ATHENS - The sting of defeat is always painful, but one of the worst for Georgia's defensive football players came at the end of last season.

Georgia Tech visited, rolled up 409 rushing yards and broke a seven-year losing streak to the Bulldogs with a 45-42 win. It was a tough loss to swallow, an archrival running the ball with ease all day long.

It was difficult to shake for Rennie Curran, Georgia's star linebacker. However, the then-sophomore's mind strayed from the game not long afterward when his massive arms cradled Eleana Kutu Curran, his newborn daughter, less than a month old.

"It's definitely a lot more responsibility (with a child), just balancing everything out," Curran said of Eleana, the now 10-month-old he had with his longtime girlfriend. "It can get tough, but it's the best feeling in the world. I wouldn't trade it. I love it. There's nothing like it. Last year when we lost a game, coming home and seeing her was the best feeling."

The 20-year-old isn't shying away from his responsibilities as a father, soaking up whatever time he can with Eleana. The time restraints are tough for an SEC football player between class and athletics, but his daughter visits once a week and he sees her on weekends.

He proudly takes her to church and brings her to his alma mater, Brookwood, toting her around comfortably on his shoulder.

"It was like being in heaven," Curran said of Eleana's birth. "There's no better feeling. You can't explain it, loving something that much. She's the happiest baby, too. I just took her to a family reunion and she was going to everybody. She didn't cry at all."

The child never is far from Curran's thoughts, whether he's in class or on the practice field. Generally regarded as one of the team's hardest workers and all-out players, he now has deeper inspiration for the upcoming season - a little girl who will be in town for UGA's Sept. 12 home opener against South Carolina.

"You know you don't have any room for error," Curran said. "It's something that greatly motivates me, knowing who I'm playing for. I'm not only playing for myself and my family, I'm playing for a future generation. It makes the opportunity that much more important."

That attitude can only help the Bulldogs' defense.

Curran, as a junior, will be leaned on heavily as the group's leader. He made a team-high 115 tackles last season, the most in a single season by a Georgia player since 1998. That was on the heels of making 53 stops (44 solos) as a true freshman in 2007.

"With leaders like Rennie Curran ... out on the field, we're in a very good place," Bulldog defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.

Although Georgia went 10-3 last season, it wasn't a totally fulfilling effort. From a defensive standpoint, the group allowed 41, 49 and 45 points in the team's three losses to Alabama, Florida and Georgia Tech.

Those were particularly hard to take for a team ranked first nationally coming into the season.

"I feel like we'll be a lot more focused this season, we won't have those rankings to think about," Curran said. "We're going to play more together because we know things will only get done if we play together as a team.

"Going off last year, the things that held us back, all the distractions, people getting in trouble off the field, lack of execution and focus at times, we've learned from that. We've grown up a whole lot because of those experiences."

Curran developed into a leader last season, but this year it's at a new level. Whether it's energizing his teammates or lining one up in the right place, he takes the duty seriously.

"(Rennie's) a leader and he calls us higher when we're not at our best," said Greater Atlanta Christian grad Christian Robinson, a freshman linebacker who backs up Curran at the Will spot. "He just reminds us why we're here and what we're working for. That's a good reminder each time we go out there."

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Curran kept that in his own head in the offseason, training harder than ever. He added close to 10 pounds on his chiseled frame.

Although he hasn't maxed out lately, his maxes last year were 450 in the bench press, 550 in the squat and 350 in the clean. The 450 bench is five pounds off the Bulldog record set by Tony Taylor and it's a record Curran plans to take down before he leaves Athens.

When he wasn't working out at school, Curran trained with Ryan Golden at The Factory in Gwinnett. He also spent time over the summer with Pittsburgh Steeler wideout Hines Ward, a former Bulldog, and his trainers.

Ward's house hosted some of the workouts, leaving Curran in awe of seeing memorabilia like a Super Bowl trophy and a photo of Ward with Jerry Rice.

"That was awesome, he's a real good guy," Curran said of Ward. "He shared a lot of things with me, his experiences. He came from humble beginnings like me. He said his mom was working like three jobs when he was growing up, things like that. It was cool to see a guy who did things right and now he's at the end of his career. It was just seeing if I do things right what could possibly be there for me."

By be there, he means being an NFL player. That is Curran's ultimate goal, to play on the ultimate stage.

And to provide for his young daughter.

"You can't help but think about (the NFL)," Curran said. "It's my third year now and it's a possibility. That's what you work for your whole life. To have an opportunity to just think about it is just crazy. Just to help so many people, not just my family, but the type of influence and relationships you make on that level is a really big opportunity if you can get it."

SideBar: THE CURRAN FILE

Who: Georgia's Rennie Curran

Position: Linebacker

Class: Junior

Size: 5-foot-11, 230 pounds

High school: Brookwood

Noteworthy:

· All-SEC selection and Butkus Award finalist as a sophomore

· Made team-high 115 tackles last season, the most by a Bulldog in a single season since 1998

· Played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2007, making 53 tackles (44 solos)