College football’s National Signing Day is usually a time for fans to go gaga over blue-chip recruits that they hope can lift their team to the next level.
Mike Haskey/AP Isaiah Crowell holds a bulldog puppy aloft after announcing that he plans to attend the University of Georgia during a National Signing Day ceremony Wednesday.
Georgia coach Mark Richt, coming off a 6-7 season that marked the Bulldogs’ first losing record in 14 years, wasn’t doing anything Wednesday to tamp down the excitement surrounding a class that came to be known as the “Dream Team,” which Georgia coaches sold a talented crop of in-state recruits to join.
“We all know our season wasn’t the best and there have been a lot of things that we’ve had to battle maybe a little bit more than other years when it comes to recruiting,” Richt told a couple hundred fans Wednesday morning in the Butts-Mehre building. “I really believe that this class will end up being the largest and most talented and the best bunch in the 11 years now.”
And that was before coveted running back Isaiah Crowell from Carver High in Columbus announced, “I’m a Dawg” two and a half hours later, much to the relief of Bulldog Nation.
Crowell, rated as the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation by Scout.com and ESPN.com and a top five overall prospect, picked Georgia over Alabama.
Georgia fans should get ready to see Crowell early and often as a freshman.
“Heavily,” Richt said when asked on ESPNU how he would he use Crowell this fall. “I expect him to come right in and compete right away. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him running that rock in the (Georgia) Dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do.”
Georgia’s class was ranked No. 6 by Scout.com and ESPN.com and No. 7 by Rivals.com on Wednesday evening, but should rise if Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College nose guard John Jenkins announces in favor of the Bulldogs at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Georgia’s highest ranking under Richt was No. 3 by Rivals in 2002. Georgia was No. 15 last year.
The 2006 class produced quarterback Matthew Stafford (No. 1 overall NFL draft pick), running back Knowshon Moreno (first round), cornerback Asher Allen (third round), defensive tackle Geno Atkins (fourth round) and safety Reshad Jones (fifth round).
“Somebody asked me is this the best class ever at Georgia?” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Who knows? I do think that this class is excited about coming to Georgia. I think they’re excited about doing great things at Georgia and are all confident young men and feel like they can come in and make an impact.”
The class currently has 25 players, 19 from Georgia. The headliner is the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Crowell, who Richt said he wasn’t sure would sign until he made his announcement on TV after 1:30 p.m.
“I think he has great speed, great vision and a relentless attitude when he runs the ball,” said Bobo, who watched Crowell’s announcement from his office with some nerves even though he felt good about Georgia’s chances. “I think he runs hard as H-E-double L. I think he gets after it. He doesn’t flinch when he runs. He makes things happen. I’m excited. I think he can a difference-maker.”
Georgia landed four of the top five propsects in the Peach State by Rivals.com – outside linebacker Ray Drew from Thomas County Central, Crowell, receiver Malcom Mitchell from Valdosta and cornerback Damiann Swann from Grady in Atlanta.
“We nailed it pretty good,” Richt said. “You never get them all, but we came pretty darn close.”
The Bulldogs landed seven of the top 10 after only getting four of the top 10 in 2010.
“If you look at this class, the vision I had when I came here is coming true,” said second-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who considers this his first real recruiting class because he was hired just weeks before signing day last year. “If we get the players in the state of Georgia, we can compete for SEC championships.”
Receiver Christian Conley from North Paulding, who already is enrolled, committed to Georgia last spring and said he reached out to other Georgia targets telling them, “Hey, man, we want you to be a part of this and be part of something special.”
Said Bobo: “Obviously when you’re 6-7, they see opportunity to come in and play and make an impact.”
Georgia has the highest ranked recruiting class in the SEC East and is ranked third by most recruiting services behind Auburn and Alabama, schools Georgia battled on the recruiting trail for several top prospects.
“I think this class has a little swag about it,” Richt said. “The kids use that term. I think they know they’ve got to earn it, but I think they also feel like they can make an impact at the University of Georgia and do it sooner than later, hopefully.”
Richt praised Drew not only for his character, “but his ability to recruit.”
Said recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner: “Even though this year sort of tarnished us, he was able to recognize that the University of Georgia is still gold. We just need to shine it up. We just need to get the glitter back.”
Drew publicly called on Georgia targets to follow his lead in signing with the Bulldogs.
Georgia on Wednesday did not get Asheville defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (Alabama) or Nashville offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (Tennessee), but landed not only Crowell, but inside linebacker Kent Turene from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., a former Southern California commitment.
Richt already is talking up a “Dream Team” for 2012 and beyond.
“This hopefully will give us some positive momentum,” Bobo said, “and we need to keep that going.”