Richard LeCounte was the first player to commit to Kirby Smart after he took the Georgia head coaching job. It was a big-time pledge for Smart as LeCounte was regarded as one of the nation’s top safety prospects and as someone who the Bulldogs could one day build a defense around.
As a freshman, LeCounte saw the field a little. But with a veteran secondary, LeCounte wasn’t needed as much as the season progressed. He made his mark as a special teams contributor instead, with Dominick Sanders and J.R. Reed manning both of the safety spots.
With Sanders gone, LeCounte is the next man up at free safety. That has a lot of fans who followed his recruitment excited.
But leave it to Smart to try and tone down some of that hype. During the spring, Smart criticized the Liberty County native after a practice on April 12. Asked a general question about LeCounte’s development, Smart used that opportunity to motivate the rising sophomore to perform better in the moments when the fans aren’t watching.
“Sometimes I think Richard really wants to be good,” Smart said at the time. “I don’t know if Richard knows what it takes to be good, like the demands it takes, the study it takes, the seriousness it takes. He’s a very talented young man, but he’s got to meet the demands the position requires, which is come in, learn, make the calls, make the decisions. Sometimes I don’t know if he wants that responsibility on him. We certainly are counting on him, and we are continuing to coach him until he gets it.”
A couple of days later, after every reporter in attendance wrote about Smart’s comments, Smart was asked about LeCounte again. Smart slightly grinned and hinted those stories may have caught the young safety’s eye.
LeCounte would go on to put in a fine performance at Georgia’s G-Day spring game. LeCounte recorded three tackles and an interception, and nearly had another pick. He was also credited with another pass breakup as well. LeCounte was part of a first-team defense that kept the first-team offense to only 13 points in a game designed for an aerial passing attack.
While it was just a scrimmage, there was a lot to like about LeCounte’s performance at G-Day. Combine that with summer workouts and preseason practice, and you’re looking at one of Georgia’s top candidates to put forth a breakout season.
Measurables: 5-foot-11, 180 pounds
Accomplishments to date: With Georgia’s secondary staying healthy for most of the season, LeCounte didn’t have many opportunities to see the field on defense. The former five-star prospect, who was ranked the nation’s second-best safety out of high school, totaled 15 tackles during the 2017 season.
Competition at the position: Throughout the spring, LeCounte and J.R. Reed were the top two safeties. Jarvis Wilson backed both of them up on the second team. Latavious Brini, Tray Bishop and Otis Reese will also compete for rotational time at the position.
Why he will break out in 2018: LeCounte has the physical make-up to be one of the SEC’s premier safeties. He just has to memorize the defensive calls to where it is second nature to him on the football field. That’s a learning process for most every football player in college. Rarely does a player step in and have everything learned as a freshman.
With Sanders gone, LeCounte will see a ton of playing time as Georgia’s starting safety. He may make some mistakes early in the season. But his ability to cover routes, cover ground and hit physically make him an ideal candidate to break out in a major way in 2018.