The University of Georgia’s football program has always strived to bring in the best possible group of athletes to come and play between the hedges. Despite missing out on some top in-state talent over the past few years, the program has continuously been able to bring in top-notch players such as Leonard Floyd, Malcolm Mitchell, and most recently top targets Lorenzo Carter and Nick Chubb. The program has also recently delivered prominent out of state talent from Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno to the more recent SEC record holding Aaron Murray and All Pro NFL wide receiver A.J. Green.
Now of all the “dream teams” and top classes, this year’s class is shaping up to be an epic one. Already ranked third according to Rivals.com, UGA has received commitments from some of the state’s top talent including the number one player in the state, Trent Thompson, and the top athlete in the 2015 class, Terry Godwin. There are also numerous players in this class playing in either the U.S. Army All American Game or the Under Armour All America Game. UGA has also set a record in the number of players who flipped their commitments from another school to Georgia. Now add a couple of top Juco transfers, and this class is already looking solid. Two current commitments, Trent Thompson and Van Jefferson, are both nominated for the Army All American Player of the Year Award handed out every year at the game. Here is a list of the commits playing in either game. The Under Armour game is scheduled for January 2, 2015 and the Army game is scheduled for January 3, 2015
Trent Thompson – DT – 6’4” 292lbs
Natrez Patrick – WDE – 6’3” 220lbs
Van Jefferson – WR – 6’3” 180lbs
Deandre Baker – CB – 5’11” 175lbs
Darius Slayton – WR – 6’2″ 182lbs
Terry Godwin – ATH – 6’0” 168lbs
Jonathan Ledbetter – DT – 6’4” 265lbs
Rashad Roundtree – S – 6’1” 195lbs
To further strengthen its recruiting efforts, Georgia has also asked commits in the past to contribute personally by working hard to bring in other athletes to join them at UGA. One such player last year, Sony Michel, got his teammate Isaiah McKenzie to sign with UGA on National Signing Day, without Isaiah ever having stepped foot on campus. This year’s class however, has made it a priority. Current commits are using words like “us” and “we” when referring to UGA and are very open about their recruiting of other players. Trent Thompson and Terry Godwin are the most vocal of late, in their recruiting of top five outside linebacker Roquan Smith. Thompson states that he talks to Smith at least once a week about coming to play football at UGA. As good as the current commits are at recruiting, it is safe to say that Georgia’s current coaching and recruiting staff are on the road and getting in the ears of recruits more than they have in the past. This would play a big part in why Coach Richt chose them in the first place.
A lot of people were weary when UGA’s previous defensive coordinator suddenly left the program at the end of the year. The majority of UGA faithful were not sure how the situation would affect the recruiting class at that time. Coach Richt could have panicked, but instead he went above and beyond. Two days after Todd Grantham left the program, Jeremy Pruitt was accepting the job as the new defensive coordinator. What happened next was amazing. Even after the entire defensive staff also left the program, Coach Richt chose to hit the road himself, along with Coach Pruitt, to find what would become the best defensive coaching staff the program had in quite some time. Tracy Rocker would come in and handle the defensive line, Mike Ekeler would come in and take care of the inside linebackers, Kevin Sherrer would be coaching the outside linebackers, and finally Coach Pruitt would handle the defensive backs and overall defensive play calling. Combined, their new “Earn Your Position” mentality would turn out to be a success, although not an instant one, for the program giving the Bulldogs the number one rank nationally in turnover margin at +18 or an average of 1.5 turnovers per game. This is the fourth time in recent history that UGA would finish the season at the top of the turnover ratio rankings, (1980 +23, 1982 +22, and 1979 +17).
What could not have been expected is what they would accomplish on the recruiting trail in such short time. These guys hit the road early and were instrumental in landing last year’s top in state prospect Lorenzo Carter. This year they have only improved their craft. UGA has been in more top ten school lists by highly ranked players in the 2015 class than any other school nationwide. Now, although UGA may not land every prospect they go after this year, UGA is becoming more of a household name with high schools (more importantly high school coaching staffs) across the U.S. The coaching staff’s dedication to bettering the program has already paid off with a couple of five star recruits already committed to the 2016 class. To make things even better, these top ranked recruits from the 2016, 2017, and even 2018 classes that are already taking official visits and showing interest in UGA.
Now how are these coaches getting their respective feet in the door with so many recruits you might ask…? It’s simple; they give them the best opportunity to come in and play early. As mentioned earlier, the coaches have adopted an “Earn Your Position” policy that gives a true freshman just as big of a chance to earn a spot as a fifth year senior. Case in point, three star defensive back Dominick Sanders in the 2014 class. He came into spring practice a low ranked prospect and played so well in the spring that he started every game this season. As a true freshman, he made a major impact accumulating 33 tackles and an interception on the season. He is not the only freshman these coaches have given opportunities to either; another big name that has been shouted between the hedges this year has been that of freshman phenom Lorenzo Carter. Carter finished the season with 33 tackles (6 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks. Both sides of the football have had impacts this season from true freshman, with the most noted being running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, as well as tight end Jeb Blazevich and wide receiver/ punt returner Isaiah McKenzie. Nick Chubb finished the year with 1,281 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns along with 213 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Sony Michel, who was out several games due to injury, amassed 377 yards rushing with 4 touchdowns to go along with 71 yards and 1 touchdown receiving. True freshman Jeb Blazevich came in this year expecting to be the backup to veteran tight end Jay Rome, but ended up splitting game time with him pretty evenly. He finished his first year with 256 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Perhaps the most surprising impact however would have to be Isaiah McKenzie, and his contributions to special teams returning both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns this season. To see all of these true freshmen come in and make an immediate impact to the team is something that would be hard to pass up for any top prospect out of high school. So much credit is due for this newly established coaching staff for doing so much in so little time. To have a top-three ranked recruiting class, something UGA hasn’t had since 2009, is an amazing feat considering these guys have only been with program for less than a year.
These next few months heading into National Signing Day will be interesting to say the least. Hopefully, Georgia can get a few more commits at the Army All American and Under Armour games (UGA is in the top three for nine top targets playing). One final piece of information to chew on is the number of early enrollees Georgia will have this year, which is significant compared to the few that have enrolled early over the last couple of years. This year’s class however, seems to be running out of early enrollment spots due to so many players wanting to get on campus and get started early. Compared to the single enrollee the program had last year, UGA will be looking to have ten to twelve this year, which means that there will be that many more true freshman learning playbooks and conditioning themselves to “Finish the Drill” that much sooner. With all this talent potentially landing in Athens, the future appears to be looking pretty bright for the old college town. As the late great Larry Munson would say, “It’s time to hunker down you Hairy Dawgs”.