Georgia had always found itself jockeying with SEC foes for one of the nation’s best recruiting classes as both former and current coaching staffs had made their mark.
After coming off of a staggering recruiting finish in 2017 with landing the third-best class nationally, the Bulldogs are in a battle to remain among the leaders of the talent-laden Southeastern recruiting area. An out-of-region program has swooped in and taken control.
Ohio State and head coach Urban Meyer have made plenty of visits to the Southeast and have swiped a number of priority targets from Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Alabama’s Nick Saban and other upper-echelon programs.
Smart had a significant amount of momentum coming off of his first full recruiting class as a head coach, and looked to continue that on by landing five-star quarterback Emory Jones and four-star defensive end Brenton Cox from his own backyard.
Those chances are now slim as both of the Georgia products have committed to the Buckeyes.
And the punches keep coming. Meyer has been able to land Max Wray, a former Georgia offensive tackle pledge, and Master Teague, a frequently-pursued Bulldogs’ target from Tennessee.
“It’s just the honesty of the program,” said Wray, who de-committed from Georgia on March 9 after seemingly being solid on the Bulldogs after an early commitment. “Coach Meyer and staff are very real with you and tell you where you’re strong and where you’re weak. Obviously, they want us to be (good) football players, but also great young men. That’s why we’re so successful.
“It’s just the overall culture for me and some other guys. It’s not for better or worse, it’s just different (than Georgia).”
Georgia’s recruiting class has been able to pick up some steam in hopes that it’ll rival that of Ohio State’s by the first opportunity that prospects have to sign their national letter-of-intent in December.
After it once looked bleak with only two commitments – Norcross place-kicker Jake Camarda and Hapeville Charter cornerback Christopher Smith II – Smart has been able to land four commitments since May 31 as Owen Condon, Rachad Wildgoose Jr., Warren Ericson and Jaevon Becton have joined the group.
“I feel like we've got a good core right now, and I think when it's all said and done, we'll be one of the top classes in the country,” Condon said. “Their coaching staff, history, campus, and facilities all make it attractive.”
While there is optimism among the commitments, Georgia will need some upper-tier reinforcements to meet that expectation of being one of the nation’s best groups. At this time, Ericson leads the group as the lone four-star pledge — the 319th-overall prospect, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
But the hope for the Bulldogs is far from lost as plenty of the nation’s best high school talent remains available. The remainder of this summer will be imperative as most prospects will look to conclude their recruiting process before their senior campaigns.
As that work continues, there are five must-have targets for Smart if the momentum shall continue.
1. Zamir White
White (Laurinburg, North Carolina) is a prospect who has been on Georgia’s radar for awhile, ranking as the nation’s sixth-best prospect and the top overall running back. The Bulldogs have been known to land upper-level running backs with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb having recent success stories in Athens. Most recently, running backs coach Dell McGee landed four-star D’Andre Swift, but the addition of White would seemingly take that success to another level replace the soon-departing duo of Chubb and Sony Michel.
Georgia is one of four top contenders for White, with Clemson, North Carolina and Ohio State.
White will announce his pledge on June 27, his mother’s birthday.
After lowering its interest on Taylor County running back Lyn-J Dixon and falling short on Teague, there seems to be significant confidence that White commits to Georgia. The Bulldogs can explore the talents of Dameon Pierce, Noah Cain and James Cook if they fall short on their top target.
2. Justin Fields
Georgia’s door to land a top-tier quarterback may have opened after Fields, of Kennesaw, de-committed from Penn State. Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has made his desire known for mobility under center, and Fields would fill that aspiration as he ranks as the top dual-threat quarterback nationally.
After Fields announced his de-commitment, Smith and other Bulldogs’ pledges took to Twitter to recruit the Georgia native. The 6-foot-3, 221-pound quarterback seems to favor Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Georgia, but there hasn’t been a narrowed-down list of contenders or a date for a commitment.
If Fields landed at Georgia, it would provide much-needed depth at the position and some intriguing competition in the coming seasons with Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm for the starting role.
3 and 4. Trey Hill and Jamaree Salyer
Hill, of Houston County, and Salyer have been two of Georgia’s biggest targets for 2018 as offensive line continues to be an area of need for position coach Sam Pittman. The Bulldogs signed six offensive linemen in 2017, and Condon told The Telegraph that the hope is for Georgia to sign four in the upcoming signing period, with Hill and Salyer being the centerpieces.
Each of the priority targets already have a former high school teammate at Georgia, with the potential of Hill joining Fromm and Salyer joining wide receiver Trey Blount and offensive guard Andrew Thomas. Consequently, it has become a selling point for Pittman, staff and the new commitments and signees.
“I believe he will make the best decision for him and his family,” Thomas said prior to signing his letter-of-intent with the Bulldogs. “If he chooses Georgia, then I would be very excited. We have been playing together since middle school, so that would be crazy.”
Condon, after committing to Georgia on June 10, as a legacy, said he has joined in on those recruiting efforts.
“I’m just selling the fact that they’ll be close to home and playing for the best line coach in the country,” he said.
Hill and Salyer also have Clemson and Ohio State as top contenders, and neither has a commitment date set.
5. Kearis Jackson
Georgia has a focus on the Middle Georgia area for the 2018 class, and Jackson joins Hill as a top priority. The Bulldogs currently have a group of wide receivers that shows glimpses of dependability, yet no one stands out.
The unit will face more attrition ahead of the 2018 season with Javon Wims graduating, and Georgia has let Peach County’s Jackson know of the potential to be an early difference-maker for the team. Jackson and Stockbridge’s Marquez Ezzard are two of Georgia’s biggest targets.