Georgia had 17 commitments by Wednesday’s national signing day, and by the time Mark Richt addressed the media at 2 p.m., he had 17 signatures from the next class of Bulldogs.
Still, his cell phone remained placed on the table in front of him, and he issued a quick warning before answering questions that, should he get a call from the right person, he might have to duck out a bit early.
Less than an hour later, the call came, and what Richt had already called a stellar recruiting class added a final five-star player when receiver Marlon Brown announced he was heading to Georgia.
“We had a little drama,” Richt said. “I’d much rather have everybody committed and done, but it’s fun to have somebody the last day. I’m sure the Bulldog fans are enjoying that, and we are, too, because Marlon is a great player, outstanding student, just good people.”
Brown, the No. 3 receiver in the country according to ESPN, scored 19 touchdowns in his senior season for Harding Academy in Memphis, and he could quickly slot in across from rising sophomore A.J. Green to give the Bulldogs one of the nation’s most dominant receiving tandems.
At 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, Brown has a bit more brawn than Green did coming out of high school, but offers similar skills to his new teammate. Both players starred on the basketball court in high school, too, and have a knack for making athletic catches — a skill that helped Green lead the SEC in receiving in his rookie season.
“They are both going to be tough matchups for corners that don’t have a lot of height,” Richt said.
Brown was one of a handful of top recruits still considering Georgia right up until signing day. Lowndes star Greg Reid spurned the Bulldogs at the last minute Tuesday, selected Florida State instead, while offensive lineman Bobby Massie headed to Ole Miss, and linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Jawanza Starling both chose Southern California on Wednesday.
Brown’s decision — which was announced live on ESPNU — was the last to come among the major names, and Richt didn’t know until late Tuesday night that Georgia would be his choice.
“He was pretty close to the vest,” Richt said. “He didn’t want me to tell anybody because he knew he was going to be on ESPN. If it wasn’t for that, it would have been a lot easier for everybody if at 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning he had faxed it in. But they wanted the excitement of the national television coverage, too, and he deserves it.”
Brown was the final piece of the puzzle on a day that netted Georgia 18 players — including three already enrolled and on campus.
The Bulldogs got signatures from offensive linemen Chris Burnette and Austin Long along with Dallas Lee, who enrolled early. Running back Washaun Ealey, tight end Arthur Lynch and receiver Rantavious Wooten added some punch to the offense, while defensive end Montez Robinson, defensive tackle Abry Jones and cornerback Branden Smith were among the biggest names added to Georgia’s defensive unit.
Smith was another five-star recruit who is expected to fight for a starting job in the secondary immediately, while also likely to play a role as a return man on special teams.
Quarterbacks Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray are already enrolled, but both were rated among the top 10 at their position nationally.
Prior to Brown’s announcement, Richt spent the day proclaiming the prestige of the 17 players he already had signed, noting that not one wavered in his decision to come to Georgia.
“I do think a lot of people enjoy the drama on singing day, they want something exciting to happen on that day, but I’m not all about that drama,” Richt said. “I’m about taking care of business in the right way, getting good people, and getting guys that want to be Bulldogs.”
As it turned out, however, Brown wanted to be a part of the Georgia program, too, and Richt was thrilled to have him.
With the graduation of seniors Mohamed Massaquoi, Demiko Goodman and Kenneth Harris along with the departure of freshman Walter Hill midway through the 2008 season, the depth at receiver had become a source of concern for the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
While Wooten brought the number of scholarship players at the position to seven, Richt said he would normally like to have between nine and 11 to feel safe.
Brown’s addition to the mix didn’t necessarily solve the depth issue, Richt said, but it certainly added another powerful weapon.
“It was very important,” Richt said. “If it didn’t happen this year, it really would have been a big push next year. We have eight right now, and I think that’s a pretty comfortable number, but when two leave, we’re sitting there at six again, and we’re probably still looking at two or three in next year’s class.”
The success of last year’s prized receiving recruit was a big part of the lure for Brown. Green entered the year as the low man on the 10-man depth chart in terms of experience but fought his way into the starting lineup by Georgia’s second game of the season and eventually fell just 37 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the year.
“I think (Brown) was excited about that,” Richt said. “If a young man knows that he will have a fair opportunity to compete for playing time and maybe if he’s productive enough become a starter, that’s attractive to him. And when you see it right before your eyes, that helps to know it’s possible.”
Whether Brown will be able to have the same immediate impact remains to be seen, but Richt said all the tools for success are there.
While Brown’s prep career wasn’t played against the most stout of competition, Richt said his game film showed all the Georgia coaches needed to see to become believers, and Brown’s performance in the Under Armour All-America game in which he caught a 71-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first possession added the icing to the cake.
“He’s got the size, he can leap and get the ball at its highest point,” Richt said.
“The league he played in certainly made you question just a little bit, is this just a big man in a league where he’s dominant, or can he really play with the big boys..”