It wasn’t the day Georgia fans had hoped for, and it wasn’t what Bulldogs recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner was planning for, but this year’s National Signing Day was more about looking at the glass as half full.
Sure, Georgia lost out on five-star wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers and a few defensive commitments bolted, too, but with shakeups on the coaching staff, short-handed recruiting for six weeks and a frenetic finish with two new coaches, things certainly could have been worse.
“Obviously, we faced some difficulties, but I’m really pleased with how everything came out,” Garner said. “We’re excited about this class. We feel like they can be tremendous assets to this program.”
Georgia wrapped up signing day with 17 signatures from incoming recruits, which combined with the additions of mid-year enrollees Jakar Hamlilton and Kolton Houston, put a bow on a tumultuous recruiting season.
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The day was highlighted by the late addition of Stephenson defensive tackle Mike Thornton, but the weeks of buildup that saw Georgia part ways with commitments B.J. Butler, Deon Rogers and Nickell Robey and the final farewell of Rogers, who landed at Tennessee, seemed to overshadow the proceedings.
The crowd at Georgia’s Butts-Mehre football building was sparse early on, perhaps diminished by days of pessimistic reports about de-commitments from a class that was considered among the best in the country. The hopes of landing some surprises at the last minute, such as Florida State commitments Telvin Smith or Christian Green, were dashed. Head coach Mark Richt was even asked by one concerned fan during his question-and-answer period whether his staff had become complacent on the recruiting trail.
He quickly put the fan’s concern to rest.
“This staff is not complacent by any stretch,” Richt retorted.
Still, the excitement about signing day was muted, at best.
For the first time since his first season in Athens (2001), Richt finished with a class rated outside the top 10 by the major recruiting services, with Scout.com putting Georgia’s total as the 21st best nationally and the seventh best tally in the SEC.
Georgia also inked just 19 players, despite having 18 committed as early as Aug. 1. Five players joined late to help offset the four de-commitments, but the end result was a sagging finish in the final rankings. No other SEC school inked fewer than 24 players.
Of course, a disappointing 8-5 season combined with constant rumors about the future of assistant coaches — three of whom were fired Dec. 2 — all helped to keep the recruiting waters boiling.
“Anything and everything that another school can use to create some doubt in a young man’s mind, that’s what they’ll do,” Richt said. “So, we were certainly dealing with that.”
Thornton, however, helped put a positive spin on signing day, giving Georgia the 10th-rated player in the state.
to go along with five-star safety Alec Ogletree, four-star defensive linemen Garrison Smith and T.J. Stripling and four-star offensive lineman Brent Benedict — all of whom were top-100 players.
Yet it was the one that got away who had even Georgia’s current players talking.
Da’Rick Rogers announced he was heading to Tennessee on Wednesday after weeks of speculation. His close friend and high school quarterback, Nash Nance, de-committed from Vanderbilt last month and signed with Tennessee, which spurred the change. Still, it didn’t sit well with some of Georgia’s players, including safety Bacarri Rambo, who noted on his Facebook page that, “When I catch you on the field I’m going to knock fire from you.” — a line apparently directed at Rogers.
“It’s going to happen,” said Hamilton, Rambo’s fellow safety and another headliner of Georgia’s recruiting class. “Especially if (Rogers) is going to play right off the bat. I just hope he’s ready for it, because there’s going to be a lot of people on the hit for him on this team.”
Hamilton said he was angry that Rogers didn’t keep his word and that his late change-of-heart may have prevented another player from being recruited to fill the slot.
Richt, however, took a more political approach. He has seen this type of situation unfold often, and Georgia, too, managed to swipe offensive lineman Kenarious Gates from Kentucky this week.
“Guys that are committed to us, there’s some we feel are very solid and you have peace about that because you know they’ve done their homework,” Richt said. “Some kids are a little bit more mature than others, and they know what they wan,t and they do believe that their word means something. But these kids are 17, 18, 19 years old, and coaches that are anywhere between 25 and 65 are trying to convince them why one school is better than another. So it can be confusing at times. It can be very difficult at times.”
Despite the dearth of late-in-the-game highlights, however, Garner reiterated what he had said all along about this year’s class, which ironically had been questioned for filling up too quickly last summer by many fans. The object isn’t to get the most players, he said, but rather to get the right ones.
“I think the class, we could have gone out and possibly signed other guys to build that number if we just wanted to meet a quota,” Garner said. “We did a really good job of holding the class together. Obviously there were a couple of defections here at the end, but what we’ve always stressed is that we want young men that want to be at the University of Georgia and want to be a part of this program.”