two games of the 1993 season (against Auburn and Georgia Tech) and went on to start nine of 11 games in his senior year.

“I remember the 1993 game in the rain at the Gator Bowl,” Muschamp said. “Two great teams on the field that day with great players on both sides of the ball. I remember Eric Zeier throwing the ball all over the place and of course, Errict Rhett running the ball all day long.

“There were so many big plays in the game. Florida made more of them at the end to win the game.”

Shining moments vs. Gators

Two of Muschamp's best games were against Florida, but it was his senior season return to Florida Field that was most memorable.

“I remember the 1994 game and how excited I was to play in The Swamp — the same stadium I walked to countless games to watch the Gators play as a kid,” Muschamp said. “It was a special feeling to be able to play a game in The Swamp.”

With the Gator Bowl undergoing renovations in Jacksonville, the Bulldogs played in Gainesville for the first time since 1931.

Muschamp was finally a starter, and he was in the midst of a strong effort through the final seven games of his career.

He had eight tackles in a heart-breaking 29-28 road loss to Alabama in Week 5, eight tackles in a 40-14 win against Clemson, 13 tackles in a mind-boggling 43-30 loss to Vanderbilt and nine tackles in a 34-30 win against Kentucky the week before the annual Florida-Georgia showdown.

Muschamp continued his strong play with 11 tackles in a 52-14 loss to the Gators. The loss was disheartening, but he was on a roll.

“In the ‘94 game at home it actually ended up where he was covering me quite a bit,” Doering said. “I remember running a little drag route from the slot and the ball was thrown high, and he lit me up in the ribs. Man, that was something I was feeling for a few days.”

Doering had quite a bit of familiarity with Muschamp, dating back to high school.

“I knew the name Will Muschamp all the way back to when I was playing at P.K. Yonge in high school,” Doering said, “because Coach (John) Clifford was his coach at Oak Hall, and all we ever heard about was how great an athlete Will Muschamp was and what a great player, and all this stuff. So we were always a little Will Muschamp-ed out.

“I ended up having a pretty good game (in '94), so I felt like I was vindicated from Coach Clifford for all those years of talking trash. I had like two touchdowns. I don't know how many of them were off (Muschamp), but it was still fun to go against a Gainesville guy. We had a lot of friends in common, Coach Clifford and everything else.”

Will after Athens

Two weeks after the loss to Florida, Muschamp played what he said was probably the best game of his career — at undefeated and third-ranked Auburn.

“They were ranked third in the country and had won 20 games in a row under Terry Bowden and were two games away from a second consecutive perfect season,” Muschamp said. “We had an off week after a loss to Florida and the team really regrouped and pulled together. It was a great team effort.”

Muschamp had 11 tackles. Even though the game was a 23-23 tie, the Bulldogs celebrated on the field as if it was a major win. Georgia rallied from a 23-9 deficit to tie the game and held on as Auburn's place-kicker missed a 44-yard field goal as time expired.

Muschamp wrapped up his playing career with four tackles and an interception in a 48-10 win against in-state rival Georgia Tech. He finished sixth on the team with 84 tackles and had five pass break-ups and two interceptions.

Muschamp graduated from the University of Georgia in ‘94 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant with Auburn. Over the past 16 years he's traversed the world of football in the South with stops in Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky.

For Will Muschamp, being back in Gainesville, at Florida, completes the circle.

Contact Jeff Barlis at 352-374-5066 or barlisj@gvillesun.com.

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