Dream team comes true for Bulldogs

semerson@macon.comFebruary 3, 2011 

ATHENS -- Mike Bobo was the final coach to leave the Georgia football team meeting room Wednesday afternoon. It was doubling as an interview room, where Bobo, head coach Mark Richt and the other members of the beleaguered Bulldogs coaching staff were fielding questions about their best day in months.

Despite coming off their first losing season, or perhaps because of it, Georgia signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. It was a class that could save the staff’s future or add even more pressure.

But Bobo, standing alone with a few reporters, scoffed at either idea.

“Everybody likes to say, ‘You’re on the hot seat, you’ve got this, you’ve got to sign this class,’ ” Bobo said. “We’ve been totally positive with everybody we’ve recruited. We plan on being good next year in 2011. We hope this class right here is going to come add to that.”

It figures to do more than just add to the existing core. Richt estimated that the 25-man class -- which may get one more critical member in a few days -- would “represent about one-third of our football team.” He added that during the course of their careers he hoped it proved to be the best of his 11 years as Georgia’s head coach.

The headliner of the group is Isaiah Crowell, the running back from Columbus-Carver. Georgia had a disappointing running game in 2010, ranking 10th in the SEC, and Crowell will get every chance to prove he’s the one to fix it.

“I wouldn’t be shocked to see him run that rock in the dome against Boise State, on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do,” Richt said on ESPNU shortly after Crowell’s announcement.

Crowell, and middle linebacker Kent Turene from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were the only two new commitments Wednesday. Every other signee had already committed, and the end result vaulted Georgia to as high as fifth nationally in the Scout rankings, sixth in ESPN and seventh in Rivals.

And the Bulldogs might not be done. Nose tackle Johnathan Jenkins, a junior college prospect from Connecticut, is set to announce Saturday. That may be the most critical need position on defense -- just as tailback was on offense.

Whatever happens with Jenkins, the staff has two consensus five-star prospects -- Crowell and linebacker Ray Drew -- and a number of other key prospects. They include quarterback Christian LeMay, who has already enrolled, receiver-defensive back Malcolm Mitchell, tight end Jay Rome, and defensive backs Damian Swann and Nick Marshall.

The class has 19 members from Georgia, making true the so-called “dream team” of in-state recruits.

Richt said he knew there was risk in not hiding the fact that they were going for so many top players. But especially after struggling so much in 2010, they decided to go for broke.

“This is my dream team; this is our dream team at the University of Georgia,” Richt said. “We literally had names and pictures targeted that we could look at and shoot for. We actually nailed it pretty good. You never get them all, but we came pretty darn close.”

So how did it all come together after a 6-7 season, the team’s first losing record in 14 years?

There was certainly a greater sense of urgency for the staff, which also lucked into a bumper crop of in-state talent.

Recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner also credited Drew, the top-rated defensive player in the class, with helping be a ringleader. While Drew publicly announced his commitment last week, behind the scenes he had been prodding and encouraging other recruits to join him at Georgia.

Garner estimated that Drew took on that role from about last October on.

, although he was never 100 percent committed to the Bulldogs until his announcement.

“Even though this year sort of tarnished us, with the year that we had, he was able to recognize that the University of Georgia is still gold,” Garner said. “We just need to shine it up, we need to get the glitter back. And I think he took on that role.”

The Bulldogs coaches also sold recruits on immediate playing time. Not that Richt was guaranteeing it, but there was no doubt that he felt the program had just had an infusion of talent.

“This class has some swagger about it,” Richt said. “They know they have to earn it. They really feel like they can make an impact at the University of Georgia and that they can do it sooner than later. I think everybody better hook it up and get ready to compete because we are not giving anybody a 100 percent guarantee. Everybody has to make sure that they earn it.”

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