“Obviously we faced some difficulties, but I’m really pleased with how everything came out. We’re excited about this class. We feel like they can be tremendous assets to this program.”
That’s a quote that very well could be uttered by a Georgia coach this Wednesday, National Signing Day. It would fit, given the tumult on Georgia’s defensive coaching staff this month.
But that quote is four years old. It was made by then-recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner, and the “difficulties” referred to were the changes on the defensive staff. Basically, the same difficulties as this year.
This time, however, Georgia appears to be handling the situation much better than it did four years ago, when it ended up with the lowest-ranked signing class in head coach Mark Richt’s tenure.
And the rankings were not deceiving. That class all in all remains the most unproductive of Richt’s tenure.
Four years later, Georgia has once again changed defensive coordinators and has replaced all of its defensive coaches. But there have been no de-commitments since defensive coordinator Todd Grantham left for Louisville and was quickly replaced by Jeremy Pruitt. In fact, some recruiting analysts say the move has been a shot in the arm for the program’s recruiting.
Entering the final weekend before signing day, Georgia’s current class of commitments ranked eighth in the nation, according to the 247Sports.com Composite, which culls all the major recruiting services. And Georgia is still hoping to top it off with more players, including five-star edge rusher Lorenzo Carter of Norcross.
No, Georgia won’t end up with the nation’s most ballyhooed class. But it’s a complete turnaround from the chaos of four years ago, when four players who had been committed reneged, including three on the defensive side.
Four years ago, Georgia’s class was a consensus top-10 class before the defensive staff was overhauled. Willie Martinez, John Jancek and Jon Fabris were fired on Dec. 2. Grantham didn’t come on board until Jan. 15, and during the lull three defensive recruits reneged on commitments: DB Nickell Robey, defensive end B.J. Butler and linebacker Deon Rogers.
Robey signed with Southern California and just finished his rookie season with the Buffalo Bills. Butler and Rogers signed with Louisville, where they were part-time players.
Among those who did sign with Georgia in 2010, there were a couple defensive starters and one legitimate star. Alec Ogletree was drafted in the first round of last year’s NFL draft, and defensive end Garrison Smith started the better part of the past three years.
But the rest of the defensive class features a litany of players who left the program early (Demetre Baker, Dexter Morant, Derek Owens, Jakar Hamilton) or have struggled to see the field (T.J. Stripling, Mike Thornton, Brandon Burrows.)
In fact, a player who walked on that year, Connor Norman, ended up being much more of a factor on defense than most of the players that got scholarships that year.
Chad Simmons, an analyst at Scout.com, was covering Georgia’s recruiting efforts four years ago, and he agreed that the struggles of that 19-member class were entirely predictable.
“There’s plenty of analysts and evaluators out there who have eyeballs on these guys,” Simmons said. “Yeah, there are those sleepers and two and three stars that become really good players. But the fours and fives do have a better chance of hitting it big than those twos and threes. The class was not stacked with those elite guys four years ago. You kind of saw the writing on the wall, they were going to take a hit at some point in that time span.”
This year, Georgia is hoping for much more.
Cornerback Malkom Parrish (Brooks County), defensive end Keyon Brown (Wauchula, Fla.) and defensive tackle Lamont Galliard (Fayetteville, N.C.) could play right away. Safety Kendall Gant (Lakeland, Fla.), cornerback Shattle Fenteng (Hutchinson Community College), inside linebacker Detric Dukes (Tucker) and safety Dominick Sanders (Tucker) are also promising.
And in addition to the ballyhooed Carter, the team is making a strong run at some other top prospects, with Pruitt running lead.
“He is an elite recruiter,” said Rusty Mansell, a recruiting analyst at 247Sports. “If you say a five-star recruiter, his resume is a five-star recruiter. He has gone after the nation’s best and won a majority of them.”
This time around, there have also been some factors working in Georgia’s favor.
The search to replace Grantham with Pruitt lasted two days, compared to 45 days to replace Willie Martinez with Grantham. Pruitt is known for his recruiting, both at Alabama and Florida State, while Grantham was coming from the NFL and had not recruited for 11 years.
There was one factor in Georgia’s favor four years ago: Garner, the team’s longtime recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, stayed on. This time, there was a complete turnover on the defensive coaching staff. In fact, there was still one vacancy on the staff as of Friday.
But Georgia made up for it in several ways: Graduate assistants like Christian Robinson and Mike Macdonald stepped into the void on the recruiting trail. Daryl Jones, the team’s on-campus recruiting coordinator, provided stability, as well.
What has also helped Georgia this time is that some of the very same offensive coaches who were around four years ago have developed into even better recruiters. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, running backs coach Bryan McClendon and tight ends coach John Lilly have developed tons of contacts and built up credibility among high school coaches. So even though they’re offensive coaches, they’ve still helped land recruits on the other side of the ball.
Ultimately, however, the quick hire of Pruitt -- named the nation’s top recruiter two years ago by 247Sports -- was the biggest factor in avoiding a similar recruiting disaster as four years ago.
“Coach Pruitt has a really good eye for talent,” Richt said earlier this month. “The first thing he wanted to do is to start watching film of recruits that were on our board and recruits that were in the state of Georgia that were committed to other schools. He just wanted to start looking at other players to see what type of interest he could generate with the new change here at Georgia.”