Q&A with Georgia QB Matthew Stafford (w/photo)
By CHIP TOWERS
Cox News Service
Monday, August 27, 2007
Rivals.com rated him the No. 1 quarterback in the nation when he left Highland Park High in Dallas. He beat out three more experienced players to start eight games as a freshman. He passed for 1,749 yards and seven touchdowns, led his team to victories against three ranked teams to end last season and is the undisputed Big Man on Campus at the University of Georgia heading into this fall.
But it hasn't all been picture perfect for John Matthew Stafford. With him as the starter, the Bulldogs lost four games for the first time in five seasons while he struggled with interceptions and turnovers. Now, as he prepares for his second season as an SEC quarterback, Stafford sat down with Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Chip Towers to discuss what transpired last season and what his expectations are for this season and the future.
BRANT SANDERLIN/Cox News Service
UGA starting quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Q. First of all, which state produces the better football players, Georgia or Texas?
A. We've got guys on our team from Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Texas and we've got one from California, too. We're always talking about who's got the best football. Those are all pretty good states for high school football, and they all produce some pretty good athletes. From what I've seen, there's some pretty talented players from Georgia. I still think the best athletes come out of California and Florida, but I think as far as teams, Texas produces the best football teams.
Q. Do you think playing high school ball in Texas gave you some advantages coming to Georgia?
A. I think so. We worked hard and were put under a lot of pressure from our community and coaches because they expected to win. They put a lot of time, effort and money into it. So it was good to go from that environment into this one, where they expect the same things. Business as usual.
Q. How prominent a role did early playing time play in your decision to come to Georgia, as opposed to some other places?
A. That had something to do with it, being able to play early, but there were a bunch of other reasons. Coach [Mark] Richt was a big reason.
Q. How much have you thought about last season and how you played?
A. A lot. There's no football in the offseason, so that's all you have to fall back on.
Q. Obviously, you threw a lot of interceptions (13). Looking back at those, can you see where you wouldn't make the same mistakes now?
A. I remember them all in my head, pretty much every play. The majority were just bad decisions, poor decisions. It's always in my head: "What was I thinking?" A couple were bad throws behind guys or something like that. Mostly, though, if I had made the right decision and had my feet set to make the right throw, I would have been more accurate. ... I just feel so much more comfortable this year with what I'm doing, and I think it shows. I think I'm playing a whole lot better.
Q. What was the toughest thing about being a starting quarterback as a true freshman?
A. It was just tough trying to process everything. I mean, the call would come in from the sideline and I had to sit there and run it through my head, then I'd come to the line and there would be a shift or something and I'd have to re-think everything. I got better at all that by the Auburn and Georgia Tech games, as far as recognition and things like that. When you know what a defense is trying to do, everything works better, your feet are set and you're going to make better passes.
Q. Was that recognition and understanding why you played better at the end of the year?
A. That, and just confidence. I needed that Auburn game. I needed to throw the ball well. The whole team needed it. Some things happened — a few plays went our way early, and that got the ball rolling for us. That carried over into Georgia Tech. We were moving the ball, but we just weren't putting points on the board, and then we gutted it up at the end and got it.
Q. Did you have any private moments of doubt when you guys lost the four of five games in the middle of the season?
A. It was tough, for sure, but I've been taught from a young age that if you play quarterback you have to forget about what happens and think about the next thing. I had to do that last year.
Q. How different has this camp been, knowing you're the man, as opposed to last year when there was a four-quarterback competition?
A. I didn't have a whole lot of fun last year. For a while, if I threw a bad pass, it was like, 'Oh, no, I'm sliding back down.' That's not healthy for anybody. And then, it just went on for us, the whole season almost. But it wasn't just tough on me; it was tough on everybody. This year, it's good, man. A totally different feeling.
Q. What are your personal goals at Georgia?
A. I want to be the best on my team; I want to be the best in the SEC. Every player wants that. Everybody wants to win the Heisman Trophy; everybody wants to win the national championship. I feel like I should be there some day, and I'm going to work my tail off to get there.
Q. What is your life's ambition?
A. I'd love to go back home and play in Dallas for the Cowboys. They're supposed to open a new billion-dollar stadium in '09 that is supposed to be ridiculous, seating like 120,000. I've spent most of my life there in Dallas, and the Cowboys were the only pro team around then. I was a Cowboys fan.
Q. Coming off a four-loss season, having to rebuild the offensive line, replacing eight starters on defense, including all the linebackers. Not many folks are picking Georgia to win the Southeastern Conference. What do you think?
A. I think we have as good a shot [of winning the SEC title] as any team. I really do. ... I think we're going to sneak up on some people.