LINCOLN — Mark Richt’s willingness to both pursue and utilize blue-chip tight ends can be traced to what Jim Donnan left in the cupboard when Richt took over at Georgia in 2001.
Richt said Donnan was more apt to go with two tight ends than a tight end and fullback, and those tight ends were trained to do everything and line up anywhere.
“When I got here, we had two or three NFL tight ends,” Richt said. “And so I’m sitting here going, ‘Of our best five eligible receivers, two of them are tight ends, so let’s use ’em.’ And because we kept using them, we were able to recruit other guys that could see themselves in our system.”
One of the most recent to thrive is senior Arthur Lynch, a 6-foot-5, 254-pounder who will be an important matchup for Nebraska in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1.
Lynch has 24 receptions for 390 yards and five touchdowns, and recently was named a first-team All-SEC selection. He had a TD catch among his three receptions last season when Georgia beat NU 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl.
Lynch admits that one reason he picked Georgia out of high school in Massachusetts was that the Bulldogs have had six tight ends named first- or second-team All-SEC in the last 13 years, including Randy McMichael, Ben Watson, Leonard Pope and Orson Charles.
“They’ve obviously had a history of tight ends that have done well — on the collegiate level and the professional level — so for me that was definitely an added bonus to what I was looking for in a school,” Lynch said. “There were other factors that went into my decision, but that definitely played a part in me ultimately deciding to come to Georgia.”
Lynch sandwiched quiet seasons in 2009 and 2011 around a redshirt year in 2010. He then broke through as a junior, being named the team’s most improved player after catching 24 passes and averaging 18 yards per reception.
This season, Lynch had three games with four receptions, including the 43-38 loss to Auburn. He caught a 24-yard touchdown during the Bulldogs’ 21-point fourth quarter, then had a 22-yard reception to start a last-gasp comeback attempt after the Tigers’ improbable go-ahead score in the final minute.
Lynch is a rarity on the Bulldogs’ roster, stocked mostly with players from the SEC region. He was one of three Division I-A signees off his high school team in Dartmouth, Mass., but the other two stayed in the Northeast with Connecticut and Boston College.
Richt said the Georgia staff was just poring through film looking for tight ends when it threw out a line to Lynch, who was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Massachusetts and the No. 2 tight end nationally by Rivals.com.
“He was interested in a new type of experience, a new culture to experience, and he got it,” Richt said. “He got it, buddy. And there was a time when he was ready to go home. But he hung in there and stuck it out, and he’s really glad that he did.”
How many major college prospects does Massachusetts regularly produce? Lynch said it can fluctuate anywhere from a half-dozen to 15 depending on the year.
“So it’s not like we’re a recruiting hotbed by any means,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of a talent, I just think it’s a lack of notoriety. I don’t think many people go up because I think they have talent in their own backyards in other regions of the country.”
Lynch just liked the idea of challenging himself as he considered Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Clemson and others, and Georgia had that whole tight end history thing going for it.
“We’ve just tried to continue to cultivate that position to where guys from around the country might want to come to Georgia, because they see guys leave Georgia and go to the NFL or they see guys be All-SEC,” Richt said. “It’s really helped us.”