Recruiting success may not equal immediate success on the field, but it definitely helps.
While Kirby Smart and Georgia missed out on a few notable signees – five-star running back Trey Sanders opting to sign for Alabama sticks out the most – Early Signing Day was, for the most part, a massive success for a team likely losing a former-five-star backup quarterback. The Justin Fields saga, though, still couldn’t outshine how massive a day Smart and his staff enjoyed.
UGA signed, per Rivals’ rankings, the No. 1 outside linebacker, inside linebacker and center. It notched a national letter-of-intent from Dwan Mathis, a four-star flip from Ohio State. That’s only scraping the surface of the group Smart and his staff landed.
“We have a few spots left,” Smart said during Wednesday’s press conference. “We’ve still got some targets out there that we want to go after, but I think the totality of the class is, it’s a good balance. … We’re excited about this group.”
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Smart did say he felt like Georgia “fell short on” defensive backs, receivers and offensive linemen, and wants to add more at those three positions to make the class “complete.”
That totality and balance Smart mentioned isn’t limited to positions. The Bulldogs signed players from 10 different states, one as far as Rhode Island. UGA also pulled a pair of four-star defensive ends from Tennessee, Bill Norton and Zion Logue, both longtime Georgia commits.
For comparison, Smart’s first signing class featured recruits from six different states.
“It says something about our brand,” Smart said. “We’re getting exposure. You play in big football games (Rose Bowl, CFP Championship in 2017), I think kids are attracted to that. We look at it as, ‘where are the best players who are interested in us?’”
If more recruits become interested between now and National Signing Day in February, it’d be pretty hard to blame them.
Of the five 5-star prospects UGA signed Wednesday, three of them rank in the top-25 nationally (per 247Sports) and Nolan Smith, a defensive end from IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) is the top-ranked player nationally.
The importance of star rankings is arguable, but an interesting note: Alabama, which currently holds the No. 1 class, has signed two 5-stars.
So, it’s pretty obvious the appeal of Smart’s UGA is a difficult one to out-recruit. That has, to some degree, become the norm around Athens. So much so, that missing out on Sanders may not hurt the team as much as many think: Zamir White, the No. 1 running back in the country when he signed, missed his freshman year due to an ACL injury. So, he’ll essentially be a five-star recruit when he returns to full health in 2019.
The loss of Fields, should it happen, could be softened by Mathis’ late flip to UGA and Stetson Bennett’s late-night signing. Bennett, a former walk-on at Georgia, actually left UGA after spring practice this year for the JUCO scene at Jones County (Miss.). He threw for over 1,800 yards as the Bobcats went 10-2. Now, he’s back with the Bulldogs on scholarship.
This success is the new norm in Athens, and at least right now, it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.
“Seeing all these athletes and everyone 100 percent committed and buying into the program, it’s exciting,” said Norton, the No. 9 defensive end (Rivals) in Tennessee. “I’m excited for what these next few years are going to bring. I firmly believe that we’re going to get a national championship.”