JD Bertrand and Dominick Blaylock met as 3-year-olds at Mount Pisgah Christian School.
During their childhood days on the playground, little did they know their paths would continue to cross for 20 years until they both became highly-regarded football prospects and eventual Georgia pledges.
The two in-state products both committed to the Bulldogs after attending a cookout and camp on the weekend of July 15. Bertrand and Blaylock hadn’t planned to commit on successive days, yet they had stayed in contact and knew well before the public announcement what their intentions were.
“We had the chance to get to know each other, hang out and now we go on visits together.” Bertrand said. “Dominick had known in June, before I did, and we just both decided to commit after the visit.”
The athletic best friends also have another pal who is a Georgia priority. Ryland Goede, a four-star tight end who has known Bertrand since elementary school, has significant interest in the Bulldogs and frequently receives hints from his friends on their desire to play alongside him.
“We're pushing him to UGA, but we don't want to ruin the friendship by making it the only thing we talk about and push him for,” Bertrand said. “We always go on visits together, and when we're there we'll be like ‘Hey Goede, this is the place,’ or when we hang out or text, I'll say ‘Georgia is still waiting for you,’ and just bring it up to him a lot.”
Outside of the tightly-bonded trio, Bertrand has tried to recruit 2019 five-star defensive end Christopher Hinton and 2020 offensive tackle Myles Hinton, siblings out of Greater Atlanta Christian. Bertrand has known the brothers since third grade.
Bertrand received his Georgia offer last spring, but he got his first taste of the program as an eighth grader.
The Roswell product -- an area recruited by running backs coach Dell McGee -- walked through Sanford Stadium for the first time and liked the hometown feel as Athens is only 76 miles away.
As the recruiting process began to intensify, Bertrand kept feeling more-assured on his desire to play for the Bulldogs.
“I realized that I was going to Georgia this June when I got to visit Clemson, LSU, North Carolina and USC all in the same month,” Bertrand said. “I had also visited a lot in the spring, and I was then able to evaluate and pick Georgia.”
Bertrand evaluated a number of factors when making the decision, appreciating the defensive-mindedness of Smart and the plan given by inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann. But the culture created by the second-year head coach may have been one of the biggest determinant.
Georgia has made it a priority to integrate fan involvement as a recruiting tool, which is shown by averaging nearly 80,000 attendees at the two most-recent G-Day spring games. It paid off again.
“The atmosphere at games is just crazy, and the whole school is on Coach Smart's side,” Bertrand said. “They all feel like he can take the program to where it's never been before.”
Georgia has made up for a slow start in its 2018 recruiting class with a faster-than-expected beginning to the class of rising juniors.
The Bulldogs have commitments from three of the nation's top-20 prospects -- Blaylock, five-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and five-star defensive end Nolan Smith -- and four other four-star prospects. It sends a message to those considering the Bulldogs.
“The program is definitely going and the recruiting classes keep getting better and better,” Bertrand said. “There's something happening at Georgia, and people feel that vibe.”
When making his pitch, Schumann made it known that Georgia won’t have three of its major defensive assets -- seniors Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, along with junior Roquan Smith -- in the program when Bertrand arrives in two seasons.
Last season, Bertrand collected 68 total tackles for Blessed Trinity. As a result of the aforementioned attrition in Georgia's future front-seven, the four-star likes his chances to earn a role when arriving in on campus.
“They were saying that they look at me as an inside backer,” Bertrand said. “They're excited because they like what they've seen from me and my work ethic. I like that obviously it gives me a better shot that other starters are leaving when I'm coming in. When I get there, I'll just have to work hard and give all I can out there and fight for a spot.”