Georgia wide receivers coach James Coley was making a routine trip to Florida to see a recruit when things suddenly went awry.
On one of his days down in the Sunshine State to visit recruits before National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Coley was on a small plane heading into Jacksonville en route to Miami. According to Jeff Pond, the defensive coordinator at Mater Academy – Coley’s eventual destination to visit prospect Latavious Brini – the aircraft was shifted off target during descent.
It created a difficult situation for the pilot, having to suddenly pull up and restart the descent into Jacksonville. While it was a scary situation and could have resulted in a bad outcome for Coley, he didn’t let it deter him from his duties.
He and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker made their way to Hialeah, Florida and Coley began speaking in Haitian Creole to Brini, who is of Haitian descent. From then on, both Pond and Brini saw the dedication from the Bulldogs’ key recruiter and it was those final efforts that landed the Florida defensive back.
Recruiting is an area that has been boosted by the addition of head coach Kirby Smart and his staff to Georgia’s program. That has been the case, especially in his first full off-season in which the Bulldogs landed a top-three recruiting class in 2017. But Coley has played an equal role as Smart has on the recruiting trail as his background has essentially opened up a new pipeline.
Not only is Coley’s focus on his own position group, but he has used his experiences with high school coaches around the Miami area to enhance the program’s future at any position possible. Coley landed junior college prospect Javon Wims in 2016, a Miami native, and followed it up with landing Brini in 2017. He is working to top that with numerous offers already distributed to 2018 and 2019 prospects in the area.
One of Coley’s more recognizable efforts comes with Brini, a defensive back. He was once committed to Georgia, and renounced his pledge on Oct. 6, 2016. It seemed like the Bulldogs were a non-factor from then on as a majority of his interest came from in-state programs. But right before National Signing Day arrived, Coley made a conscious effort to use his Miami flavor and land his guy.
During that process, he showed those around Brini his true talents as a recruiter.
“Coach Coley is a Miami guy. He does a terrific job recruiting the area,” Pond said. “He’s definitely one of the best recruiters in the country if not the best. Georgia has an awful lot to offer. I feel it’s just a matter of getting Miami kids up to see what Georgia offers. You can’t go wrong with what they offer athletically and academically. Their coaching staff is second-to-none, and the facilities are first class."
Along with Brini, Coley has made his way back to Mater Academy to work with 2019 product Mikel Jones, who speaks highly of the Bulldogs’ position coach and has the program at the top of his list due to the efforts.
Miami is known to be one of the best cities for high school football prospects nationally, so it gives Georgia a vital advantage when prospects gain interest from the Bulldogs in this area. As a result, Georgia’s main competitor is an ACC foe rather than many of its conference rivals.
One of those prospects is Donovan Georges, who is one of Georgia’s four pledged prospects for the 2018 class. In only a few encounters and sporadic trips to Athens, he sees something special in his methodology, despite being a defensive talent.
“He’s just cool, and keeps it real,” said Donovan Georges, Georgia’s latest 2018 commitment. “There’s no BS. He’s a Miami guy, so he can relate. Because he came from there, he’s knitted in that lifestyle. When he recruits you, there’s no message that blows you away, he’s just really honest. I hear from the guys currently at Georgia, that everything that he’s told them has been true. That speaks volumes to me.”
It’s one thing for a coach to talk on the recruiting trail and give players promises for playing time and numerous other things, but Coley has shown that those assurances can be kept.
That has displayed through a former Georgia player who worked under the coaching styles of both Bryan McClendon and Coley. Isaiah McKenzie brought a skill set to Athens in his three seasons before opting to head to the NFL. In his junior campaign, he was used increasingly under the direction of Coley as 73.3 percent of his receptions came in his final season at Georgia, in which he produced as the team’s leading receiver.
McKenzie saw a difference in the two coaches, and believes Coley’s brought a different kind of benefit to the offensive success.
“Coach Coley brought a lot of energy and positivity to the program,” he said. “Those two traits turned the receiving corps around completely. He encouraged us to be to each other and to have a positive outlook on the game of football as well as life in general. He puts his heart into coaching and teaching us. the energy speaks for itself.”
Georgia had three Miami-area prospects on its roster in 2016. McKenzie joined his American Heritage teammate Sony Michel and junior college transfer Javon Wims in a group of players which represented the South Beach on campus.
Each city presents its own culture and lifestyle, and Coley brought that, not only to those three but began to infuse it amongst the entire offensive unit.
“I would say that he brought the Miami feel to campus,” McKenzie said. “Because most people from South Florida are genuine and outgoing people so for the most part he did bring that to Georgia so it was different for some of the players but they got used to it.”