Ladd McConkey didn't participate in a single game snap during his freshman season at Georgia in 2020.
On Saturday, he was on the field for the first play of the season as a starting wide receiver in the No. 5 Bulldogs' 10-3 upset of third-ranked Clemson. In his first collegiate game action, McConkey snared two passes for 12 yards, played extensively on offense and was part of the kickoff coverage team.
"It was a great experience," McConkey said of the game in front of 74,187 fans in Charlotte, North Carolina. "I mean, finally getting out there with full capacity with all of the fans, the atmosphere was great, so just going out there and being able to compete with my teammates, there's nothing like it."
McConkey, a Chatsworth resident who starred at North Murray High School, through hard work and opportunity has had a meteoric rise up Georgia's receiver depth chart. In 2020, McConkey dressed out for home games in Sanford Stadium and made the travel squad to a late-season game against Missouri but didn't play. He spent time on the scout team in practice.
This season, with injuries to wide receivers Dominick Blaylock, Kearis Jackson and George Pickens and the absence of LSU transfer Arik Gilbert, McConkey has taken advantage of that opportunity. On Wednesday, McConkey was one of two players selected to speak to the media.
Throughout his football career at North Murray, McConkey played almost everywhere: quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back, kick returner and even punter. During the 2019 season, McConkey moved to quarterback — a position he hadn’t played regularly in high school — and helped lead the team to its first region championship and first appearance in the Elite Eight. He was the Region 6-3A offensive player of the year and a Region 6-3A first-team member and made the Daily Citizen-News All-Area first team as an athlete.
While he has made gains in playing time at Georgia, it was important for McConkey to gain weight and strength to handle the rigors of SEC football as he transitioned to playing receiver full time. At the end of his senior season in high school, McConkey said he weighed "maybe a buck-65 soaking wet." Now, he's up to 185 pounds without sacrificing his speed.
"I've always kind of struggled gaining weight, but when I got here our strength staff, our nutritionists, they're great, so they put the weight on me," McConkey said.
At the beginning of his senior season at North Murray, McConkey was a lightly-recruited three-star athlete who held a handful of offers from smaller colleges. But as his talent — and speed — shined through during the season major college programs such as Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt began to take notice. He received a scholarship offer from Georgia coach Kirby Smart in January 2020 and committed a few weeks later. Those who knew McConkey growing up may have expected him to be wearing a different color scheme in college.
"It's kind of a funny story," McConkey said. "I grew up and every bit of my friends, everybody around me, was Georgia fans, except for my family. We kind of grew up Tennessee fans. This is how my grandfather was, so my dad was raised, kind of grew up, a Tennessee fan. So, I grew up with Georgia fans harassing me all the time, trying to convince me to change over. But I mean, once they offered me and I got up here, there was no denying that this was the place I needed to be."
McConkey was asked about his hometown, and he didn't miss an opportunity to brag on Chatsworth.
"I love Chatsworth," McConkey said. "It's a small town. Everybody knows everybody. Even when North Murray played Murray County there was probably everybody in the county watching that game. So I mean, it's a great atmosphere there so it really is awesome."
Georgia (1-0), which shot up to No. 2 in both the AP and coaches polls after the victory over Clemson, takes on the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (1-0) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2 in the Bulldogs' home opener.