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SEC Championship carries extra meaning for Charlie Woerner

ATHENS, Ga. — Last year’s National Championship game was hard for Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner to endure from the sideline. The helpless feeling he had watching his team lose to Alabama 26-23 in overtime is something he’d rather avoid going forward and it makes the upcoming matchup with the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide a little bigger.

Woerner suffered a fractured fibula in the Rose Bowl after hauling in three passes for 21 yards against Oklahoma and clearly remembers being in pain the entire flight home from Los Angeles. He also recalls having to watch as the Bulldogs lost two 13-point leads and watched their season end on a sour note with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith.

Because he wasn’t out there with his teammates, competing and doing his part, the rematch with Alabama carries some extra meaning for the junior from Tiger, Ga.

“Since I couldn’t play in it last year, there’s definitely a lot more to it for me because I had to sit there and watch,” Woerner said. “But I’m not trying to overthink it in my head… Going into a real big game and trying not to make too much out of it.”

Woerner’s statement about trying to treat this like another game is the same thing Kirby Smart has said multiple times this week. Several of his teammates have parroted that message, too.

Like every team in College Football, the Bulldogs are chasing Alabama. The Crimson Tide has brought in five championships in the past nine years, all under Nick Saban. Smart was a part of four of those titles as a defensive coordinator.

But Smart has maintained that changing anything about the way they go about business, no matter how significant the game or challenging the opponent, isn’t part of his process. The most important opponent is the next one and they’ll aim to improve as the week goes on and prepare to the best of their ability whether it’s Austin Peay or Alabama.

For Woerner, however, completely shaking how he felt while sidelined with an injury less than 11 months ago is impossible.

“I hated seeing everything happen out there and knowing I couldn’t help, especially watching us lose at the very last play,” Woerner said. “But yeah, that helpless feeling was horrible. I was like, gosh man, I can’t do anything to help the team out but its not the same. When you’re a competitor, you want to be out there.”

It means a little more to his close friend and position mate Isaac Nauta, too. The two signed with Georgia together in the 2016 class, Smart’s first as UGA’s head coach. They were both heavily recruited by the Crimson Tide and made trips to Tuscaloosa.

Nauta’s excitement for this game is two-fold. He’s fired up that Woerner gets a chance to be a part of the rematch, but he has the same feeling about having a chance to defend the crown the Bulldogs defeated Auburn for in this game a year ago.

“Even bigger than the opponent, just to have another crack at another SEC Championship is no small feat,” Nauta said. “It’s such a good conference and it’s so tough to get to this point that it feels good to have another chance to defend the championship. It definitely means a lot to have Charlie be a part of it and play against this opponent. I know he’s excited about that.”

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