Georgia survives, finishes strong

semerson@macon.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Georgia National Signing Day

JOHN BAZEMORE/ASSOCIATED PRESSNorcross defensive end Lorenzo Carter announces his decision Wednesday to play at Georgia.

JOHN BAZEMORE — AP

Bulldogs survive change of assistants, finish strong

ATHENS -- It was less than a month ago that Mark Richt found out he was losing his defensive coordinator. Eventually he would lose all his assistants on the defensive side of the ball. For a lot of programs, that would be the death knell for a good recruiting class.

But Richt, Georgia’s head coach, got a feeling it wouldn’t be when one of the first calls he made that Sunday, upon finding out Todd Grantham was leaving, was to Keyon Brown. The defensive standout from Wauchula, Fla., had been committed to Georgia for a while and told Richt it would stay that way.

That started a month in which Georgia not only largely held its class together but added to it with a signing day two-part punch:

• Lorenzo Carter, a five-star defensive rush specialist, to help the beleaguered defense.

• Isaiah McKenzie, a four-star kick and punt returner, to help the beleaguered special teams.

Together with the 19 other signees, Georgia’s class ranked eighth nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite.

It’s not the strongest class -- the same 247Sports Composite puts Georgia’s at only sixth in the SEC -- but considering the events of the past month it’s pretty good.

“I think we pulled it together very well,” Richt said.

Credit for that in part goes to Jeremy Pruitt, who left Florida State to replace Grantham just two days after the job opened. Pruitt, 39, moved into offensive line coach Will Friend’s basement in Athens and spent most of the next month on the recruiting trail.

“Coach Richt had everything organized. He laid out a plan for what he wanted when I got here. So we just kind of stuck to the plan,” Pruitt said. “It’s not a whole lot different of where you would be wherever you were at. We just had to kind of start all over and only had a couple things to get some things done.”

But even Pruitt deflected credit Wednesday to the assistant coaches who remained. So did 247Sports, which ranked running backs coach Bryan McClendon as the nation’s top ­recruiter, as he was the lead recruiter for Georgia on Carter, McKenzie, five-star ­tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and several other prospects.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who also was busy on the recruiting trail, said that most of the players who were committed pre-Grantham leaving were recruited by Georgia coaches who stuck around.

“I think Jeremy’s gonna do a great job and make an impact here,” Bobo said. “We’re all working toward one common goal, and that’s to get back to Atlanta.”

For Georgia, it’s not the biggest class -- 12 fewer players than last year -- but that was by design. Georgia loaded up last year with 33 signees in order to make up for low roster numbers. SEC signing rules prevented Georgia from going too high this year, so the team decided to hold scholarships for next year. There’s also the total scholarship limit of 85, which the team is up against for this upcoming season.

But within the relatively small class, there is balance.

• The 13 offensive players include a quarterback (Jacob Park), two tailbacks (Chubb and Michel), four receivers, three tight ends and four linemen.

• The eight defensive players include a defensive tackle (four-star Lamont Galliard), two defensive edge rushers (Brown and Carter), another linebacker (Detric Bing-Dukes), and four defensive backs. Malkom Parrish, a cornerback from Brooks County, could immediately help a secondary that struggled immensely last season.

“When we got here we wanted to see who the best players were here in Georgia, and we wanted to see who we might have a shot here with, and fill the last few spots,” Pruitt said. “That’s what we actually did.”

Late on Wednesday morning, Richt and his staff came up to the second floor of the Butts-Mehre athletics complex to meet with fans, a customary signing day activity. While there were some questions about the recruits, more fans seemed interested in the new coaches. Pruitt received a big round of applause, as did new assistants Tracy Rocker and Kevin Sherrer.

At one point, a fan asked Richt if Louisville had done him a big favor by hiring away Grantham. Richt declined to answer the question.

But a short time later, Richt offered an insight into how the events of the past month have affected him.

“I’ll say this,” Richt said, looking at no one in particular, “I’m as excited and as energized as I’ve been in a long time. This whole thing has turned out to be quite a good thing for Georgia.”

Georgia’s class at a glance

Hunter Atkinson, TE, 6-5/250, Oakwood (West Hall)

A last-minute pickup for Georgia, Atkinson has good enough size where eventually he could move to the line, but he’ll begin his career at tight end.

Kendall Baker, OL, 6-6/275, Atlanta (Marist)

While many analysts rated Baker as a four-star prospect on the defensive line, Georgia will use Baker at offensive tackle.

Detric Bing-Dukes, LB, 6-0/232, Atlanta (Tucker)

Several analysts feel Bing-Dukes, a Class 5A first-team all-state selection, is the sleeper of the class.

Jeb Blazevich, TE, 6-5/230, Charlotte, N.C. (Charlotte Christian)

A consensus four-star prospect who finished his career with 104 catches for 1,520 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Keyon Brown, DE-LB, 6-3/240, Wauchula, Fla. (Hardee County)

Another consensus four-star pick, Brown had 79 tackles, including 16 for loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles as a senior.

Lorenzo Carter, DE-LB, 6-6/230, Norcross (Norcross)

The jewel of Georgia’s class, at least on the defensive side, the Parade All-American picked Georgia over LSU and Florida.

Nick Chubb, RB, 5-10/215, (Cedartown (Cedartown)

An elite tailback prospect, Chubb racked up 2,690 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior, and 2,721 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns as a junior.

Jake Edwards, OL, 6-4/271, (Franklin (Heard County)

A consensus three-star prospect, Edwards is slated to begin his career as an interior lineman.

Shattle Fenteng, DB, 6-2/200, Loganville (Hutchinson, Kan. CC)

Spent the past two years at junior colleage after playing at Grayson High School.

Lamont Galliard, DT, 6-2/328, Fayetteville, N.C. (Pine Forest)

Rated the third overall prospect in North Carolina by ESPN, Galliard had 82 tackles as a senior.

Gilbert Johnson, WR, 6-3/192, Homestead, Fla (Homestead)

While only rated a three-star prospect, Johnson has good size, and Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball turned former three-stars like Chris Conley and Michael Bennett into starters.

Rico Johnson, WR, 5-11/172, Swainsboro (Georgia Prep Sports Academy)

Johnson originally signed with Georgia last year but failed to qualify academically. He went to prep school this past season.

Shaquille Jones, S, 6-2/175, Palm Bay, Fla. (Merritt Island)

Jones was a late addition to Georgia’s interest list, after initially being committed to South Alabama and then Louisville.

Isaiah McKenzie, WR, 5-8/175, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (American Heritage)

A dynamic playmaker, McKenzie had 41 catches for 892 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, as well as 251 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on just 22 carries.

Sony Michel, RB, 5-1 1/205, Plantation, Fla. (American Heritage)

McKenzie’s high school teammate was rated a five-star by some outlets, and rushed for 1,833 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior.

Jacob Park, QB, 6-3/202, Goose Creek, S.C. (Stratford)

Park was Mr. Football in South Carolina last year, throwing for 3,665 yards and 33 touchdowns, leading Stratford to the state championship game.

Malkom Parrish, CB, 5-10/185, Quitman (Brooks County)

Selected to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Parrish will have a chance to play right away on a secondary that needs help.

Dominick Sanders, ATH, 6-0/190, Tucker (Tucker)

The younger brother of Chris Sanders, who was dismissed from the team two years ago and signed Wednesday with Baylor, Dominick Sanders is slated for the secondary.

Dyshon Sims, OT, 6-4/278, Valdosta (Lowndes)

Another selection to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Sims was rated the 19th-best prospect in Georgia this year.

Shakenneth Williams, WR, 6-1/195, Macon (Rutland)

Another three-star receiver with good size, Williams had 898 receiving yards on 36 catches as a senior, as well as 64 rushing yards.

Isaiah Wynn, OL, 6-2/269, St. Petersburg, Fla. (Lakewood)

Named to the Florida Class AAAAA all-state team, Wynn will begin his career as an interior lineman.

Signees: 21

Starters lost: 5 on offense, 1 on defense

Top needs: DL, OLB, DB

Signees by state: Georgia 12, Florida 6, North Carolina 2, South Carolina 1.

247Sports star rankings: 3 five-star, 10 four-star, 8 three-star.

Final piece: The final signing of Georgia’s day was the biggest one, at least in terms of the recruiting rankings.

Lorenzo Carter, a linebacker-defensive end from Norcross, announced a commitment to Georgia on Wednesday afternoon on ESPNU.

Head coach Mark Richt was in his office when the announcement came, not wanting to watch it because he didn’t know what the decision would be.

“Out in the hallway there was a lot of screeching and screaming,” Richt said. “I assumed it was Lorenzo saying yes.”

New return man: The first big news of Georgia’s signing day came early, and it could mean a weapon the program has lacked for a while.

Isaiah McKenzie, a highly regarded kick returner and receiver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., committed to the Bulldogs at a news conference at his school in morning. His letter-of-intent arrived later in the morning, Georgia announced.

McKenzie immediately becomes the top candidate to return kicks and punts this season.

End of the fax machine?: Three Georgia recruits scanned and e-mailed their letters-of-intent Wednesday, rather than fax them in.

Tight end Jeb Blazevich, offensive lineman Kendall Baker and tight end Hunter Atkinson each did so, according to Georgia.

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