Han Vance from Athens: Like a phoenix of fire, which has risen from the ashes, the Georgia program carries on after the most heartbreaking defeat in school history. The new Early Signing Period was of huge benefit to the future of UGA. Coming off the school’s first SEC championship in a full dozen years on December 2nd and awaiting the college football playoff in early January, Kirby Smart already inked the number one recruiting class over a three-day period from December 20th-22nd.
In his presser on February 7th, Coach Smart earnestly expressed that he was “excited about today,” but “we knocked a lot of the work out in December.”
To some old-timer fan insiders’ chagrin, much of the pomp and circumstance of the first Wednesday in February was nixed by this changing of NCAA policies. There was no usual rotunda celebration at the football complex this year, as recruits had been allowed to officially indoctrinate in the earlier window. Some did not.
The Dawgs made it official with two previous verbal commits: Jordan Davis (a 6-6, 320 defensive tackle) of Charlotte and Tramel Walthour (a 6-4, 277 defensive tackle) from Hinesville, though the latter has some academic concerns. UGA media maven Jeff Dantzler was doing radio work at the Big Pig Eastside in Athens Wednesday, afterward discussing with Greg Poole (both key contributors to Bulldawg Illustrated) and me the program’s need for masses of humanity and numbers on the defensive line.
Pushing this year’s strong Sunshine State haul to four players, Georgia grabbed the tall, fast cornerback it coveted in five-star Tyson Campbell (6-2,180) of Plantation, Florida. Campbell is the first five-star cornerback to sign with Georgia since speedster Branden Smith. Smith was light and though he could nearly reach light speed, his lack of size was a consistent detriment to his on-field defensive performance. Conversely, Campbell has cover skills, the height to compete in the aerial game and a big enough body to build on to be a physical corner.
Kirby is spot on when it comes to discussing recruiting and spoke candidly of the so-called flipping process, saying he’d been on the other end of it and it was only about ultimately “what’s right for the kid.” While his total tally reached twenty-six recruits.
On inside linebacker Quay Walker (6-4, 235) of Crisp County’s athleticism, Kirby said, “this guy might be the most versatile.” Scary when he reminded me and the other media members on hand that at linebacker “we lost four starters.”
Lee County product, Michigan flip Otis Reese (6-4, 218) is what is called a “tweener” and will more likely play safety at UGA rather than much at linebacker. “We’ve had success, both Coach Tucker and myself, coaching big guys at safety,” Kirby said.
In response to what attracted him to wide receiver Tommy Bush, Kirby noted “obviously, his stature”, mentioning the 2017 team’s “success with Javon [Wims]” as a leaping, jump ball playmaker. Sophomore Jake Fromm excels at throwing it up on timing routes, and Bush (6-5, 191), out of Texas, may be his main man there.
The National Signing Day of the past, and its full-on media and fan circus appear gone forever, as the future emphasis will shift more to the December period. With all the blessings this season past had, the future looks brightest at Georgia. It’s fitting that recruiting maestro Kirby is the first to feel the benefit of this change.
From the rigors of a fifteen-game season, through the two signing sessions, Kirby has stayed so on, and I honestly wondered if health-wise he would be able continue for long with this much sheer intensity. Was he tired, he was asked…Kirby retorted: “Have you seen my face?”
The program itself is in excellent football shape, adding eight five-star recruits and the number one class to last year’s number three class. Only four members of that class have really been able to let rip on the field on a consistent basis, and it contains many college football starters who are not freshmen anymore. Oh, the new freshmen.
We have the top recruit in the country coming in to battle our winning quarterback for playing time. The Great Wall of Georgia is being built on the offensive front, where an intact O-line of the highest caliber was inked. We signed the most five-stars in the history of these being tracked, at any school. We wrestled the recruiting mantle from mighty Alabama. We won the SEC and still have our biggest goal left.
We were an upperclassmen-dominated team that produced at the highest level in 2017 – losing only one football game that whole calendar year, then avenging the loss. Calendar year 2018 sees us 1-1 so far with an epic victory and an epic defeat, on the ultimate stages, with an arising team of Kirby Smart recruits coming into their own. In that way, this not the 2016 or 2017 season is the real start of the Kirby era. This time period is what he will be judged on and remembered for, because those were mostly Mark Richt’s guys. Kirby found some key pieces and pulled off a championship run that had eluded Mark since way back when D.J. Shockley was a one-year starter at quarterback and the best player in the SEC (2005). Vince Dooley never had a gap that long over twenty-five years coaching.
The number one recruiting class in the nation is an achievement of its own and those 2017 guys that stayed and played so well, that whole talented team that gelled and proved the Georgia way works, should get much of the credit.
But this was pure Kirby magic.