ATHENS, Ga. -- While discussing Jonathon Rumph's long-awaited debut after Saturday's win against Appalachian State, quarterback Hutson Mason immediately flashed forward to next season, when Mason should become Georgia's starter and have the 6-foot-5 receiver as one of his top weapons.
“You imagine we've got Rumph coming on and what we could have next year -- just another big tool in the toolbox, another big weapon,” said Mason, who completed four passes to Rumph for 98 yards in the fourth quarter of the Bulldogs' 45-6 win. “So it's going to be something special.”
At this point, many Georgia fans are probably asking, “Why wait until next season?” And Mason would agree with their point.
“I hope [that] boosts him and I hope the coaches see something in him and I hope he gets some more playing time because we can definitely use him,” Mason said.
Injuries have ravaged Georgia's receiving corps, knocking Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley out for the season and Michael Bennett and Chris Conley out for several games at a time. Rumph -- the nation's No. 1 receiver in ESPN's 2013 Junior College 100 -- has not been immune to injury issues, either, missing the first six games of the season with recurring hamstring problems before finally playing approximately 10 downs in Georgia's Nov. 2 win against Florida.
Rumph broke through with his first career catch against Appalachian State, taking a tunnel screen for a 24-yard gain early in the fourth quarter, and then breaking free for a 37-yard catch on the Bulldogs' final drive.
Bennett is back in the lineup, and coach Mark Richt said Monday that Conley might return for Saturday's visit to No. 7 Auburn, as well. But Rumph hopes that his impact this season won't be limited to four garbage-time receptions in a blowout win over an FCS opponent.
“I learned from going to juco you've always got to be patient, and when your opportunity comes and you see your crack, you've got to hit it,” he said.
Rumph knows this might be his crack.
“Everybody gets their opportunity and you've got to take advantage. That's what I'm trying to do,” Rumph said. “This probably is my situation for me to take advantage of my opportunity, so yeah, I'm looking at it as a chance that I can come every day to get better, better my position playing receiver and show the world my talent.”
The opportunity likely would have arrived earlier in the season, but the hamstring issue that first cropped up during preseason practice -- the first time he'd ever dealt with a hamstring ailment -- knocked him out for the first two games. Then just as Rumph was preparing to return for the North Texas game, he tweaked the hamstring again.
“That's one thing I had to realize because the first time I hurt it and I came back, it was feeling real good. But it's just like a car, you've got to keep your maintenance up,” Rumph said. “That's really what it was, you've got to keep getting treatment. I'm still getting treatment twice a day.”
Although Rumph was a January enrollee who participated in spring practice, the lingering injury prevented him from gaining valuable practice experience in the first half of the season. He returned to practice the week of the Vanderbilt game, but didn't take the field. Then he played sparingly against Florida before finally getting some balls thrown his way against Appalachian State.
As Mason said, perhaps that performance proved to receivers coach Tony Ball that Rumph can be an asset in the passing game over the final few games. Injuries robbed Rumph -- and Georgia -- of what might have been an impressive full season, but he still has time to make a bigger impression down the stretch.
“That guy is very talented,” Richt said. “The more he learns and the more reps he gets, the more chances he'll get and the better off he's going to be. It's like any other position, you've got to show coaches what you can do in practice to give them confidence to give you more opportunities and you've got to be fortunate enough to be healthy.
“I think if Jonathon was healthy since the beginning of camp, he'd be very heavy in our rotation and who knows how many catches he might have had to this point.”