Bulldogs aim for happy campers

Final camp of summer can make or break UGA’s recruiting process

semerson@macon.comJuly 10, 2013 

ATHENS -- In what should be the dead of summer, Daryl Jones might have been the most harried, flustered man on Georgia’s campus Wednesday.

“But it’s because of excitement,” he said.

Jones is the recruiting coordinator for the Georgia football program. And this weekend the team is holding its annual “Dawg Night,” which along with last month’s Mark Richt camp is one of the team’s most important recruiting events of the year.

Perhaps a few hundred high school prospects will participate in what Jones said amounts to a simulated spring ­practice. And many of them will be highly rated, sought-after recruits. A few will be less-heralded prospects with a chance to show Georgia coaches they can play at this level.

If there are headlines from the event, they will be if a player commits. But the real impact is long-term, as Georgia’s entire staff evaluates which prospects to pursue.

For the ones they’re already pursuing, Georgia’s staff gets a chance to show what life would be like in Athens.

“That is the benefit from scheduling these on campus,” said Rusty Mansell, the recruiting analyst for Dawgs247.com who also runs football camps, mainly during the spring. “You don’t get to see that anywhere else. You get to have your own evaluation. You get to get your own height and weight. You get to have your own meeting with the kid on campus.”

In other words, it’s one thing to watch film of a player, or watch him on his high school team, or even at an all-star event at a neutral site. It’s another thing to watch him on your own practice field or stadium, in what is essentially a simulated practice.

The camps have been going on for a very long time. Jones attended similar camps when he was a high school player. He worked them in the early 1980s as a high school coach. What might have changed is the player’s approach to them, how many players can attend and which camps the star prospects attend.

“I think prospects are becoming more savvy in that they are choosing specific camps to attend, based on where they are with recruiting,” Jones said. “There’s some thought behind, some scheme behind, the camps they’re attending. Say, a highly rated prospect, he likes Georgia and he knows Georgia likes him, he’s certainly putting that on his docket of places to go this summer.”

As you would suspect, the NCAA heavily regulates such camps. There are 15-day windows during each of the three summer months in which to hold them, but teams tend to limit them to weekends. (Alabama and Florida are holding camps next weekend.)

During the camp itself, a school is allowed to provide recruits meals, clothing and lodging that are “realistically” priced.

“You can’t give away a sirloin steak for a McDonald’s hamburger price,” Jones said. “And compliance combs through everything from our flier on how we promote the camp to how we conclude the camp by giving someone a meal that we’ve paid for. And everything in between.”

The other noteworthy rule is that every camp has to be open to the public. Teams can’t just invite a few prospects they’d like to see. So the amount of campers is hard to predict because of same-day registration.

Jones and his staff have made a real push to increase the numbers at the camp, with the intention of getting elite prospects there or possible under-the-radar ones. Jones said UGA sent out more than 3,000 emails to promote its camps and have worked the phones to spread the word with high school coaches.

And that’s not just limited to Jones and his recruiting staff. The team’s assistant coaches have taken a lead role, according to Jones, who said one assistant was up at 1 a.m. conversing via social media with a prospect on the West Coast.

“What goes unnoticed, and untalked about, is really the personal (work) the assistant coaches put in,” Jones said.

This isn’t the only weekend that Georgia has camps like this. There was Richt’s camp, as well as 7-on-7 camps prior to that. But this is the final camp, and since it comes a few weeks before the start of preseason practice, it can be the final impression coaches and recruits have of each other.

Georgia has typically gotten a few commitments during these camps. That gets the attention, but it’s not a loss if it doesn’t happen.

For instance -- and Jones couldn’t comment on this -- Lorenzo Carter, one of the nation’s top prospects, is reportedly set to be at the camp. No one expects him to commit. But the Bulldogs want him leaving Athens with a very positive feeling.

This weekend basically amounts to an unofficial visit.

“Unofficial visits are more important than official visits these days, in my opinion,” Mansell said.

The commitment process at the camp can go both ways. Two years ago, Georgia sealed the deal with top recruits John Theus and Tramel Terry during Dawg Night. Last month, Gilbert Johnson and Jake Edwards were two recruits who badly wanted to go to Georgia and used the Mark Richt Camp to earn offers from the Bulldogs coaches. They committed on the spot.

“We’re putting a lot of effort into evaluating (prospects) and driving registration to get them there,” Jones said. “And if we are fortunate enough to get a commitment, we are obviously excited to get one of those. And if not, we continue to fight for commitments until we feel we’ve got the amount of commitments that we have roster space for.”

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