While it seems that the Auburn game is always a pretty important affair in terms of the SEC standings, bowl placement, and plain old bragging rights, it's usually also a pretty big weekend from a recruiting standpoint for both teams. This holds especially true for the home team. The game has historically fallen toward the end of the slate, meaning that high school players whose teams are not in their respective states' playoffs have plenty of free time to make it to the game, take in the atmosphere and decide that Athens is a lot like Auburn just without the trailers and meth and heavy backpacks left haphazardly about. Georgia and Auburn recruit many of the same players, so the game is often a yardstick for those guys to guage the two programs.
This year is no different. I'm not going to sugercoat this: Georgia needs a big recruiting weekend. We're in the midst of a lingering recruiting hangover which is largely a result of the Richt hotseat talk which built to a crescendo beginning in January 2011, through the summer and hit its stride in the first month of this season. Put simply, during the most important part of the 2012 recruiting cycle a lot of other schools were telling our top targets that this Bulldog coaching staff might not even be in Athens on Signing Day. All the while guys were scared to get too attached to us and risk losing the interest of other schools. Right now the 2012 class fills some very important needs, including a fullback, kicker and punter. But we still have big holes to fill at offensive line, wide receiver, and tailback, and a lot of targets on the board elsewhere. We have a lot of catching up to do with a lot of players if we're going to fill those holes.
Among the 2012 recruits making the trip to Athens for this game are commits John Theus, Quayvon Hicks, James Deloach, Leonard Floyd, John Atkins, Collin Barber and Jonathon Taylor. They'll be joined by Harris County outside linebacker/defensive end Jordan Jenkins. Also expected to be in town are Buford High linebacker Dillon Lee, an Alabama commit and brother of UGA offensive lineman Dallas Lee, Palm Beach (Dwyer) quarterback Faton Bauta, N.C. State commit and Marietta (Lassiter) standoout Charlie Hegedus and Sandy Creek wide receiver JaQuay Williams.
As you've probably already noticed, several of those players are already committed elsewhere. This is some of that catching up I mentioned above. It's difficult to say how successful we'll be in changing minds at this stage of the process. But getting 2012 prospects on campus is a big step. Who knows, some staff turnover at one school, an unexpected offer sent out at another, and we might be back in the hunt with some solid football players. Speaking of which, Lee and Hegedus were both late offers. Hegedus is seen as a bit of a late bloomer and is in a group of players who appear to have been offered when it began to look like Lonnie Outlaw won't make it to Athens. Lee however has been on everyone's radar for quite a while, and a lot of recruiting watchers didn't quite understand why Georgia seemed uninterested in him. I don't know the answer to that question. I do know that his brother Dallas was having a pretty hard time of it for a while there before coming into his own this season. Coincidence? Possibly.
Jordan Jenkins on the other hand has been on Georgia's radar for a long time. He named Alabama as his leader after visitng Bryant-Denny for the LSU game, and prior to that listed Auburn as his leader. He won't decide for a while, but is a guy Todd Grantham seems to have really targeted. The one thing you hear over and over about Grantham's recruiting approach is that he's relentless. That tendency is really being put to the test.
While this weekend is important for the 2012 class, it will be huge for the 2013 recruiting cycle. While it's going to be difficult to make up ground with some of the players listed above, there's still plenty of time for coaches to identify and build relationships with some of the best junior players. Saturday Coach Richt and company will play host to a trio of Bulldog early commits: Yulee, Florida tailback Derrick Henry (an early 5 star selection by 247 Sports), Camden County QB Brice Ramsey and Newnan safety Tray Mathews. Also in attendance will be Elbert County tailback/linebacker Tyshon Dye, Goose Creek, South Carolina receiver Tramel Terry, Eagle's Landing tailback Keyante Green, West Laurens linebacker Johnny O'Neal, Peach County receiver Demarcus Robinson, and Sandy Creek corner Shaq Wiggins.
A huge late addition to the visitor list came on this afternoon when reports surfaced that Collins Hill defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche will be in Athens for an unofficial visit. Nkemdiche has been rumored to be a silent commitment to Alabama for months and until now has shown little to no interest in Georgia. But the rumor from the recruiting trail is that Todd Grantham has refused to give up on the tackle who may be the consensus top prospect in the country next year.
Green has appeared to be warming to the 'Dawgs after initially favoring Tennessee. Tramel Terry actually committed to Georgia over the summer, but has since backed off that commitment. My sense is that he's been under some pressure locally to stay home and play at South Carolina, and probably got a little spooked after our 0-2 start. He would make a great combo with Peach County's Robinson, who we'll likely have to fight the Florida Gators for. One factor in our favor with Terry is the relationship he seems to have built with Henry and Ramsey, two kids who seem to have hit the recruiting trail hard to build their own Dream Team.
Among Bulldog targets who won't be in Athens: 2012 Lowndes linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (whose team has a huge playoff game tomorrow against Stephenson) and 2013 Troup County linebacker and Alabama commit Reuben Foster (also playing football rather than watching it). And highly-touted offensive tackle Avery Young will be celebrating his birthday with family over the weekend (happy birthday big guy!) but plans to be in town for the Kentucky game.
I don't know how many commitments we can expect to see this weekend. But with this many guys on campus there's a good chance to create some positive momentum, to get top-notch high school prospects back on the bandwagon again. However it all starts with a win over Auburn. Winning is always the best recruiting pitch. Drop your questions, comments and tidbits regarding football recruiting in the comments below, and . . . Go 'Dawgs!!!