A day before college football recruits can sign national letters of intent, Georgia is poised to land a top-10 recruiting class that could end up among the five best in the land.
That’s not atypical under coach Mark Richt, except the Bulldogs are coming off anything but a typical season.
Georgia’s 6-7 season that ended with a Liberty Bowl loss to Central Florida was the worst in a decade under Richt. Instead of deserting the Bulldogs, many of Georgia’s targets appear ready to sign up to right the ship.
“I would have to imagine, especially this time of year when the gloves are off so to speak, that everybody is negative recruiting the heck out of them,” said Jamie Newberg, a recruiting analyst for 19 years who now works for ESPN.com. “On the flip side, someone or that staff as a whole is doing a magnificent job fending that off and securing these kids, particularly all the in-state kids.”
Defensive end Ray Drew from Thomas County Central in Thomasville, cornerback Damian Swann from Grady High in Atlanta and tight end Jay Rome and receiver/cornerback Malcom Mitchell from Valdosta all announced in the final weeks before signing day that they plan to sign with Georgia and play for Richt.
“I think you have to give him credit,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, which ranked Georgia among its top 10 classes for eight straight seasons until last year. “He knew that if they lost out on the top kids in the state this year and didn’t have a strong close to recruiting like last year the seat would get even hotter.”
The marquee remaining in-state target is Isaiah Crowell from Carver High in Columbus, the top-rated running back in the nation by ESPN.com and Scout.com. He will reveal Wednesday whether he will play for Georgia or Alabama.
“There’s a lot of guys that love Georgia because we’re Georgia,” Richt said last month about recruiting after his first losing season. “There’s a lot of guys that love opportunity. I think there’s a lot of opportunity and I think kids see that. I think that excites them.”
Farrell said Georgia has benefited from friendships that Bulldogs’ targets have made and the domino effect that had on recruiting.
“They’ve done a good job of putting the puzzle together by getting the right guys on board who have worked the next guy who are continuing to work the next guys,” Farrell said. “They’ve been able to overcome the 6-7.”
Rome publicly called on Drew to join the recruiting class when Rome announced his college decision on Jan. 20.
Eight days later, Drew revealed his commitment and said to Rome after putting on a Georgia hat that “I heard your call.”
Then he made his own: “Isaiah Crowell, we’re waiting on you. Antonio Richardson, we’re waiting on you. John Jenkins, we’re waiting on you. And Jeoffrey Pagan, we’re waiting on you. Come join what we have put together as the ‘Dream Team.’ ”
Drew said he was “calling out” the other top recruits.
Jenkins, a nose guard from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, will announce his choice on Saturday. Pagan, a defensive end from Asheville, N.C., is expected to choose between Georgia and Alabama on Wednesday. Richardson, an offensive lineman from Nashville, is still considering Georgia among others.
“I hope you’re not afraid to be thrown into the fire,” Drew said. “I hope you’re not afraid to be the one to make the change.”
Even back in the spring, Georgia recruits talked about trying to sway others from within the state to jump aboard what Georgia coaches called a “Dream Team” of prospects from a particularly deep talent pool this year.
Offensive tackle Watts Dantzler said he would call Crowell. Dantzler heard a pitch from East Hall defensive end/outside linebacker Sterling Bailey.
Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national recruiting director, said up until now that Georgia’s recruiting class would have to be considered “a tremendous success,” coming off a subpar season by Georgia’s standards and Richt’s uncertain future after the 2011 season.
“When you’ve got those things working against you, they can be negative recruiting factors for all your competitors in your conference that are going after the same players that you are,” Luginbill said. “To do the job that they have been able to do and to weather that storm I think has been nothing short of phenomenal.”