There's more on Bud Dupree's shoulders than just his pads when he takes the field. The young linebacker is laden with expectations.
His coaches are counting on him to be a star. His teammates are counting on him to be a terrifying pass rusher. Fans are counting on him to be the face of a rising program. He's counting on himself to break records.
Is it too much for a sophomore with just three career starts?
"I think Bud is plenty capable of handling those expectations," head coach Joker Phillips said. "Randall Cobb was one of those guys who when he first walked on campus, you knew he had what we call 'it.' Bud has 'it.'"
Phillips has pointed to Dupree since the end of the 2012 as one of the reasons he's excited about the 2012 season. Dupree started the last three games of the season at rush linebacker when juniorRidge Wilson suffered a torn labrum, and the limited sampling coaches saw roused their hopes.
He had 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two pass breakups in those three games. Wilson was dismissed from the team after being arrested on felony drug charges in the spring, and Dupree ascended to the starting lineup.
Cobb is perhaps the only player who saw similar expectations going into just his second year with the program. No one is trying to shield him from it, and Dupree doesn't have any problem taking on a higher profile.
"I'm good with it. I like the exposure," he said. "When they say that, I just tell myself that all the hard work I'm doing is really going to pay off."
Wilson had only two sacks last year, struggling to make the adjustment to the hybrid linebacker/defensive end role Dupree is expected to fill this year. The Wildcats' pass rush struggled as a whole, as no player had more than three sacks.
Dupree is being counted on as the man to change that.
"He'll end up setting his own standard," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "We don't really have a true reputation at that spot yet, which we will develop with him as time goes on. He's a natural hybrid who does a lot of jobs for us. Right now, we're very pleased with his progress."
Dupree is aiming high in 2012. His goal for the season is to have at least two sacks in every game.
That's quite ambitious. The NCAA record for sacks in a season is 24, set by Arizona State's Terrell Suggs in 2002. Assuming Dupree plays in every regular season game for the Wildcats, achieving his goal would mean at least tying that record, and probably breaking it.
"I see that. I definitely do," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "He's a talented rusher off the edge. If he's not at the top, he's going to be close to the top. I could see him being the leader in sacks definitely."
He and Williamson have made a friendly bet; Williamson's goal is to lead the Southeastern Conference in tackles, while Dupree's is to lead the league in sacks. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who returns in 2012, was second in the nation last year with 13.5 sacks last year.
Dupree spent most of 2011 as a pass rush specialist, entering the game on third-and-long with Wilson and playing from the defensive line.
"Coach (David) Turner always told me, 'Just go get the quarterback,'" Wilson said.
But he'll be better equipped this season. He weighed just 225 pounds as a true freshman, lining up against linemen who weighed nearly 100 pounds more than him. Dupree now weighs 255 pounds.
He'll line up in five or six different positions in any given game. He's been afforded with nearly every superlative a coach can bestow on a player. Phillips and Minter say he's a leader, a student of the game, and a high character guy.
They're expecting much from him. But he might be expecting even more from himself. He's been trying to get two sacks in every practice period. He figures that's what he needs to do to have a shot at his goals for the season.
"He has high goals for himself," Phillips said. "I don't think it's too much pressure to expect from him."