Georgia finds some recruiting gems among some players who weren’t heavily recruited
ATHENS -- A few years ago, there was a little-known, three-star rated high school receiver at one of Georgia’s summer recruiting camps. His name was Michael Bennett.
“He whipped a lot of five-stars in camp,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “And showed his competitive nature, and showed his ball skills. So we thought we had a good one.”
Georgia also thought it had a good one a year later in another three-star receiver, Chris Conley. This month, one of the fast risers in preseason practice has been Reggie Davis, yet another three-star receiver recruit.
During the past few years, the receivers have been the deepest and arguably the best position on the Georgia football team. And yet the Bulldogs haven’t really done it the easy recruiting route. Instead they’ve found more lightly regarded players -- in one case, even a walk-on -- and then developed them.
“As a recruit you kind of get caught up in the stars and the rankings, and it kind of gets in your head,” Bennett said. “But once you’re here, once everyone’s here there’s no stars anymore, there’s none of that ranking stuff, we’re all on the same playing field, let’s see who’s the best player.
“I’ve always kind of had a thing where I never get a lot of respect on the field from anybody, and that’s kind of driven me my whole career. We have a lot of guys like that. Chris was the same way. Malcolm (Mitchell), I know he was highly recruited, but I think it was for defense. So he came in and showed he could be an offensive player. So, yeah, having a lot of guys there drives you.”
Mitchell is indeed the star of the group, but last year Georgia could afford to move him to cornerback for the first four games. Later, two more starters (Bennett and then-senior Marlon Brown) suffered season-ending injuries, and yet the group didn’t really miss a beat.
Head coach Mark Richt attributed it to a combination of good evaluation, the training of receivers coach Tony Ball, the effort of the players themselves, and the offense.
“I think we have a pretty good system where if they do what they’re supposed to do, they’re gonna get open, and it’s gonna be up to them to make plays,” Richt said. “But we have been blessed lately with a number of guys lately that can go in and make plays for us.”
There’s another factor: The depth has been so continuous that numerous receivers have been able to redshirt rather than rush into duty.
Bennett, Justin Scott-Wesley, Rantavious Wooten and Blake Tibbs all have sat a year, and Conley nearly did.
“That kind of gives you that leeway where if you come and you’re not ready you can redshirt,” Bennett said. “That’s a great option. I’m so glad I did. We didn’t need me because we had A.J. (Green), obviously.”
Bobo pointed to Ball, the media-shy assistant coach whom Georgia gave a raise this offseason to prevent him from leaving for Tennessee. Ball excels in preparing players and getting them to improve continuously, according to Bobo.
But the Bulldogs have also been adept at finding receivers with upside, and sometimes just getting lucky. Conley, who enrolled early, was known as much for his honor roll abilities as football in high school at North Paulding.
“We knew we had a long, tall, fast kid who’s a project,” Bobo said of Conley. “The rate of his success is probably due to how hard he works and how hard he prepares. And he’s got talent, he’s not raw. But he’s probably improved at a faster rate than we thought.”
This year, the find might be Davis, who was a three-star recruit coming out of high school in Tallahassee, Fla., but already might be the fastest player on the team.
“Sometimes they’re looking at things that are not just athletic in outward appearance,” Conley said. “Sometimes you have to know a guy’s work ethic and his drive, what drives him. Sometimes you have to find his background to know this guy has something extra that’s driving him. And Reggie has that.”
Still, there’s no guarantee Davis will play this year, thanks to that depth.
The main six-man rotation includes Bennett, Mitchell, Conley, Scott-Wesley (a three-star recruit according to some sites), Rhett McGowan (a walk-on) and Wooten. So Davis is competing with Tibbs, junior college transfer Jonathan Rumph and freshman Tramel Terry.
“You see it all the time really in recruiting. Sometimes the five stars don’t turn out to be the stars, and the three-stars maybe come out a little hungry, with a chip on their shoulder,” Bobo said. “And they’re all good players, too.”