Hailing from Swainsboro, Ga., Greg Waters was part of the Bulldogs’ 1982 incoming class—arguably, the most-anticipated signee class all time at Georgia—but the defensive end was perhaps the least touted of the group of 30 freshmen. Nevertheless, as a member of the defense for just two seasons, including only one year as a starter, Waters, nicknamed “Muddy,” became one of the greatest pass rushers in the history of Bulldogs football. In 1984 and 1985, he recorded 154 combined tackles, 16 sacks, and eight other tackles for loss. Still, it’s too bad quarterback hurries weren’t recorded as a statistic back then because Waters would probably hold some records in that category, including for his performance against the Gators as a senior.
Georgia’s 24-3 win over No. 1-ranked Florida in 1985 remains the Bulldogs’ only win all time over a top-ranked team. In addition, featuring 408 yards passing by Kerwin Bell, it likely is the only time in college football history a quarterback has thrown for 400+ yards in a game, yet his team did not score a single touchdown. Although Bell could not be stopped between the 20-yard lines, once Florida got into striking distance, spearheaded by Waters, the Georgia defense rose to the occasion. Besides totaling 12 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble, Waters constantly—and, I mean constantly—kept pressure on Bell during the victory. And, following the game, he likely gave the best post-game quote: "The second time I hit [Bell early in the game], he said something to me that I didn't understand," Waters said. "I guess maybe he thought I hit him late, but I told him I'd be right back."
In 1985, Waters was recognized as a unanimous All-SEC selection, and was elected co-captain of the Georgia defense. Perhaps more notably, of the 30 incoming Bulldogs in 1982, 16 had either left school because of academics, being disgruntled, or never showing up on campus in the first place. Of the 14 remaining, according to a sportswriter, only seven, including Greg “Muddy” Waters, became “success stories” while at Georgia.
Since his playing days for the Bulldogs, Waters has moved back to his hometown of Swainsboro. But, he often finds time to return to Athens including, through his work, bringing kids to UGA who otherwise probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so.
My recent conversation with “Muddy”:
PG: Greg, honestly, you were one of my favorite players as a kid while following the Bulldogs during the mid-1980s. But, I have to admit, one of the reasons why—and, I stress it was only a minor reason—was because of your nickname, “Muddy.” I just have to know, how did you get the nickname?
GMW: Back when I played, the coaches didn’t know a lot of the names of the freshmen, but our last names were written on a piece of tape placed on our practice helmets. When I was a freshman [in 1982], I was a member of the scout team. One particular practice was in the rain and the mud, and we were going against the No. 1 offense. At some point, I made a play on defense, and Coach Dooley—I’m guessing because he didn’t know my name, and couldn’t see it on my helmet, just saw mud—called me “Muddy.” From there, I was in on about eight plays in a row, and every time, Coach Dooley would call out, “Who made that play?!?” And, someone would answer back, “Muddy!” The nickname just stuck.
PG: Tell me about your recruiting process.
GMW: It was probably nothing like some of the recruiting stories you’ve heard before. There wasn’t a whole lot to it. There were about three or four schools recruiting me. At first, I was thinking about going to South Carolina, and was basically heading there, but then they ran out of scholarships. Around that time, Georgia stepped in, and offered me a scholarship.
PG: I once read that fullback Barry Young, who was two years older than you and also from Swainsboro, along with his roommate, Herschel Walker, made a real difference in your life during your first year or two at Georgia.
GMW: A lot of freshmen in a similar situation that I was in—not being highly recruited, and not as big and strong as everyone else—can become discouraged, and want to leave the program. But, when I got to Georgia, Barry and Herschel were like big brothers to me. They told me to be patient, and my time would come. Both of them were real classy guys. They taught me a lot of things, and I learned a lot from them.
PG: Speaking of being patient, what was the deal with you only playing for two seasons (1984-1985)?
GMW: Although I didn’t really understand at the time the process of being redshirted (opposed to playing as a true freshman), I had heard that I was going to redshirt. But then, [the coaches] came to me and asked if I wanted to play on the junior varsity team. I said, “Yes, of course!” I just wanted to play, but I didn’t know it would take my redshirt [season from me]. And then, as a sophomore in 1983, I played just a little bit, and it was only on special teams.
PG: So, your time did indeed come as a junior in 1984. In the season opener against Southern Mississippi, you recorded three sacks, and you didn’t even start the game! In fact, and I’m going to look this up, I bet you hold the Georgia single-season record for tackles without making a single start (I would look it up, and found that Waters’ 59 tackles in 1984 is tied with Whit Marshall in 1993 for most tackles in a season without making a single start since UGA made defensive starts readily available beginning with the 1982 season.). And, your tackle total was actually four more than the guy in front of you (senior Carlyle Hewatt), who started every game in ’84. How do you go from not appearing for a single defensive play in two varsity seasons, only to become one of your team’s best defensive players as a junior?
GMW: Well, first off, in Carlyle’s defense, I think we probably split the plays down the middle that year. He probably played the run a little bit better than I did, so he started and was in on plays when the opponent was likely to run, while I was maybe better at rushing the passer. As far as what I did to get to that point as junior in 1984, all I can say was that it was just a matter of pride for me, and wanting to play very badly.
PG: What do you remember about the ’85 Florida game?
GMW: Well, to begin with, it’s Georgia-Florida—it’s called the “Cocktail Party”—so, it’s already a big game. Florida was ranked No.1 and we still had a chance to win the SEC. We played really good defense the entire season in 1985, but we probably played our best that day in upsetting the top-ranked team in the country by three touchdowns.
PG: What you were able to accomplish your senior season was rather remarkable, especially considering your lack of playing time before. Still, in doing some research, I discovered that you played a lot of the 1985 season hurt?
GMW: Yeah, early in the season, I dislocated my shoulder, but just had to play through it (the pain). And, in the Auburn game (10th game of year), I twisted my ankle on about the second or third play of the game. I would play the next game against [Georgia] Tech, but not that much.
PG: What do you have to say for the much-heralded 1982 signee class, which turned out to be ill-fated, yet here you—maybe, the least recruited of the entire bunch—had one of the more distinguished Georgia careers in the group?
GMW: We came in knowing that the class two years before in 1980 won a national championship in its first year, and the next class won a conference championship [in 1981]; therefore, we had a lot to live up to. Of the guys in the class that stayed on, we remained really close. And, I think every one of us [in the class who remained at Georgia] took a lot of pride in wanting to win.
PG: Greg, you’ve been awfully humble, so this may be hard for you, but what on-field personal achievement as a Bulldog do you take the most pride in?
GMW: Not being highly recruited and, like you say, coming out of nowhere, for me to make All-SEC as a senior is a big honor. But, maybe the biggest honor was being named defensive co-captain—that’s what really stands out to me.
PG: After Georgia, you had a brief stint in the CFL, right?
GMW: Yes, at the time, I think the NFL thought I was too small, especially for a defensive lineman (listed at 6-foot-3, 233 pounds in 1985). But, one day the agent I had got a call from Ottawa, and they said they had my rights if I wanted to play in the Canadian League. Well, I wanted to keep on playing football, so I decided to go to Ottawa. I played for the Rough Riders for about half a season before I messed up my shoulder, and that was that.
PG: What have you done professionally over the last 30 years?
GMW: Since football, I’ve done a lot of different things. I came back from Canada and worked at the Athens YMCA for a little while. Then, I worked downtown at the courthouse as a bailiff for Judge Kent Lawrence (who played for Georgia, 1966-1968). I also worked for the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) for some time. After the GBI, I came back to Swainsboro, and started working for the Swainsboro-Emanuel County Parks & Recreational Department. I currently serve as the Rec. Department’s Assistant Director.
PG: Please tell me about your family.
GMW: I’m married to Sandra Waters, and we have one son, Ashton, and he’s 15 years old.
PG: Is Ashton going to be “Little Muddy”—a fierce, pass-rushing “Muddy, Jr.”?
GMW: (Chuckling) I’m not sure about that; he likes to play on offense. He’s at the Emanuel County Institute, and it looks like he’ll play quarterback. We just hope everything goes well for him there.
PG: What’s your current association with the UGA football program?
GMW: I come to about two or three ballgames a year. And, I go to lettermen functions whenever I get a chance. Also, by staying in touch with Robert Miles (former UGA player, now Director of UGA’s CHAMPS/Life Skills Program), I’ll bring a few kids [from the Rec. Department] every year to Athens, where we’ll see a basketball game and give them a tour of the campus.