Savor this moment, Georgia fans, because this might be as close as you’re going to see the Bulldogs get to batting 1.000 within the state’s borders on signing day.
I wrote a column sort of along those lines for the Thursday paper. Capped by running back Isaiah Crowell’s commitment on live TV Wednesday afternoon, Georgia’s 2011 signing class was nothing short of a home run largely centered around an unusually strong crop of in-state talent. It might just become a grand slam if big John Jenkins signs up Saturday to occupy the middle of the Bulldogs’ defensive line.
Georgia signed four of the five best players in the state according to Rivals.com’s rankings. (I use Rivals.com here because it’s the easiest to use, not necessarily because it’s any more accurate than Scout or ESPN or 247…They’re all pretty close to the same in my view). Further, the Bulldogs signed seven of the state’s top 10 players.
They’d never signed more than three of the state’s top five or six of the top 10 in any season dating back to at least 2002. The Rivals state rankings only go back through 2003 on the site. More often, Georgia hovers around four of the state’s top 10, supplementing a middling in-state result with premium skill-position talent from out of state.
Not so this year, which has to be cause for optimism among even the most down-in-the-mouth Georgia fans.
There have been signing classes at Georgia with this kind of potential. 2006 comes to mind, with Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, Reshad Jones, Asher Allen, Geno Atkins and Akeem Dent among others. That was the last time Georgia got Rivals’ No. 1 player in the state (Jones) to sign. The classes of 2002, 2003 and 2004 were good, too, but this one could be as good as any of them.
Mark Richt said Wednesday he thinks it could eventually be viewed as the best class his staff has signed at Georgia because of its size and quality. I agree, there is a ton to like about this class.
• Crowell gives them the home-run hitter they lacked at tailback. If he can keep his nose clean unlike the guys at his position on the roster now, any dummy can see that he’ll be a star.
• Todd Grantham clearly likes Ray Drew to step in and immediately contribute as a pass rusher at outside linebacker.
• Malcolm Mitchell is electrifying with the ball in his hands. It’s hard not to get excited about the idea of him as a receiver or kick returner because if he gets moving in a straight line in the open field, he’s not getting caught.
• Damian Swann reminds me of Branden Smith, another Atlantan who can make things happen on either side of the ball.
• Jay Rome could have played tight end in college last year. He knocks people on their behinds as a blocker and has nice hands and athleticism. Even at a deep position – Georgia has Aron White, Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch returning and Bruce Figgins moving to fullback – Rome is good enough to play.
I could continue, but that’s enough. The point is that this is a really, really good class. And they assembled it by kicking butt in Georgia, which they hadn’t done like this in years. This is yet another top-10 class, but this ranking feels a bit more authentic than some of the top 10s that preceded it – and it was built where nearly all the headliners, with the most notable exception being quarterback Christian LeMay from North Carolina, are Georgians.
Todd Grantham said the first time he ever did an interview at Georgia that if the staff hit the state hard and got the top talent in Georgia, they can win championships. That was their focus this year. And they put together a championship-caliber signing class.
To illustrate my earlier point on in-state recruiting, let’s look at how Georgia fared at attracting the state’s top-10 players for Rivals, starting with this class. 2007 ought to be particularly painful.
Hits: 1. Ray Drew, 3. Isaiah Crowell, 4. Malcolm Mitchell, 5. Damian Swann, 8. Jay Rome, 9. Corey Moore, 10. Sterling Bailey
Misses: 2. Stephon Tuitt, No. 6 Xzavier Dickson, No. 7 James Vaughters
Hits: 3. Alec Ogletree, 4 T.J. Stripling, 7 Garrison Smith, 10 Michael Thornton
Misses: 1. Da’Rick Rogers, 2.Markeith Ambles, 5. Jeff Whitaker, 6. Jawuan James, 8. Storm Johnson, 9. Tail-ler Jones
Hits: 2. Branden Smith, 4. Chris Burnette, 6. Abry Jones, 7. Washaun Ealey
Misses: 1. Greg Reid, 3. Jarvis Jones, 5. Donavon Tate, 8. Darren Myles, 9. Michael Bowman, 10. Drayton Calhoun
Hits: 2. Richard Samuel, 3. DeAngelo Tyson, 4. A.J. Harmon, 8. Toby Jackson, 9. Tavarres King, 10. Cornelius Washington
Misses: 1. Omar Hunter, 5. Josh Jarboe, 6. Jarmon Fortson, 7. Brice Butler
Hits: 4. Caleb King, 9 Israel Troupe
Misses: 1. Eric Berry, 2. Cam Newton, 3. Antwane Greenlee, 5. Morgan Burnett, 6. Allen Bailey, 7. Cameron Heyward, 8. Jonathan Dwyer, 10. Nick Claytor
Hits: 1. Reshad Jones, 4. Justin Anderson, 5. Brandon Wood, 6. Asher Allen, 9. Kiante Tripp
Misses: 2. Carlos Brown, 3. Marcus Ball, 7. Chris Slaughter, 8. Jermaine Cunningham, 10. D’Vontrey Richardson
Hits: 7. Darius Dewberry, 9. Marcus Washington, 10. Brandon Sesay
Misses: 1. Tray Blackmon, 2. Kyle Moore, 3. Chris Scott, 4. James Davis, 5. Justin Mincey, 6. Carlos Thomas, 8. Dan Foster
Hits: 1. Brandon Miller, 2. Thomas Brown, 4. Charles Johnson, 5. A.J. Bryant, 6. Josh Johnson, 10. Seth Watts
Misses: 3. Calvin Johnson, 8. Jae Thaxton, 9. Michael Brown
Hits: 1. Paul Oliver, 2. Kregg Lumpkin, 4. Des Williams, 5. Richard Cook, 6. Sean Bailey, 9. Trey Chandler
Misses: 7. Blake Mitchell, 8. Jason Evans, 10. Skyler Thornton
Certainly we should view these top-10 lists with skepticism. Predicting how a teenage boy will fare in college is about as inexact of a science as you’ll find, whether it’s how he’ll fare as a time manager or in the classroom or, most of all, when he’s up against elite competition on the football field.
But when a program is in a state that’s as talent-rich as Georgia, the simplest route to success is by hitting that state hard and securing as much in-state talent as possible. It’s hard to do, and with the resurgence of Alabama and Auburn, and with Florida State looking like it’s on the rise, it might only get tougher for Richt’s staff to repeat this performance. They did it this year, though, and they hardly could have picked a better year to beat the bushes within this state. It was a truly impressive performance.