Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia players emphasize ‘owning up to mistakes’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart called a team meeting after the Bulldogs returned to campus following the Independence Day break. He shared that “a leader on the team who I won’t mention” stood up and gave an impassioned plea for his teammates to slow down on the road in honor of their fallen friends, Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy.
That was two weeks ago. On Tuesday, as Smart and three of his players talked to reporters here at SEC Football Media Days, it was thought that center Sedrick Van Pran was the player who stood up and shared his feelings at that meeting.
Van Pran, along with tight end Brock Bowers and cornerback Kamari Lassiter, was one of three leaders Smart brought with him Tuesday morning to serve as spokesmen at the annual preseason football event. Van Pran wouldn’t take sole credit being the one who spoke out that day, but he acknowledged that there was a lot of emotion shared in that meeting.
“To be honest with you, a bunch of guys spoke to the team,” said Van Pran, a fourth-year junior from New Orleans. “It’s understood that we must do better. Mistakes do happen, but that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable, if that makes sense. Like, mistakes happen and you own them and you move on at the end of the day. But you can’t keep allowing it to happen. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Georgia football players have been ticketed or arrested at least 12 times for excessive speeding or reckless driving since a high-speed, alcohol-involved crash took the lives of Willock and LeCroy on Jan. 15. The latest incident occurred July 5 when freshman linebacker Samuel M’Pemba was ticketed for driving 88 in a 55 mph zone in Athens as he returned to campus from the summer break.
Smart said he had all the coaches send messages their respective position groups to slow down and be careful before the break. But he sensed a change after Van Pran and others shared their feelings afterward.
“Very moving,” Smart said. “It’s still to be determined if it will have an effect. I think it’s critical we improve that. I was very pleased to see the ownership of the team because that’s the kind of kid you’ve got to try to address it to the team.”
Van Pran said he personally wanted to emphasize to his teammates to own their mistakes and change their behavior.
“We’ve been pushing guys, all of us really, to make sure we’re conscious of how we’re affecting the university because we don’t want to embarrass the university,” he said. “We want to have respect and show love for the people who really support us. Coach Smart has really tried to emphasize to guys, ‘Man, make sure you’re taking care of the university.’ It means a lot to him because he went to this university, too. I think he’s done a great job of making sure he engrains with is what it truly means when you make those mistakes.”
It’s not like Georgia’s players are on lockdown at this point, but they definitely will experience less freedom in the coming weeks. Offseason workouts will continue for the next weeks on campus, then preseason camp opens Aug. 2. At that point, the Bulldogs will have 28 practice opportunities over 31 days before opening the 2023 season against Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 2 at Sanford Stadium.
“It’s kind of flown by, honestly,” Lassiter said Tuesday morning shortly after the Bulldogs arrived in Nashville via private charter flight. “It seems like (the 2022 season) was over not long ago and I’m very excited to get back to football.”
Georgia is fortunate to have Van Pran back for a fourth year. A 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior, Van Pran received an offseason evaluation from the NFL that determined he would have been a draft pick had he chosen to enter this year.
Obviously, he chose otherwise. Being able to serve as a leader for a Georgia team trying to become the first three-time national champion in modern history was central to that decision.
“It was a couple of things, but ultimately the thing that really, really pulled me back was honestly just my love for the guys in the locker room,” Van Pran said. “It’s a pleasure to share a locker across from Brock Bowers. It’s a pleasure to share a locker across from Tate Ratledge ... and all those guys. It’s an honor to share that locker room, play football and get through these days and months of hard circumstances.”

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