Bulldogs Beat

‘It was meant to be’: Why top prospects locked down UGA pledges today to form formidable class

As a number of the nation’s top prospects came to Athens over the weekend, Georgia gave the red-carpet treatment in one of its final official visit weekends before the early signing period on Dec. 19.

First there was the welcoming of hand-made photos, cards and graphics as the recruits entered their hotel room. Then another in-depth look at the new facilities at Sanford Stadium.

Or maybe it was a Cadillac Escalade that recruits got to ride in as they explored campus. There was everything playing — Quavo, Lil Baby, Meek Mill and more popular rap artists.

“That Cadillac ride felt very presidential,” said five-star defensive tackle Travon Walker, who said it went ‘10 deep’ in regard to seating.

As players returned to their respective hometowns, the pampering paid off for Georgia as a flurry of recruiting moves occurred throughout the day Monday.

It began with Clay Webb, a five-star offensive lineman out of Alabama who gave his pledge to Georgia over Clemson and the Crimson Tide. As you may have guessed, position coach Sam Pittman had another “YESSSSIRRR” video ready to go.

Moments later, any semblance of uncertainty for a few Georgia commitments suddenly vanished. Walker, who was in wait-and-see mode after Mel Tucker’s move to become head coach at Colorado, locked down his pledge and will sign with Georgia next Wednesday before enrolling in June.

Walker is one of Georgia’s in-state priorities out of Upson-Lee. He ranks as the second-overall defensive tackle nationally and the fifth-best prospect in the state of Georgia, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

“(Georgia head coach Kirby) Smart is a defensive coach, so coach Tucker leaving meant nothing but a loss of relationship,” Walker said in a phone interview with The Telegraph. “The defense will forever stand with coach Smart. I also know he will put the right person in that position.”

Nolan Smith, the Bulldogs coveted top-ranked defensive prospect and long-time pledge, did the same on Monday. He had been taking visits to other programs, most notably Alabama and Penn State, but that’s no longer.

“I would like to announce that I will be staying home,” Smith tweeted with a few official visit photos. He also tweeted fellow IMG Academy teammates Trey Sanders and Evan Neal in his announcement.

Sanders and Neal join Smith as players to come out of the Bradenton, Fla., powerhouse, and it’s a place that Georgia recruits out of for every class -- as do most programs. There hasn’t been a massive success with signing prospects out of IMG Academy as junior Isaac Nauta is the only product on the Bulldogs’ current roster.

But this could be a different story. Walker said they’re the Bulldogs’ top targets moving forward and indicators have begun to show across social media.

Neal has emerged as a viable possibility after being favored to consider Alabama and Miami. He would add another five-star to Pittman’s load to follow a 2018 class which featured the same type of last-minute surge.

Sanders is a coveted running back as the fifth-overall prospect nationally. He would join a deep backfield with assured returners of D’Andre Swift, James Cook, Zamir White (another former top-ranked prospect who is recovering from a torn ACL).

“You got extra room…?” Sanders tweeted in response to Smith’s announcement. Smith later offered for Sanders to take the bed at Georgia while he slept on the floor.

It’s a mantra of buy-in from coaches and committed prospects joining in on recruiting efforts.

After Webb’s commitment, Georgia moved up to the No. 2 spot in the team recruiting rankings with 19 pledges. But Smart and the Bulldogs’ coaching staff have used this time between the SEC Championship and the bowl game to be in non-stop recruiting mode.

Smart has been across the country, ranging from a trip to visit offensive tackle Trevor Keegan in Crystal Lake, Ill., to Louisiana to visit Bulldog pledge Makiya Tongue the day after hosting prospects on an official visit.

That’s all to achieve one goal.

“We want to build something great, play with great players and win a national title,” Walker said. “Our minds just click together as if it was meant to be.”