ATHENS, Ga. — It wouldn't be signing day without a little drama.
Georgia experienced just a smidgen on Wednesday after all, on what was expected to be a drama-free day.
Although he reaffirmed his commitment to Georgia at a press conference only Monday, four-star North Carolina tight end Dwayne Allen made the last-minute decision to sign with Clemson.
Ironically enough, Georgia coach Mark Richt was attending a press conference to celebrate his son Jon's signing with Clemson when he heard the news that he was losing Allen to the Tigers.
The switcheroo caught the Bulldogs fans gathered at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall by surprise, but Georgia's coaches wrote it off as part of the recruiting game — where the hat switch shell game at press conferences is becoming all too common.
“These days nothing surprises you,” said Georgia recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner. “My focus is on the kids that we got. These are the kids that belong here. These are the ones that we're excited about. As long as those types of things are so glamorized, so popular, it's gonna happen.”
Richt said this was a year where sheer numbers limitations forced his staff to turn away more interested players than ever before.
“It was sickening to have to say there's no room in the inn,” he said.
That made Allen's late defection even more untimely, as Richt said it was too late to get back in on some of the players they had previously turned away.
“By the time this thing happened, the people that we were really in on it with, they were done,” Richt said.
Allen's change of heart took its toll on the perception of Bulldogs' 24-man recruiting class, but a multitude of highly regarded talent remains, including three Parade All-Americans — receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackles DeAngelo Tyson and A.J. Harmon.
The Bulldogs dropped slightly in the national recruiting rankings on Wednesday, slipping to fourth on Scout.com, fifth on ESPN.com and sixth on Rivals.com.
“I don't get that worked up about (recruiting rankings),” Richt said. “I really am most concerned about are we filling the needs with the right kind of talent, the right kind of person. Are we just taking care of our business, because that's how we've got to look at it.”
The marquee name on the list is Summerville, S.C. receiver Green, who is roundly regarded as a top-10 national prospect and the No. 2 receiving prospect in the country.
Green is one of eight Georgia signees whom Scout.com rated among the top 10 players at his positions, along with Tyson, Harmon, running back Richard Samuel, center Ben Jones, weakside linebacker Marcus Dowtin, defensive end Toby Jackson and kicker Blair Walsh.
Samuel, Jones, receiver Tavarres King, running back Dontavius Jackson and linebacker Akeem Hebron are already enrolled in classes this semester, enabling them to compete for playing time in spring practice.
“I want to get that starting job,” said Jones of his goal for spring drills. “I want to prove a point, to show them that I actually have that motor and I'm not gonna stop until I get it.”
Unlike last year's class which was heavy on linemen, Georgia had no glaring needs in this year's crop of recruits. The talent within the group is spread across numerous positions, with defensive line and defensive back the most heavily represented at five players each. The Bulldogs added three each at running back, offensive line and linebacker.
If there was a need, it was tailback — a position that loses three scholarship seniors from last season. Samuel and Jackson's early enrollments help address that need, as they will contend for playing time this spring with incumbent starter Knowshon Moreno and rising redshirt freshman Caleb King. Frostproof, Fla. signee Carlton Thomas will join the depth chart in the offseason.
“Running back was the major priority,” Garner said. “Midyear was very important because you look at going into spring practice, we only had two scholarship tailbacks — Knowshon and Caleb King — so running back was very much a big need.
“And then identifying some kids that could come in in January was the next high priority, so we're very fortunate,” Garner added. “We were hoping to get one in at midyear and then we were able to get two, so we feel like we got ahead of the curve a little bit.”
Speaking of being ahead of the curve, Georgia is already well ahead on its class of 2009. Thanks to how far in advance this class came together — the Bulldogs picked up only one commitment after Thanksgiving — they've been able to get a head start on recruiting the rising seniors for this fall.
Georgia has already picked up five verbal commitments for 2009, which represents approximately a third of the total they're expected to sign.
“We really feel like we're ahead of the game,” Garner said.