(Editor's Note: I did an interview with Chase Vasser back in April and wanted it to feature on our sports pages. But with so many big prep events taking place I couldn't find the right opportunity to give it the coverage it deserved. It is still very much relevant, however, so it now takes center stage.)
ATHENS -- Chase Vasser will grind through the slog of each workout session this summer in Athens with one simple goal in mind: prove Todd Grantham right.
The Chestatee High graduate was thrilled to learn this spring that Grantham, the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator, had enough faith in Vasser to name the junior as one of Georgia's starting outside linebackers.
Now he wants to show the entire Bulldog nation why.
"It was a great honor," Vasser said. "After finding out about it I just wanted to go out and show him what I could do, show it was not a mistake."
The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Vasser has already shown glimpses of his ability, playing in 12 games in 2011, including three starts, while recording 16 tackles, 3.5 for loss. And he excelled during Georgia's annual spring game in April, leading the "Black team" in the G-Day scrimmage with five tackles and one pass break-up.
"I knew coach Grantham trusted me; I feel like I earned that last year," said Vasser, who had a career-high four tackles in Georgia's 33-28 win at Vanderbilt on Oct. 15.
That trust was reflected in the Bulldogs' spring depth chart and in the news that outside linebackers Cornelius Washington and Ray Drew were moving inside to defensive end, promoting Vasser to No. 1 at the "Sam" linebacker spot -- opposite All-SEC performer Jarvis Jones at the "Will" position.
After two full seasons of learning in Grantham's 3-4 scheme, Vasser says he is ready to make the most of the opportunity.
"I'm very comfortable; I know the position well, and I can just go all out every day," Vasser said. "I've learned all the plays, and now it's like second nature. And we build on that every day."
Not only does Vasser know his role, he also owns a knowledge of how the entire defense should function on every play.
"That's really helped me understand my own position better," Vasser said. "It's better for the whole defense, and Grantham and the other coaches instill it over and over with a lot of reps. Even the second- and third-teamers know everything that's going on around them. Our coaches really want you to know it, and now it's simple for us."
Featuring a number of veterans, including 10 players currently slotted to start that also started multiple games last season -- and a number of other experienced players shifting into other roles or acting as back-ups -- Vasser knows that expectations are high amongst fans, coaches and players.
"We've got a lot of talented players," Vasser said of a unit that finished ranked fifth nationally in total defense last season, allowing 277.2 yards per game. "We've got speed and aggressiveness, and we know what's going on. There's more excitement amongst the players even than last year. But we also know we have to come ready to play day-in, day-out."
For motivation, the Bulldogs need look no further than two games that acted as disappointing bookends to an otherwise strong regular season. The campaign opened with a 35-21 loss to Boise State in the Georgia Dome -- a game in which the Bulldogs allowed 390 total yards -- and the regular season ended with a 42-10 defeat to LSU in the SEC Championship game -- in which the Bulldogs' defense kept the Tigers scoreless in the first half (the lone LSU touchdown coming from a punt return) only to give up four straight touchdowns in the second half (the Tigers' final touchdown came on a defensive score).
"We're focusing on (not giving up) big plays," Vasser said. "That hurt us last year."
To that end, the Bulldogs are working on improving the talent already on campus, as well as looking forward to the addition of several talented freshmen once fall practice begins in August.
"I'm definitely looking forward to helping those guys out," said Vasser, who knows the incoming class includes some highly-touted players projected to battle for playing time with the Gainesville native. "It's not about me, it's about what's best for the team, and I'm glad to help out however I can. I'm not going to shy away from competition, but we're here to help each other and do what we can to make the team better."
Besides, Vasser knows a thing or two about competing for a role -- both on and off the gridiron.
"I didn't really start playing football until I got to high school," Vasser said. "Before that my mom had me taking part in theater productions and church plays."
To that end Vasser has added film studies to his consumer economics major in Athens.
"I've really enjoyed it," Vasser said. "I'd love to get into the film industry one day."
For now, however, Vasser will focus on his part with the Bulldogs, which could turn out to be a starring role indeed.