Stinchcomb surprised by award from alma mater

Matt Stinchcomb was of the most decorated players in Georgia history both on the field, where he was an All-American, and off it.

The glut of trophies and plaques, some more prestigious than others, that he amassed over the years innumerable. That said, the former Bulldog great admits the feeling of being honored is gratifying and it never gets old.

And he's never been more gratified than when he got a recent call from Damon Evans. The UGA athletic director gave the official word that Stinchcomb was selected to the Bulldogs' Circle of Honor, the highest tribute the school gives to former athletes and coaches.

"I thought (Evans) was jerking me around," Stinchcomb said. "That's quite an honor. I'm humbled they even thought of me. It's not something that I would have anticipated being a part of. Growing up as a fan (of UGA), just to get to play, you think it doesn't get any better. But to get honored with so many other great people in all sports, you don't expect that."

The award goes to student-athletes and coaches "who have exhibited extraordinary levels of excellence by their performance and conduct." The criteria, which includes obtaining his or her academic degree, also is meant for "individuals who have brought great honor and glory to the university and to themselves, and their actions have significantly contributed to the tradition and legend of the Georgia Bulldogs."

Stinchcomb's career has accomplished those goals in multiple ways.

A three-year starter at offensive tackle, the Parkview grad earned first-team All-American honors in both 1997 and 1998 and was a Lombardi Award finalist. He was a first-round NFL Draft pick by Oakland in 1997, playing for both the Raiders and Tampa Bay during his injury-shortened career.

But some of Stinchcomb's most notable accomplishments were off the gridiron. He made numerous academic All-American teams and earned several other national awards for his classroom excellence, the 1998 Academic All-American of the Year, the Woody Hayes National Scholar-Athlete of the Year and the NCAA Top VIII Award.

The 32-year-old now teams with his younger brother Jon, an offensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints, and former UGA quarterback David Greene on Countdown to Kickoff, a Bulldog fans and boosters event that raises money for children's charities.

Although he works in risk management insurance, he also has worked as a college football broadcaster, a role he will fill this fall for ESPN television.

Those kind of efforts boosted Stinchcomb's selection into the Circle of Honor, which is a permanent exhibit at UGA's Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. He also will be honored - along with fellow 2008 selections Kim Arnold (gymnastics), Bernadette Locke (basketball) and Brent Noon (track and field) - at the Sept. 26 UGA football game against Arizona State.

"You look at (the past Circle of Honor inductees) and you don't know how you wiggled your way in," Stinchcomb said. "Surely, they've got a screening process and maybe it faltered this year. But seriously, this one's definitely special. I don't even know how to capture the feeling.

"It is gratifying and incredibly humbling. I was flabbergasted when they called."