“I love coming home,” Georgia said. “I don’t get a chance to that often, but when I do, there’s no place like home. The atmosphere is different, it’s relaxing. When I’m in Kentucky, I’m always going with school or football. It’s always great to come home and be around the people you love most.”
Although George is from Lincoln, Martin, who coached under Keith Howard for the Golden Bears before taking over head coaching duties in 2009 for two seasons, insisted George come talk to the upperclassmen about how much working hard pays off.
“The thing about Jonathan is he worked hard every day, he never complained and he gave everything on every play,” Martin said. “That’s when I saw and knew Jonathan was a special young man, not just as an athlete, but just as a person. Anything he team needed, he was a “yes sir, no sir” kind of guy.”
Entering his senior season at Lincoln in 2008, George started at wide receiver and was listed as the third-string tailback. When the two backs in front of him were injured in the season opener, George had a chance to shine.
“We go into the ballgame against (Cleburne County) and Jonathan is the only guy we’ve got,” Martin said. “He came in and had a great game.”
George took over from game two on, finishing his senior season with 3,300 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns. He was an All-State honorable mention and made The Star’s Dandy Dozen team.
Once George arrived at Kentucky, the hard work didn’t stop.
“It’s really just how I was raised,” George said. “My dad, I’m not going to say he was hard on me, but quitting was never something that I was raised on. There were some times when things didn’t go my way, I wanted to give up, but with my dad being there and people in the community and my family encouraging me, you just never know what good can come out of working hard.”
Using that mindset, George’s playing time continued to increase. As a redshirt freshman and sophomore at Kentucky, he played mostly on special teams but saw the field in 11 games. Last fall, as a junior, George was given an opportunity and took advantage of it.
Despite being third on the depth chart at the beginning of the season, an injury and suspension had George’s number called against Western Kentucky, the third game of the season. Getting a substantial amount of playing time, George made a statement.
“From that game on, they named me the starter for the rest of the season,” he said. “It was a very humbling experience and a great experience. It was a tough season, but there’s always something you learn out of the game of football and I learned a lot of lessons.”
Despite Kentucky being under a new regime with Mark Stoops replacing Joker Phillips as head coach, George’s job security isn’t much at risk after rushing for 504 yards and four touchdowns on 108 carries, as George said he and Raymond Sanders will split playing time.
“The most amazing thing about it with Jonathan is how both of his careers have paralleled,” Martin said. “He was third on tailback both times. But that shows his hard work and dedication and how, if he continues to do his job every day once he has an opportunity to step up to the plate, he delivers every time.
“That’s what is going to carry him through the rest of his life. He helps others and he’s not the flashy, tell-you-how-good-he-is guy, he just shows you on the field. It just amazes me how he’s done the same thing over and over in his career, and as a coach, that makes you proud.”
But as George spoke on Friday morning, he reminded the students that it is important to work hard other than when just playing sports.
“As many opportunities as I have, I’d love to talk to anybody and tell them the importance to keep going and keep doing what you have to do to be successful,” George said. “Stuff like this, I love doing it because everyone doesn’t have it. With this being so close to my hometown, it’d be even better for it to be somebody from the area I’m from and see them make it.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.