The euphoria that swept Bulldog Nation on Feb. 1 when Kirby Smart and his Georgia coaching staff landed a consensus No. 3 national recruiting class was especially savored by the Bulldog signees themselves and their families.
Indeed, it’s almost a given that the parents of every member of this ultra-talented 2017 class would echo the words and sentiment expressed by Erika LeCounte, Lee Fromm and Deon Gibbs. LeCounte is the mother of 5-star defensive back Richard LeCounte III, Fromm is the mom of 5-star quarterback signee Jake Fromm, and Gibbs is the father of 5-star defensive back DeAngelo Gibbs.
Richard LeCounte is the 5-11,185-pound Parade All-America first-team selection out of Liberty County High School and Riceboro, Ga., a player rated among the nation’s top three prep safeties who did everything but sell programs for his Panther team. Jake Fromm is the 6-2, 221-pound record-setting signal caller out of Houston County High in Warner Robins who was rated as the nation’s No. 3 quarterback by Rivals.com and was a U.S. Army All-American, and DeAngelo Gibbs is the 6-1,208-pound defensive back/wide receiver out of 7-A state champion Grayson High School who was rated the No. 1 athlete nationally by Scout.com and No. 4 safety nationally by 247Sports.com while being named an Under Armour All-American.
LeCounte was the first member of the ‘017 class to commit to then new Georgia head coach Smart. That came on Dec. 13, 2015 and from that moment on, the exuberant LeCounte evolved into one of the Bulldogs’ most dynamic recruiters, continually working Georgia’s other top recruits to follow him to Athens.
Mom Erika said her son joining Smart’s first full-time UGA recruiting class was an answer to the family’s prayers.
“As a family, we’ve been praying and talking about this for years and to actually see it coming together and all the kids cooperating in recruiting… it’s not only the kids but the family as a whole and that’s why it was so easy for the kids to come to Georgia, the other children to come with Richie because we always networked and bonded through the years,” she said.
Mrs. LeCounte pointed to the special relationship Smart developed with Richard when Smart was defensive coordinator at Alabama as the primary reason LeCounte eventually ended up a Bulldog.
“Well, it was that long-term relationship for me,” she said. “Richie knew Kirby before he got to Georgia and Coach Smart was consistent the entire time. I didn’t even know Richie committed that morning (Dec., 2015). When he committed I was in church. My husband was at home that day with little Richie and they were talking. Richie said he always knew (he would attend UGA). We never pressured him or talked to him about what school, just talked to him about his grades and things other than football. What else did he want to do? He had to weigh in his mind what would be the better fit. But he always knew in the back of his mind that his parents were die-hard Georgia fans. But, again, we never pushed that on him or anything. I had never been to a game or anything like that.”
Erika LeCounte has no doubt what her son will be bringing to the Georgia football program.
“For me, when I was just sitting and watching Georgia games from home, there wasn’t any energy on the sideline,” Mrs. LeCounte said. “Even if they’re not on the field they need to keep encouraging each other. It was disheartening to watch them looking worried… if you know you’re going out giving 100 percent, everything you’ve got, you’re going to be pretty hyped. And I know it’s hard to stay up on that level the entire game but it should be a lot better,” she said. “I think Richie has that energy and enthusiasm and has that leadership. When I say leadership, he’ll take the initiative that if he sees something going on that the coaches don’t see, I’m quite sure he’ll point out different things to them. He has a good tendency in doing that. Sometimes the players might see things the coaches don’t see … a hole might be opening or something on the opposite side of the field that the guy in the sky (coach’s booth) hadn’t seen or the guy on the field hadn’t seen.”
“Richie just loves getting these other boys to Georgia and I think the amount of energy he poured into what he called ‘working,’ I believe the other recruits of the class saw it and one thing I know about young men in football they’re competitive and they compete in everything, so I’m looking for the next kid to step up and say, ‘hey, I’m going to do this and I’m going to out-recruit what Richie had going or the people ahead of Richie.”’
At Houston County, Jake Fromm ended his high school career with a total of 12,816 yards and a whopping 116 touchdowns, over 46 career games. Had not his team been ousted by eventual state 6-A champion Valdosta in the playoffs, Fromm would have almost certainly surpassed former Gainesville High quarterback Deshaun Watson (13,077 yards), who played in more games, as Georgia’s No. 1 all-time career passer.
Fromm is already working diligently in Athens to be ready to challenge rising sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason for playing time when spring drills begin.
“We’re ready and just as excited as Jake is, I think,” said mom Lee, speaking for the Fromm family.
“First for my family it’s a dream,” she said. “He’s always wanted to play football and his dream was to play college football at Georgia. And then I think the relationship that we had at Alabama with Kirby Smart carried over so much that as soon as he called Jake the next day (after Smart landed UGA job) I could tell right then that, ‘wow this is really about to change.’ Because Georgia did not offer him under Mark Richt. And he had a great rapport with Coach Saban. But long story short, were ultra-excited,” said Lee. “This is a dream come true for him. He got his wish, he got his dream, everything he ever wanted, and then to play for Coach Smart who he grew to love at Alabama…”
What was the most appealing thing about Smart and his UGA staff to the Fromms?
“I really don’t know what it was,” Mrs. Fromm said. “As we got to know Kirby and he got to know us, there was really just a great relationship being built. He cared about the kids, we could see that. The way he interacted with other athletes there stood out to me and there was always a sincere connection to the families of the recruits and not just in-and-out and in-and-out. So I don’t think it was only us that felt that — even so far as when we de-committed from Alabama people were saying Emerson, my husband, and Kirby were like, long-time best friends. And it’s like, ‘no, they’re not, they didn’t even know each other until Alabama.’ But you wouldn’t know that now,” she said. “Fast forward until today, we consider him a friend. I don’t know, he just has his way with the kids and his ability to talk to them and relate to them, it really puts you at ease and especially as a parent, it does.”
Lee Fromm said Jake will not only bring outstanding physical skills to the Bulldogs but a tremendous leadership characteristic, as well.
“Jake’s charismatic,” she related. “It’s not about him. He’s a leader and he will tell you, he won’t ask anybody to do anything he’s not willing to do. And that’s in the weight room, on the track, sprints … whatever. He’s just a real good team player and he’s always been like that too. That’s just the way he’s always been. When he gets up to go hunting he’s up before everybody else and he’s got the truck loaded so that everybody else just has to get in the truck. If you went to a baseball tournament, he’s got the truck packed, the coolers ready and he’s ready to go. So he’s always prepared and I think at Georgia the coaches will see that. It will take a little time as they get to know him but like I say, he’s always prepared. He would start studying film on Sunday to prepare for Friday night’s game; he would know that team inside and out, backwards and forward. But he’s always going to be prepared and I think that’s the best way to describe Jake.”
And despite his gaudy high school statistics and awards, Lee Fromm says her son will be a Georgia team player from the get-go.
“Jake loves his teammates, he loves the football team as a whole because it’s not about one player, and he’s always been that way, even in high school,” Lee said. “And I think that’s what is special about this class. They are so close and already such good friends and that’s only going be better for them as players on that field, jelling, because they’re already so dose. I couldn’t believe it because they’ve already been over to my house and there’s already connections and I think it will show on the field in a year or two. Jake’s loving it so far… I don’t think he can stay in the weight room too lone because he’s throwing every time I call him.”
Whether he was at his safety position or stretching the field on the other side of the ball at wide receiver, DeAngelo Gibbs made things happen for the Grayson High Rams this past football season while helping pace Jeff Herron’s team to a 14-1 record and the Class 7-A state title. And it’s a special brand of competitiveness and leadership, along with his apparent ball-hawking skills, that makes Gibbs a very special component of this so-called SicEml7 Bulldog recruiting class.
“Everything’s going well,” related DeAngelo’s dad, Deon Gibbs. “He’s doing well in school and doing well at football practice. He’s excited and ecstatic about his decision, just pleased to be going to the University of Georgia, just excited, man!”
Deon Gibbs said it’s special for his family to not only be a part of Smart’s top-five nationally recruiting class but to simply be a part of the University of Georgia, period!
“It’s a confirmation on what we were looking for when DeAngelo first started this football recruiting process in the eighth grade,” Gibbs said. “We were looking for a place where he can grow and develop in a progressive environment, in a progressive football program as well as the academics. And at the end of the day when you can do all that at home, it’s so much easier and we are excited and ecstatic that Coach Smart is here and doing a lot of the things that we think will not only help advance DeAngelo but also advance the University of Georgia football program.”
Echoing the LeCountes and Fromms, Deon Gibbs said the long-term relationship Smart established with his son was the most appealing aspect of DeAngelo’s recruitment.
“We’ve had a relationship with Kirby since DeAngelo was in the eighth grade well, actually, the ninth grade,” Deon said. “He offered DeAngelo in the ninth grade and we saw what they were able to do at Alabama. We saw and experienced Kirby and his coaching staff being relentless as far as recruiting and when you talk to most of the good coaches if they’re honest, they will tell you that if you recruit good players it makes their job so easy. And we knew the competitive and relentless recruiting that Kirby would bring to Georgia and it paid off in this full first class, and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Deon Gibbs also knows full well what his son will bring to the Georgia football program.
“He will bring leadership,” Gibbs said. “He’s an ultra competitor who hates to lose. Sometimes where I think it’s almost to a fault, he’s a complete team player who will do anything and everything he needs to do to make sure his team is the central (focus). And he likes to compete, man. He brings it every day!”
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