April 19, 2014

Book Review: Top Dawg

I feel very honored to have been given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Top Dawg: Mark Richt and the Revival of Georgia Football by Rob Suggs.  I want to thank those who contacted me and sent me a copy of the book for this opportunity.  The book is about the revival of the Georgia Bulldog program under the leadership of Head Coach Mark Richt.  Coming into the 2008 football season, the Bulldogs were ranked number 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll as well as many other preseason polls (number 5 in the CFTT preseason poll).  The Bulldogs ended the 2007 season as one of the hottest teams in the country including their 41-10 thumping of Hawaii in the BCS Sugar Bowl.

For the readers of Collegefootballtopten.com, I highly recommend you buying and reading this book.  I have been told that it will be released on September 9.  You should be able to order a copy from the Collegefootballtopten bookstore, your local Borders Books or any other book store.  The book is published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher, and Suggs has written primarily about matters of faith.  In this book, Suggs manages to peek inside the doors of a top level Bowl Championship Subdivision football program as well as inside the faith that inspires, empowers and shapes Mark Richt, the man who leads that program, all at the same time.

Rob Suggs is a Georgia Bulldog fan.  He is up front about that.  He explains his own history and how it intersects Georgia football.  Growing up a Razorback fan, I understand and appreciate that, and I am sure Longhorn fans, Rebel fans, Crimson Tide fans, Buckeye fans, Wolverine fans and countless other fans across the country will understand that too.  He was proud in the early 1980′s when Vince Dooley and the Junkyard Dawgs were winning SEC titles, a National Championship, and Herschel Walker won the Heisman Trophy.  However, like many Bulldog fans, he suffered through the period of time when Georgia football was just one of many in the SEC finishing in the pack behind Florida and Tennessee.

The book begins with a pivotal game against Tennessee in Knoxville, TN on October 6, 2001.  Georgia rallies to win the game and the players and fans begin to believe that the Bulldogs can be a top caliber program once again.  From there Suggs, jumps back into time, leading us on a journey of Mark Richt, his disappointments along with his new dreams and the inspiration of his new-found faith.  Suggs also leads us on a parallel journey of the decline of the Georgia program, setting up the need to find a new leader who will lead the Dawgs into the promised land.

From this point, Suggs bring the two together.  One of the interesting parts of the book is the description of the mat drills which Richt brought to Georgia from Florida State via his friend and Strength and Conditioning Coach Dave Van Halanger.  Mat drills is Van Halanger’s creation, a hodgepodge of exercises, drills, etc. inspired from “such elements as the obstacle course in military boot camps and the ropes course in programs like Colorado’s Outward Bound.”

The real test was not necessarily physical, but mental.  The drill were designed to strengthen the team’s mental toughness and create bonds from among the players.  For starters, they held the mat drills at 5 AM in the morning.  The players were grouped according to position types in groups of four.  You are recorded, by two cameras, and graded for the next morning’s mat drills.  Are you still with me?  Each group must perform a particular drill at one of five stations.  Each person in the group must execute the drill perfectly.  If anyone does not, the group performs the drill again.  And again, for each misstep.  Until all members of the group executes each drill perfectly.  I nearly cried reading about the drills.  The grading put you in a group the next morning with a similar grading.  If you were a player who did not do so well, the next morning your group would be with fellow players who also did not do so well.  Eternity can be a long time!  These drills exhibited an intensity in Mark Richt that some might be surprised to learn.

Richt earned the love and respect of his former players.  One player, D. J. Shockley, actually wrote the forward for this book.  Shockley played four years as a back up behind fellow QB David Greene before getting his shot to be the starter in 2005 as a Fifth-Year Senior.  His willingness to be patient in a time when QB’s will simply transfer to play somewhere else quicker is a testament to the love he felt from the staff and Coach Richt.  Nevertheless, Richt exhibits a certain amount of intensity and demands it of his staff and players as well.

As a Razorback fan, I almost found myself rooting for Georgia to win the National Title this year.  The story is compelling, and Suggs does a great job of taking the reader on the journey of how Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs football program converged.  In an age when so many major college football programs are shrouded in negative actions, both by players and coaches, this story is refreshing because, while no one is perfect in the Bulldog program, Richt emphasizes positive behaviors from those in his program and leads by example.  Mark Richt is someone you can root for and feel good about it.

Below is a Sample Chapter of Top Dawg

Read Chapter One of Top Dawg