ATHENS - The first big news of Georgia's signing day came early, and it could mean a weapon the program has lacked for awhile.
Isaiah McKenzie, a highly-regarded kick returner and receiver from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., committed to the Bulldogs at a press conference at his high school on Wednesday 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.
"His No. 1 job is gonna try to be that punt returner, kick returner for us," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "It could be the difference in one ballgame, and obviously help us on offense if we can sometimes just get 10 yards on the punt return. That's the first down for the offense. And field position is so crucial, it sometimes doesn't matter how effective you are as an offense, the percentages go down if the field position isn't in your favor. It's hard to go 80 yards on anybody, I don't care who you're playing."
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Head coach Mark Richt was watching film of McKenzie just before coming in Wednesday for his press conference.
"He's a very dynamic return man," Richt said. "That's what jumps out at you the most - just his ability to make people miss one, two or even three times in the same play. He has a lot of speed, quickness and swag. He really believes in himself."
That doesn't mean McKenzie won't play offense. Bobo called McKenzie a "playmaker" and a "dynamic player," who can do things despite his size (5-8, 175).
"Offensively, it's gonna have to be find creative ways to get him the ball in space," Bobo said. "I don't know, it would probably be unfair to the kid to say it wouldn't be the traditional way. Right now I would say it might be the untraditional stuff. But we'll see. I don't want to put limits on anybody because of their size, their stature. There's plenty of players that can make plays, it doesn't matter how big they are."
McKenzie only received a Georgia offer this week, after a heated competition for his services among Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, Florida and other major programs.
But McKenzie was known to Georgia coaches for some time: Sony Michel, who is McKenzie's high school teammate, committed last year to Georgia. So now the Bulldogs will two potentially elite offensive players from American Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale.
Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon had noticed McKenzie on film and pushed the staff to keep him in mind.
"Coach McClendon did a beautiful job of recruiting Sony, but he kept the good relationship with Isaiah and he kind of planted a seed that you never know what may happen here towards the end," Richt said. "And as it turns out, we felt like we had a position to offer him and he jumped on it. We're very thankful for that. I'm sure his friendship with Sony had a lot to do with it, but also coach McClendon's job of being diligent and laying down the groundwork for the possibility of that to happen."
Bobo said he thought McKenzie's friendship with Michel helped Georgia, but so did the chance to be a featured player on special teams.
"The need for what we recruited him as. Sell him on the fact that you've got a chance to be the returner against Clemson in the first ball game," Bobo said. "So I think that was a big thing for him."