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National Govt & Politics
Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0
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Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0

Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Pulling back the curtain on Jamie Dupree 2.0

Monday marks the start of a new effort to get my voice back on the radio for the first time in two years, by using a high tech solution, a computer generated voice, drawn from recordings of my old stories, as medical efforts to bring my voice back - to anything close to normal - have not been successful.

It was April 2016 when my voice began to falter, after I got sick on a family vacation; since then, my doctors have determined that I have a rare neurological disorder, in which the signals from the brain are getting mixed up somehow, causing my tongue to push out of my mouth when I speak - it's known as 'tongue protrusion dystonia.'

As it became obvious in the last year that my voice was not coming back, we searched for answers, and finally, high tech guru Mike Lupo at our Cox Media Group corporate headquarters contacted a company in Scotland, CereProc, which agreed to try to build what amounts to a Jamie Dupree voice app.

How does it work? How do I produce stories with it? Why is it even needed? Let's take a look.

1. Let's start with an explanation of what's wrong. Over the past two years, there have been no answers in the search for my voice. What I have is a neurological disorder, for which there really aren't specific treatments, known as tongue protrusion dystonia. When I try to talk, my tongue pops out of my mouth, my throat clenches, and it results in a strangled, unintelligible voice. I've been to Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, George Washington, the Cleveland Clinic, Emory University. The Mayo Clinic wouldn't take my case. Many doctors have frankly admitted my problems were above their expertise. At Easter of 2017, the head of the voice center at the Cleveland Clinic correctly diagnosed my problems, but had no names to offer me in terms of treatment. I have been seeing a doctor outside of D.C. who agreed to try to decipher my case, but we really haven't pushed any closer to a solution. In March, I saw Dr. Hyder Jinnah at the Emory University Brain Health Center in Atlanta - he gave me two Botox shots to my tongue in mid-May, to see if that would slow my tongue, and stop it from thrusting out of my mouth when I speak. It hasn't really helped, so we will try again in August, with a little more Botox. You can hear from my doctor in this report that was done by CNN's medical unit, thanks to producer Sandee LaMotte.

2. Building a voice from the Dupree archives. Since my voice isn't going to re-appear anytime soon, we started looking for high tech ways to get me back on the air. The first step was gathering years of recordings of my voice. I have shoe boxes filled with cassette tapes, reel-to-reel tapes, mini-discs, hard drives, and all sorts of different media storage devices from the first time I went on the radio in 1983, up through April of 2016 when my voice went out. But to build this voice, we focused on recordings from the last few years, which I had saved on our company computer system. Whether it was my reports from Capitol Hill, or from out on the campaign trail, I had hours and hours of material. But what the people at CereProc needed was audio that was only from me - so I spent several very late nights sorting through hundreds and hundreds of my stories to isolate those items which would help build a good voice. Going through all of that audio, it was like a trip down memory lane of what news stories that I had covered in the past few years, where I had been during my campaign coverage, what stories were big, and more. But that audio search was also a sobering personal reminder for me, that what was once normal - the mere act of speaking on the radio - was now impossible. Thus, the need for Jamie Dupree 2.0.

Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree

3. CereProc then goes to work. Once I handed off hundreds of audio files to the folks at CereProc in Scotland, all I could do was wait to see what they were going to be able to produce. "The voice was harder to build as the audio data used to build the voice was not recorded for the purpose of building a text-to-speech voice," said Graham Leary, who was in charge of my voice development. "Normally we would record a phonetically-balanced script, optimized for coverage of the different sounds in English," he added. In other words - they would bring someone in to record 30 hours or more of material, to make sure they get all the right sounds. With me, they had to improvise, but Leary said it worked out okay. "The radio reports are high quality and a suitable alternative - they are studio-recorded, read in a measured, consistent style and don't have any interjections from other speakers, crowd noise, applause etc. that can make audio difficult to work with." Trust me, this is a complicated process.

4. Pairing the voice with a text-to-speech program. The folks at CereProc recommended downloading a freeware program called "Balabolka" to use with my Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice. While the name might be a tongue twister, the program is fairly straightforward. You load a specific voice to be used - in my case, the "CereVoice Jamiedupree - English (East Coast America)" voice. You type in some words. Then you hit the 'play' button. And it plays what you write. Hit another button, and it exports those written words into a computer generated audio file, either wav or mp3. Balabolka is a very powerful tool, and can probably do a lot more than I am using it for - but to see how it easy it was to hit Alt-W and generate an mp3 file with my new voice, it was really quite a surprise. So, when you hear me on the radio with this synthesized voice, it will just be me typing the words, and saving them into an audio file.

Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree

5. How does the voice work? When I type words into the text-to-speech program, it doesn't go looking in an audio vault on my laptop for the exact words that I write, and then put those words together one-by-one. Instead, it searches out the sounds that would be made. So, this is not a question of having me on tape saying every word in the dictionary. Yes, it helps to have examples of me saying "President Trump" or "Congress." But I know there was no example in my stories of me saying "Rudy Giuliani," and yet, that popped out perfectly when I tried out the voice. How can that happen? CereProc uses "neural networks" to generate voices. "The neural networks, which contain between six to 10 layers each, work by slicing audio recordings of words down to phonetics," the BBC wrote in a technical story about my new computer generated voice. This allows the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice - and other voices created by companies all over the world - to navigate through just about any piece of text.

6. Figuring out certain words and sounds. While I have great praise for CereProc, the Jamie Dupree 2.0 voice isn't perfect. One thing you run into immediately is that certain words and phrases don't sound right - either because they are not pronounced clearly enough, or they seem artificially shortened. So, I spend a lot of time going back and moving words around in my news copy to see if it will sound better. One other way to massage the voice is that there are also a series of XML commands which can be used to emphasize certain words, to change the pitch, or alter the speed. One thing I quickly noticed is that the voice cuts off a word rather sharply at the end of a sentence - I simply found a way to fix that by slowing down the speed of the last word (or syllable) by 1 or 2 notches, to make it sound more natural. But there are some words that just don't come out right, even if they are spelled correctly, so you have to be inventive. "Investigation" just doesn't come out right, no matter what I try. House Speaker Paul Ryan's last name didn't sound good at all - so I wrote "Rye Inn" instead - and that sounded just right. Let's take the word "denuclearize." It sounded awful when written that way - but I found a way to make it sound better, as shown in the graphic below, by making it D-nuclear-rise, and by slowing down the final syllable.

Jamie Dupree
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Jamie Dupree

7. What does Jamie Dupree 2.0 sound like? Listen to this extended 'interview' that I did with the BBC World Service. Some of the words and phrases sound natural and fairly normal - at other times, it gets a bit robotic. But to me, it's still pretty amazing. It is my voice in there. And to be on the BBC World Service was a treat - I got hooked on shortwave radio as a teenager, and loved listening to Alistair Cooke's 'Letter from America' each week. Will this voice solution work in the long run? That will be up to my bosses - and really, up to the listeners. If they can deal with the different sound - whether in a newscast, or a longer form appearance - then I will still be able to deliver the news from Capitol Hill. I fully expect to get a lot of people saying nice things, and I fully expect to get a lot of mean and nasty social media messages as well.

8. Comparing the old, the new, and 2.0 After two years of not having a voice that was ready for a trip to the grocery store - much less going on the radio - it is truly fantastic to have a way to get back on the radio. Yes, the voice is a bit robotic at times. But it is me. I can hear myself in these words. So, let's look at how I sounded before, what I sound like now, and what Jamie Dupree 2.0 is like.

This news report is from February 28, 2016, at a Trump rally in Alabama. It was a giant crowd, and was one of my favorite reports from the first three months of 2016, when I was chasing the candidates all over the country.

https://cmgwsbradiojamiedupree.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/trump-alabama2.mp3

What do I sound like now? I can get out words that sound okay, but not in any type of rapid fire way. If I am going to speak, it has to be very slow, and with a pen in my mouth to keep my tongue occupied (that is the source of my problem, a tongue which is not behaving properly, as it pops out of my mouth when I speak).

https://cmgwsbradiojamiedupree.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/jamie-dupree-now-voice.mp3

As you can tell from that audio, it is a struggle to say just about anything. So, we go to Jamie Dupree 2.0. It can say anything that I want (though four letter words don't come out very well, just in case you were wondering). But, all I really want is to find my real voice again. Version 1 was better. But Jamie Dupree 2.0 is here, and this is what it sounds like.

https://cmgwsbradiojamiedupree.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/dupree-immigration1.mp3

9. Thanks to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). I can't give any rundown on my voice without thanking Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When she was elected after the death of Rep. Claude Pepper (D-FL), one of my company's radio stations was in Miami, so I got to know her right away when she arrived in Congress in 1989. While Cox Media Group sold our news-talk station in Miami, I still kept in touch with Ros-Lehtinen in the hallways of the Capitol. She would hear me on the radio and happily chirp, "The most connected man in Washington!" When I told her of my voice problems late in 2017, she gave me a hug and said she would help. Her speech on the floor of the House in December drew attention to my problems, and spurred interest from news organizations. That's how CNN's medical unit got interested, and that's how I found my way to Dr. Jinnah at Emory. I can't thank Ros-Lehtinen, Speaker Ryan, and others for their help. It made a difference for me.

10. How do I feel about Jamie Dupree 2.0? Let's be honest. I want to be able to speak normally. Even just somewhat normally. A friend texted me to ask, was I nervous about the new voice? I guess, a little. But if there is one thing that I take from the last two years, it's that I never gave up. I kept working at my job. I kept searching for a medical answer. I'm still searching for that answer. The outlook was admittedly bleak at times, like in April 2017 when the doctor at the Cleveland Clinic told me that no one could even treat my neurological/voice disorder. Early on, I knew I couldn't give up. I have kids who are only 9, 11, and 14. "I think everyone saw how passionate and how badly/deeply you wanted this," my boss told me the other day. "He never let anyone see him sweat," said my friend and colleague Dorey Scheimer.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to come down to our company's headquarters in Atlanta - our CEO Alex Taylor wanted to see me. It turned out to be an event with several hundred people, where I was presented with the "Governor Cox Award," named after our company's founder, Taylor's great-grandfather, James M. Cox. Taylor told the audience that because of my voice problems, I could have given up, I could have gone on disability, I could have quit my job. But I didn't. His words meant a lot to me, and they have been echoed by many inside our company in recent weeks. I want to thank him, and many others for their support.

Finally, I want to thank all the listeners, viewers, readers, and fellow ham radio operators who have sent me expressions of support over the past two years. Your words of encouragement were a great source of strength.

I would also thank those of you who sent me nasty emails, and celebrated my voice troubles. I know you will be back to criticize my new voice.

But you know what? Those jabs make me work even harder to stay in the news arena.

And now, we go onward - with Jamie Dupree 2.0.

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Local News

  • The University of Georgia Police Department is reporting the arrest of a Georgia Bulldog football player. Jaden Hunter faces misdemeanor charges that include driving with a suspended license and standing/stopping/parking in a prohibited area. Specifics of the arrest were not immediately available.  Hunter, the son of former Bulldog player Brice Hunter, is a rising junior on this year’s team. He played at Westlake High School in Atlanta. The arrest comes as Hunter and his Bulldog teammates are beginning spring football practices. 
  • There is a new commander for the Georgia State Patrol post in Gainesville: the job goes to State Patrol Sergeant Auston Allen. The Habersham County native began his State Patrol career as a GSP dispatcher in 2002, working in Forsyth County.  The Gainesville Post, Georgia State Patrol Post 6, serves Banks, Hall, and White counties. 
  • Crawford County peach farmer Robert Dickey has been named the 2019 Georgia Farmer of the Year. A fourth-generation farmer, Dickey manages approximately 1,000 acres of peaches and 3,000 acres of timberland with the help of his 90-year-old father, Bob Dickey, his wife, Cynde Dickey, and their son and daughter-in-law, Lee and Stacy Dickey. After high school, Dickey’s father encouraged him to pursue a business degree, so Dickey enrolled at the University of Georgia, graduating in 1976 with his bachelor’s degree. However, banking jobs were scarce, so Dickey returned to the farm with a new perspective. “Although I had worked on the farm through my high school and college years, I did not fully appreciate the value and significance of my family’s heritage until I came back full-time,” Dickey said. “There are no words to fully express the feeling of working alongside my father on the land my great-grandfather, and namesake, initially planted in peach trees in 1897.” Dickey has made many changes on the farm while honoring his family’s farm history. When he noticed other peach farmers were planting more acres, and Dickey Farms’ production volume left the farm’s packinghouse sitting underutilized during the season, Dickey began to offer packing services to meet other local farmers’ packing needs and to generate additional income. “When I first started working at the farm, we were packing about 75,000 packages a year,” he said. “This year, we expect to pack around 400,000 half-bushel boxes.” To deal with drought conditions, Dickey invested in irrigation equipment and added lakes, wells and piping which “helped immensely,” he said. Over the past 10 years, the farm transitioned to low-volume drip irrigation from high-volume reels of irrigation hose to increase efficiency and lower the farm’s water and energy use. Peach yields are up and disease pressure is low. The peach trees are still planted in traditional rows, but the areas between the rows are intentionally maintained in sod. This environmentally friendly practice prevents soil erosion, provides traction for farm equipment, adds organic matter to the soil, improves soil moisture and provides habitat for beneficial insects. Following recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Dickey reduces scale on his peach trees by using oil instead of a chemical treatment. The farm engages in crop rotations with a local row crop farmer to improve soil fertility and structure and reduce compaction. Dickey manages the family’s timberland with the help of a registered forester and the Georgia Forestry Commission, and they continue to plant new and improved second- and third-generation loblolly pine seedlings. “Dickey Farms is deliberate in our planting of wildlife habitats,” Dickey said. “Although we don’t want deer and other animals in our (orchards), we welcome wildlife in our forests and timber areas. Hunting and fishing leases are an important part of our farm.” The farm business recycles all of its cardboard, newspapers, plastic and glass through the local recycling center and makes a point to also recycle all pesticide containers, oil and tires. Dickey’s father continues to be a part of the farm business. “He’s the farm’s biggest cheerleader, encourager and mentor for both me and my son,” Dickey said. “His memory is amazing, and he has witnessed some of the biggest changes in the industry.” Dickey has taken the farm into new areas with ideas from his children and insight from his wife, Cynde Dickey, the farm’s chief financial officer. She was instrumental in starting the farm’s retail business and mail-order operation, which began 25 years ago. “She realized how much friends and families who no longer live in Georgia would love to have our juicy Georgia peaches arrive at their doorstep,” Dickey said. “Our retail operation has increased dramatically over the last five years as customers realize the value of purchasing their peaches and produce straight from the grower. The sales are steadily increasing in our non-peach production months and our ice cream is famous in these parts.” Dickey’s peach crop is marketed through the Genuine Georgia Group, a sales and marketing team with an interest and deep roots in the peach business. “This gives them a deeper understanding of production, quality, harvesting and marketing concerns,” Dickey said. “We want our peaches to be known as Georgia peaches — the sweetest peaches in the country.” Daughter-in-law Stacy Dickey promotes the farm’s market through social media, employee training and advertising. The Dickeys’ daughter, Marjie, a 2013 graduate of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, develops new recipes for the farm’s bakery. School groups often visit the farm for educational field trips, which are now in high demand. Son Lee Dickey manages the farm’s food-safety program and the installation of new peach trees and new crops, like 100 acres of pecans and 2 acres of strawberries. The farm plans to expand its vegetable acreage to meet the local school system’s demand for Georgia-grown produce. “When Crawford County lost its only grocery store in December 2016, Dickey Farms stepped up and provided fresh produce in season to meet the county’s needs,” said Sarah Greer, the UGA Cooperative Extension Agricultural and Natural Resources agent in Crawford County. Greer nominated Dickey and his farm for the Farmer of the Year award. “Dickey Farms exemplifies all that it means to be a steward of the land. They are innovative and progressive,” she said. “Not only are they an amazing farm that has persisted over generations, but they are outstanding community members.” In addition to his work on the farm, Dickey is serving his fourth term in the Georgia House of Representatives for District 140, which covers Crawford County and parts of Bibb, Houston, Monroe and Peach counties. He represents his fellow farmers on the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.  He is also a board member and past president of the Georgia Peach Council, has served as president and treasurer of the National Peach Council and is a member of the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Peaches and the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Dickey will now compete against farmers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia for the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award.
  • Athens played host to NFL coaches and scouts Wednesday, as former Georgia Bulldog football players worked out on UGA’s annual Pro Day. The players are hoping to impress NFL teams in advance of next month’s NFL draft. From D. Orlando Ledbetter, AJC… Former Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker and wide receiver Mecole Hardman turned in impressive performances at the school’s Pro Day on Wednesday. Baker shaved some time off the slow 40-yard dash time he ran at the combine and proclaimed himself to be the best cornerback in the draft. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at the combine and improved to 4.46 seconds Wednesday. “I know I’m the best cornerback in the draft,” Baker said. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff heard some Baker hype, too. “Deandre had a really good day today,” Dimitroff said. “He’s quick, fast and explosive. He can run. Cover the field. Very good range that way. He’s being (mentioned) as one of the best in the country in the draft. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”  The Falcons are in the cornerback market after parting ways with Robert Alford, Brian Poole and Justin Bethel.  Georgia coach Kirby Smart believes that Baker’s talents project well to the NFL. “He’s a competitor,” Smart said. “He’s physical. He runs well. He’s played in a system (where) he could play multiple coverages. We asked him to make a lot of checks. He’s going to be a really good pro player.” NFL teams were impressed with Hardman’s shiftiness and ability to change direction.  “He ran so well out there,” Dimitroff said. “We know that he can fly. He’s another versatile guy who can not only catch the ball and run routes, but he can do some damage as a return guy. He did well.” Former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield and tight end Issac Nauta needed to improve on the 40-yard dash times that ran at the combine, but did not. Holyfield, who ran a 4.78 at the combine had times that ranged from 4.76 to 4.89 on five different timings. Basically, he didn’t run any faster.  The target time for running backs is 4.55 seconds. “Of course, it’s a concern and how high you determine that to be sort of the guiding light,” Dimitroff said. “Obviously, he’s a good football player. We have to keep an eye on that. He’s a good football player and knows how to play this game.” Holyfield is leaning on film evaluations. “I might not be able to run the fastest 40 in the world, but I can play football better than a lot of people,” Holyfield said. “I’ve heard 4.6, but I’ve heard 4.7 and 4.8. I don’t know the exact numbers. Teams have what they have, but they have the film, too.”  Smart believes that Holyfield, despite the slow times, can play in the NFL.  “Elijah is going to be a great pro,” Smart said. “He brings a lot to a team. He brings a toughness. He brings a demeanor about him. He loves to work. … The stripes of the players don’t change when they go to the next level. I know that he’s going to convert what he’s done well here into the same thing there.” Nauta, who against the advice of the NFL draft advisory committee which recommended that he return to school, didn’t significantly improve his 40-yard dash time. He ran the 40 in 4.91 at the combine and ranged from 4.71 to 4.83 on Wednesday. “I just sent him a text message that he’s got a lot of good tape out there,” Smart said of Nauta. “Not to get overwhelmed with one moment. Don’t be disappointed either way. You can run a great time and have too much expectation. Or you can run a poor time, worse than what you think you should, and you still have tape out there.” There’s certainly more to playing in the NFL that running fast.  “I know from having worked in that league, there is a lot more than just the combine and times,” Smart said. “There’s a lot more of football tape to be watched. There’s a lot of background to be checked. Those are all strong points for Isaac and a lot of our players.”  Former Georgia defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter also worked out during the linebacker drills.  “He did well,” Dimitroff said. “He was working hard today. He was grinding it out. There are number of guys on this Georgia team that whether they get drafted (middle rounds) or wherever they get drafted, they are going to show their stuff I think as they get into the league.” Former Georgia receiver Riley Ridley didn’t run the 40-yard dash. He elected to stay with a slow 4.58 time from the combine. He’s the younger brother of Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley.  “I looked at him once in awhile and I kept shaking my head,” Dimitroff said. “You see the similarities. He’s a little bit bigger.  “He had a good day as well. He ran the routes well and he’s got good size to him, too. It will be interesting to see where he plays out draft-wise, round-wide. I heard the buzz around there.” 
  • A recount is pending in Hart County, where Patrick Guarnella was a Tuesday election winner in the race for a seat on the Hartwell City Council, defeating Erin Gaines by just three votes out of the 301 ballots that were cast in this week’s election.  Restaurants in Lawrenceville, Sugar Hill, and Snellville will be able to serve alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, an hour and a half earlier than the current 12:30 p.m. law. Voters approved Sunday sales referendums in elections that were held earlier this week.

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart has said before he doesn’t think there are many secrets in college football. That’s probably why Smart opened up Tuesday practice to the Oregon coaching staff, according to OregonLive.com. The Ducks’ staff, led by former Alabama assistant Mario Cristobal, was in Tuscaloosa on Monday and Athens, Ga., on Tuesday to watch practice and visit with staff members. Smart was at Alabama as Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator for three seasons while Cristobal was there serving as the line coach. Georgia places heavy restrictions on the media presence at practice, even while opening up practice for the well-trained eyes of staff members they might ultimately face in the College Football Playoff or in a bowl game. That’s what happened in the Sugar Bowl, as Smart allowed Texas coach Tom Herman and his staff to attend the Bulldogs’ spring practices last year. “We took a trip out there this spring just to pick brains and talk shop a little bit,” Herman said leading up to the Longhorns’ 28-21 victory. Herman said when the Sugar Bowl matchup was announced that he didn’t see the Georgia run game as “anything too formidable.” The confident Texas coach proved correct against what was the SEC’s top rushing offense. The Bulldogs rushed for just   72 yards on 30 attempts after averaging 259.8 yards per game. Smart said his new offensive coordinator, James Coley, has been working to improve the offense and talked with other coaches. Chances are, Coley spoke with Cristobal about what the Ducks do on offense in addition to visiting other programs that Smart chose not to name. “We’ve been working on us and saying, okay, what can we do better, and I think James brings a lot of that to the table,” Smart said on Tuesday. “They’ve gone and visited with a lot of people to get new ideas.” The post One year after opening practice to Texas, Georgia allows Oregon to observe appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is hoping for a big NFL draft for his Bulldogs, the better for future recruiting. WATCH: Kirby Smart shares thoughts on UGA Pro Day But it was clear as Smart spoke on Wednesday’s pro day in the so-called “House of Payne” indoor facility he regretted the one recruit that got away after the bowl game. Mecole Hardman. Perhaps no UGA player would have benefitted more from returning for a senior season than Hardman. It’s fair to say the speedy Hardman  would have challenged tailback D’Andre Swift for total yardage honors in 2019. Instead, Hardman — who had just 12 catches in his last 8 games in former coordinator Jim Chaney’s offense at Georgia — could be the steal of the draft. “I still think he has great upside at the wide receiver position, so he’s a guy that’s going to flourish when he gets to that level,” Smart said on Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to seeing him do it, because he’s grown as a player for us, but he hasn’t even reached his full potential.” Hardman had just 34 catches last season for 532 yards and 7 TDs in 2018. He would have likely doubled those numbers in 2019 with UGA losing WRs Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin. Hardman said he told Smart after the Sugar Bowl he was going pro, and that’s when “it hit the fan.” There’s a strong chance Smart felt it would have been in Hardman’s best interests — ultimately — to return for another season. But where the team was concerned, it was the late decision that hurt Georgia in addition to losing such a great talent. Smart explained in an SEC Network interview that the Jan. 14 NFL declaration date puts college teams in a bind relative to the early December signing date. RELATED: Kirby Smart shares fascinating look into future “I’m finding out January 14 who’s leaving, but yet I’m signing kids in December who are coming in (January),” Smart said in February. “I think more and more teams, especially upper echelon programs, will have rosters full of freshman or sophomores and a few juniors, because your (would-be) seniors are coming out early, or they’re transferring, they’re going in the (transfer) portal if they’re not playing,” he said. “So your teams will always be loaded with youth, and probably whoever manages that best, is who’s going to remain at the top of college football.” That’s certainly true for Georgia at receiver.  Smart lamented not having an early enrollee at the position at the opening spring press conference. UGA has added signees Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens, but neither is on campus for spring drills. RELATED: Georgia 2019 football signing class list Hardman, meanwhile, appears to be the fastest-rising Georgia player in NFL draft rankings after running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine. WATCH: Mecole Hardman flashes SEC speed at NFL combine “I think a lot of people saw that speed, they expected me to run fast, they see that on film,” Hardman said. “They see the potential.” Smart helps NFL teams recognize just how much potential Hardman has by making it a point to mention that he’s only played the receiver position for two seasons. “I usually bring it up pretty quick, to me it’s an important thing to understand that here’s a guy that only caught snaps in high school (as a QB), then only caught interceptions as a freshman (as a DB) and then he spends two years catching the ball and he’s done a really good job doing that,” Smart said. “Especially in his pro days and his workouts,” Smart said. “That’s kinda the only thing that people could try to knock Mecole on (previously). “He’s fast, he’s elusive, he’s a great returner, well what about his hands? Well all he’s done is catch every ball thrown to him for the last two months, and I’m excited to see what he does.” Smart and Georgia fans just wish they could have seen Hardman do more to achieve his potential in Athens before departing for the NFL. Georgia receivers perform 3-Cone at Pro Day The post WATCH: Wide receiver steal in 2019 NFL Draft might also be Georgia’s biggest loss appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — It’s hard to know exactly how much goes into the decision to stay or leave when a college football player is contemplating entering the NFL draft. For some it’s a matter of filling out a little paperwork and waiting to see what comes back. For others, it’s a comprehensive study that entails numerous phone calls, meetings, detailed correspondences and thoughtful prayer. Count Georgia’s J.R. Reed’s contemplation among the latter. His wasn’t a decision that was arrived at easily. “It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve made, besides transferring out of the University of Tulsa,” said Reed, a fifth-year senior and two-year starter at safety for the Bulldogs. It just took a lot of praying and marking things down and doing logistics and talking it over with my parents. After weeks and maybe a month going in – because we thought about it before – we decided it’d probably be best for me to come back.” Reed certainly has plenty of good resources. His father, Jake Reed, was an NFL veteran who played 12 seasons at wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. He retired in 2002 having played in 155 NFL games and finished his career with 6,999 yards receiving and 36 touchdowns. So the Reed family was able to consult a number NFL executives in reaching their decision. J.R. said it ultimately came down to a good, old-fashioned list of pros and cons, and finally a very frank conversation with Georgia coach Kirby Smart. Reed and Smart agreed “it’d be best for me to come back for this team and get us to win a championship.” “It’s always been my goal since I came here to win a national championship,” said Reed, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound senior. “Coach Smart told me that’s what he wants this team to be; I told him I want to be a part of a championship team. So my goals haven’t really changed. That championship thing is always on your list, every time you play. If Georgia does win a championship in 2019, Reed will have had a lot to do with it. With cornerback Deandre Baker to an NFL career, Reed is the captain and unquestioned leader of what will be a young but talented secondary. And his experience factor at this point is through the roof. Reed didn’t arrive at Georgia from his hometown of Frisco, Texas, until his sophomore year when he transferred in from Tulsa and had to sit out per the NCAA’s Division I transfer requirement. But ever since he reacquired his eligibility, Reed has been on the field for the Bulldogs. He has started every game at safety ever since, logging 145 tackles, 4 interceptions, 7 pass break-ups and 2.5 quarterback sacks. Now he, rising junior Richard LeCounte and senior Tyrique McGhee combine to form defensive back line that will rival any in the SEC. That’s a good thing because the Bulldogs are going to be extremely young on the corners and throughout the rest of the depth chart in the secondary. Entering spring camp, sophomores Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes are the starting cornerbacks. Sophomores Otis Reese and Christopher Smith step in as backups at safety while Mark Webb, a relatively inexperienced junior, will look to step up at the nickel position. Meanwhile, Georgia is welcoming in several other newcomers to the defensive backfield, including freshman early enrollees Lewis Cine and Tyrique Stevenson and junior college transfer D.J. Daniel. Reed has been asked to keep a close eye on the newbies. “A lot of the (DBs) haven’t really played that much, and I think they’re ready to show UGA and the world what they have,” Reed said. “Their talents are still developing. In the spring, I think we’ll find it.” Count Smart and first-year defensive backs coach Charlton Warren among those most pleased that Reed decided to return. With all the youth in the back third of the defense, to have been breaking in a new safety would have been challenging. But Smart said he never takes it upon himself to talk underclassmen out of turning pro. The Bulldogs had four juniors off last year’s 11-3 team make the decision to enter the draft in receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley, running back Elijah Holyfield and tight end Isaac Nauta. All four went through UGA’s Pro Day Wednesday before all representatives of all 32 NFL teams. Reed watched from a balcony in the Payne Indoor Athletic Facility. Smart said he generally doesn’t try to talk underclassmen into or out of the draft. He just tries to supply as much information as possible and will give them his opinion if it’s asked for. “We’re certainly very thrilled for the future of their careers,” Smart said of the early entries. “We’re looking forward to see how they do. … I’ve followed each one of them, communicated with each one of them, and we as a coaching staff and really organization are pulling really hard for those guys. The best thing that could happen for us is for each one of those guys to be drafted as high as possible, and for our program, and we’re looking forward to having a hell of a draft because we have the potential to have a lot of guys drafted. This time next year, Reed will be among the Bulldogs getting tested for the draft. He plans to do so with another championship ring in his pocket. “I have to take my role more seriously,” Reed said of his senior season. “It is just a different role than I have had in the past. … Now, a lot of it comes on your shoulders. We just have to get everybody leaning in the same direction.” The post Georgia safety J.R. Reed puts NFL dream on hold to pursue championship with Bulldogs appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Georgia linebacker Jaden Hunter was arrested on Wednesday night and faces charges for illegally stopping, standing or parking a vehicle. The jail booking recap report on the Athens’ Clark County website revealed Hunter was booked at 9:04 p.m. by the UGA police and released at 11:33 p.m. after posting a $1,000 bond. Hunter, who is from Atlanta and attended Westlake High School, was also found to be driving with a license that was suspended or revoked. Kirby Smart has not commented on the arrest of Hunter, who is the son of the late Brice Hunter, an All-SEC receiver and team captain of the Bulldogs. The post Georgia linebacker Jaden Hunter arrested Wednesday night in Athens appeared first on DawgNation.
  • The University of Georgia Police Department is reporting the arrest of a Georgia Bulldog football player. Jaden Hunter faces misdemeanor charges that include driving with a suspended license and standing/stopping/parking in a prohibited area. Specifics of the arrest were not immediately available.  Hunter, the son of former Bulldog player Brice Hunter, is a rising junior on this year’s team. He played at Westlake High School in Atlanta. The arrest comes as Hunter and his Bulldog teammates are beginning spring football practices.