Back In The Game

April 23, 2017

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April 23, 2017

By John Frierson
UGAAA Staff Writer

It’s the annual opening act for Georgia’s G-Day festivities, but it’s really so much more than that.

The Bulldogs’ lettermen’s flag-football game at Sanford Stadium doesn’t yet feature Nick Chubb or Sony Michel or Lorenzo Carter, though hopefully it one day will. Despite being filled with the players of the past, quite a few with the inevitable more round faces and bellies and slower bursts off the line of scrimmage, the game is never lacking for stars or players who bring a smile to your face.

Saturday’s edition was no exception.

Among the new “old” guys to embrace their positions as former football players and join in the fun, playing on the very field where they made so many of their dreams come true, were former teammates Kregg Lumpkin (2003-06) and Tim Jennings (2002-05).

Jennings, the former standout defensive back, now retired after 10 productive seasons in the NFL and two Pro Bowl appearances, made his presence felt on offense and defense. He also made the highlight-reel play of the game.

After catching a simple dump-off pass from Black team quarterback Tim Wansley — you knew Wansley much better as a good cornerback (1998-2001) with 24 career starts and nine interceptions — Jennings eluded a couple of red-clad defenders before running into more. He then faked a pass backward, freezing everyone around him, and then gained a few more yards before his flag was pulled.

Jennings just laughed when asked about the play. It was just part of a very fun day out on the field at Sanford Stadium, he said.

“All these guys out here are still in good shape,” Jennings said. “I came out here a couple of years ago and saw all the fun they had. They were still out here competing and that was the good thing, If you’re out there you don’t want to lose.

Led by Jennings and Wansley, the Black squad defeated the Red, 26-20, with the help of an interception returned for a touchdown by Jennings and a win-sealing interception by Wansley on the Red’s final drive.

If an MVP were to be named it would have to be a tossup between Jennings and Wansley, though Jennings said only one of them would deserve it.

“Wansley did it all: he played quarterback, he did some DB and had the game-winning interception, and he threw a couple of touchdown passes,” Jennings said. “Wansley can still move and I was excited to watch him.”

If fact, playing alongside Wansley was one of the highlights for Jennings.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Wansley since before I got here, during the whole recruiting process,” he said. “Coming here and watching him play, the way he returned kicks — he was one of my favorites. Having him on my team and being able to pick his brain and work with him on a few things, it was awesome.”

Drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in 2006, Jennings played 10 seasons in the NFL and ended with 20 career interceptions. He spent five seasons with the Chicago Bears and was wearing his Bears Nike cleats Saturday.

Since retiring Jennings has opened up Elite Sports Academy in Buford, Ga., where he trains young athletes to reach their dreams the way he did.

“I knew my passion was to give back, give to the kids and the community,” he said. “I always loved being around kids and being outdoors, so once I was getting close to retirement and being done with football, I started moving and transitioning to doing my own thing.”

After his Georgia career, Lumpkin signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He spent five seasons in the NFL and six months ago embarked on a new career, one that still involved a helmet and a uniform.

Lumpkin is now a firefighter with the Clayton County (Ga.) Fire Department, where he’s still very much part of a team and still encounters plenty of excitement on the job.

“It’s been six months and I come in every shift and it starts from 7 o’clock and goes until 7 o’clock the next morning,” he said. “I’m just working, learning, a lot of EMS calls and sometimes you get fire calls, too. You’re just constantly on the move.

“It’s a lot of excitement and every day you’re learning something new.”

Does the former Bulldog, who led Georgia in rushing in 2006, ever get recognized?

“No, because it’s like football — when I’ve got my helmet and my jacket on, nobody knows me,” he said, smiling.

Unlike what happens here on Saturday’s in the fall, very much a young man’s game, this is a game for life.

There were the younger guys like Jennings and Lumpkin, in their early 30s, making plays. But some guys in their 40s and 50s  and beyond did, as well. Charles Junior (1980-82), a receiver on the 1980 national championship team, got into the end zone. As did defensive back Richard Fromm (1985-86), now a surgeon in Dalton, Ga., and a regular standout in these games.

“It was like it was when I played, all the camaraderie, all the joking and everything,” Lumpkin said. “I was happy to be with some people I played with and some people I didn’t play with. It was just great seeing everybody and coming out here and having a good time.”

Those watching had a good time, too.

John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.

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