For perhaps the first time since I began seriously paying attention to University of Georgia football recruiting in the year 2000 (and covering it in 2006) I am glad to put National Signing Day in the rearview mirror. This recruiting period has been draining and frustrating, largely because there just hasn't been a lot of obviously good news to report. Things hit their apex sometime in June or July, and it's been essentially downhill since then.
Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat things. This recruiting class was not up to the standards we have come to expect from Mark Richt's staff, at least when measured by the criteria we have available right now. Right now, Rivals ranks this class #16 in the country. And it hurts even worse because 3 of the top 10 are on our schedule next year (and every year for that matter), and 5 of the top 10 are in our conference.
If you believe the recruiting rankings, we lost ground today. Of course, Georgia is also 1 of only 3 teams in the top 25 with fewer than 20 commitments. Also, if you rank classes by "star average" (that is, the average rating applied to each recruit in a class), Georgia's group jumps to #13, even with the addition of 2 star wide receiver Lonnie Outlaw (whose commitment was first reported, as best I can tell, by Kyle in today's open comment thread). Without Outlaw, we'd move up to #9. And frankly there's really not a whole lot of difference between Tennessee's 3.44 star averaging class (ranked #9) and Ohio State's #26 ranked, 3.39 star averaging class.
But this should not have been unexpected. This is what happens when 3 of the assistants you had on the road recruiting are cut loose going into the last two months of recruiting season. It's also what happens when you stumble to an 8-5 record and an Independence Bowl win, and your head coach has to change his recruiting pitch from "we're on the cusp of playing for it all" to "Please be patient. Just trust me, we'll get it worked out." That just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in your program.
All in all, this class reminds me a lot of the class of 2007, the class that signed after the last "worst season of Mark Richt's tenure." In fact, based solely on Rivals' assessment, the two classes are almost identical. The 2007 group included 12 4-star recruits, 10 3-star recruits and a lone 2-star recruit. This one includes 9 4-stars, 9 3-stars and a lone 2-star. I said then that the class included a lot of guys who we would need to prove the recruiting services wrong. In that class, several of them have.
The lone 2 star recruit was some kid named Drew Butler. He was a bust, wasn't he? We also signed a 3-star tight end/offensive lineman named Clint Boling. All told, as many as 14 of the 23 guys in that class made significant contributions in the Classic City, and several others (Tanner Strickland and Charles White for example) still have the chance to do so. Rennie Curran, Jarius Wynn and Corvey Irvin became immediate contributors on defense. Aron White and Justin Houston have each progressed every season.
Another funny thing about this class is that while the overall ranking is poor, I like almost every guy in the class individually. It's a class that lacks star power, but not a lot else. You already know about the bluechippers in this group. Brent Benedict is an athletic offensive lineman who could play either guard or tackle. Garrison Smith is a physical specimen. But there are several 3-star or lower ranked players in this class who deserve notice.Looking at some of these guys, it's easy to get excited about their potential:
- Lonnie Outlaw, WR, Wilcox County: The last guy Georgia offered on signing day who was nowhere to be found in any recruiting service's database was some guy named Tim Jennings. I was going to try to get him on the phone about the Lonnie Outlaw signing, but apparently he's in Miami on business. Outlaw may be one of the guys who fits Coach Grantham's stated objective of getting a few 6'5 to 6'6' "tweeners" in every class. No matter what the motivation, he almost certainly will spend one season at GMC in Milledgeville before getting to Athens. The best quote regarding Outlaw came from former Perry High Coach Andy Scott, whose opinion I respect, and who said "Lonnie Outlaw makes Fred Gibson look like a girl." Take that for what it's worth.
- Brandon Burrows, Walton H.S., Marietta: I don't know a lot of other 3 star recruits who also had offers from Alabama, Florida, Clemson and Oklahoma. Burrows blew out his knee at the start of his senior season, which really hurt him in the national recruiting rankings. Otherwise he would likely be a 4 star player and one of the top 10 strongside defensive end/linebacker recruits in the country. He may be the biggest steal in this class.
- Ken Malcome, S.W. DeKalb: Malcome is being brought in to be the big tailback Richard Samuel never quite became. Samuel, in case you missed it, will be moving to linebacker this season. Malcome is another one of those guys whose offer list is a lot more impressive than his ranking. I think it's because he's not a flashy, slashing tailback who just wows people on film. But he's solidly built, has good balance and a low center of gravity. Malcome reminds me of a little faster Fred Munzenmeier, and could play that same hybrid tailback/fullback role.
Mike Thornton, Stephenson: A quick, powerfully built 280 pound defensive tackle who could play inside or outside. I actually like Thornton better than Warner Robins' Jeff Whitaker, because Whitaker had some injury and weight issues his junior year that could easily resurface. Depending on injuries and position assignments in the new 3-4 defense, Thornton could see the field as a freshman.
- Kenarious Gates, Greenville, Georgia: This kid is a physically impressive offensive tackle prospect. Seriously, I don't know if there are a lot of pictures of him out there, but the kid's just plain big, as you can see in the pictures of him on Scout's profile. Big legs. Big waist. Big shoulders. All in all, the perfect build for an offensive tackle. I thought we might offer him earlier in the process, but I'm glad we got him in the end. Gates will need some time to work on his technique before he's ready to play. But I have absolute confidence in Stacy Searels' ability to mold him into something special. You can see some video of Gates in action here. (h/t, Scout.com). Plus, he is a high character kid who really wants to play at Georgia, and that's worth something.
- Alexander Ogletree, Newnan: Sure, everyone has heard of his brother, Alec (who we'll spotlight in a TMI feature next week). But "Zander" Ogletree was just as important to Newnan's playoff run this season as his brother. Ogletree appears ticketed to play either fullback or linebacker at Georgia, and will draw comparisons to Rennie Curran, another diminuitive tackling machine. Ogletree's not Rennie-strong, but then only one in 4,000,000 people are.
Finally, believe me when I say that next year's class, barring utter catastrophe, will be much better. Partially because there is a great deal of talent in the state of Georgia for 2011, and our coaches have done a great job of jumping on the right guys early. To some extent, especially on defense, it appears that the coaches moved on to 2011 early this year, knowing that our new defensive staff didn't have time to build the necessary relationships with uncommitted 2010 recruits.
So take heart. This class is not, on the whole, what we want. But if we find the next Drew Butler, Justin Houston and Rennie Curran in it, I won't be complaining. If you came into Signing Day with a generally pessimistic bent, this class probably doesn't really impress you. If you're an eternal optimist, you'll believe that all of these guys will live up to their potential and some will exceed it. What you see has nothing to do with what's in front of your eyes, and everything to do with what's behind them.
Also, be sure to check out RedCrake's Signing Day Post Mortem, which makes many of the points above, plus some other excellent ones. Until later . . .