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Georgia pair included on Lott IMPACT Watch List

Palmber-Thombsby:Palmer Thombs06/02/24

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The run on watch lists is still a ways away with the majority coming out in August, but the first of them was released this week. The Lott IMPACT Trophy is presented annually to a player on the defensive side of the ball who best exemplifies the characteristics of IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity). Previous winners have included the likes of Josh Allen (Kentucky – 2018), Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan – 2021) and Will Anderson (Alabama – 2022). The first winner came from Georgia back in 2004 when David Pollack took home the award, and this year, a pair of Bulldogs were included on the initial watch list.

Junior safety Malaki Starks earned consensus All-American honors last season, following up a spectacular freshman campaign. After being a finalist for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award as he started 14 of 15 games for Georgia in 2022, Starks stepped things up a notch and was on the field first for the Bulldogs in every outing, finishing with 52 tackles (fourth on the team) and three interceptions during his sophomore season. Starks was a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards. He was also a semifinalist for the Bednarik Trophy.

Entering his third season with the program, expectations are high for Starks. Many believe he’ll be three-and-out and be taken early in the 2025 NFL Draft. As one of the top safeties in the country, that’s entirely possible, and that – along with his off field contributions – make him quite the candidate for the IMPACT Trophy.

Georgia’s other candidate is junior linebacker Jalon Walker. While he’s had a little bit lesser of a role than Starks, Walker has certainly contributed to the success of Georgia over his career. He led UGA in sacks this past season with five on the year including a career-high two in the SEC Championship Game, also hurrying the quarterback five times in the loss to Alabama. He forced a pair of fumbles – one of which came on a sack against Florida – and totaled 20 tackles. While the stats aren’t gaudy, his impact certainly has been bigger than just numbers. Off the field, Walker was recently selected as a student-athlete representative on the University of Georgia Athletics Association Board of Directors and has been a part of leadership teams, not just at UGA but the SEC as a whole. Georgia fans are hoping to see big things from Walker in 2024, and his inclusion on the Lott IMPACT Watch List certainly says that others around the country see it as a possibility too.

About the Bulldogs

Georgia enters the 2024 season as the favorite according to oddsmakers in Las Vegas to bring home a third title in four seasons. Quarterback Carson Beck is a big part of the reason why, being listed by the same oddsmakers as the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He’ll have weapons to work with – both new and old – in his second year as the starter including Dominic LovettRara ThomasDillon BellOscar DelpColbie YoungBenjamin YurosekTrevor Etienne and others. Put all that behind an offensive line that returns four players with starting experience, and it’s easy to see why hopes are high for the Georgia offense.

Of course though, as long as Kirby Smart is the head coach, the Bulldog defense is going to be strong, and that remains the case in 2024. Safety Malaki Starks was an All-American last season while EDGE Mykel Williams and inside linebacker Smael Mondon are certainly capable of playing at the kind of elite level. CJ Allen and Raylen Wilson played valuable snaps as true freshmen and should take steps forward – as should sack leader Jalon Walker, now a junior – while the secondary must replace three NFL Draft picks including one each at cornerback, safety and STAR.

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