Georgia’s Smart turning 2017 success into recruiting gold
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Momentum created by Georgia’s 2017 success has helped Kirby Smart reload for another championship run.
After Georgia landed the nation’s top-rated signing class in February, Smart’s recruiting roll has continued. He’s adding more big-name recruits from all around the country as he continues to chase Bulldogs’ first national championship since 1980.
Smart and his assistant coaches have taken advantage of Georgia’s breakthrough 2017 season that included the Southeastern Conference title and a loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
That’s why Smart proclaimed at the SEC’s annual media gathering last month “The momentum we created from last season has been tremendous for us through recruiting.”
According to the 247 Sports Composite ranking, Georgia is No. 1 on the 2019 recruiting list, one spot ahead of Alabama.
Independence (Kansas) Community College defensive end Jermaine Johnson, ranked by 247 Sports as the nation’s top junior college player, said last week he will sign with the Bulldogs. Last month, Georgia received a commitment from defensive tackle Travon Walker, a five-star prospect from Thomaston, Georgia. Earlier this year, five-star defensive end Nolan Smith, from Bradenton, Florida announced his plans to sign with the Bulldogs.
Verbal commitments are non-binding.
Among seven five-star signees in this year’s freshman class are quarterback Justin Fields and tailback Zamir White. Fields and White could earn immediate playing time and may challenge for a starting role this season.
Fields signed with Georgia even though Jake Fromm seemed so entrenched at quarterback that Jacob Eason, who opened last season as the starter, transferred to Washington.
Similarly, White and freshman James Cook were not afraid to challenge a group of returning tailbacks that includes D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien.
Smart says today’s top recruits don’t dodge competition for playing time. Instead, he said they’re drawn to the chance to play for a title.
“To me if you recruit the right kind of kid, he’s saying, ‘Can you win a championship? I want to win a championship. It’s really important that I win a championship,’” Smart said Friday. “Those are the kind of kids you want in your organization. You want guys who want to win championships. You want guys who want to be the best they can be. Does that necessarily mean they play every snap as a freshman? Not necessarily.”
Strong recruiting leads to strong competition, and Georgia has reloaded with impressive depth even after having six players picked in this year’s NFL draft.
Linebacker Roquan Smith, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were among the most significant losses. There may not any players on the 2018 roster as talented as Smith or Wynn, but Smart likes having lots of options to replace the lost starters.
“We’ll have the greatest competition we’ve had since my arrival,” said Smart, entering his third season. “We may not have the most talent that we’ve had, but we’ll definitely have the most competition. And I think competition is what separates you.”
Fields and other newcomers are eager to prove they belong. Fields enrolled early for spring practice and had an impressive Sanford Stadium debut in the spring game. The Fields-led Black team, which included Georgia’s No. 1 defense, beat Fromm’s Red team, with the No. 1 offense, 21-13.
When asked if Fields could start over Fromm , Smart responded with list of other freshmen who could push returning starters.
Could Fields or any other freshman start?
“Certainly,” says Smart.
It would not be a surprise if a significant role is carved out for Fields, a dual threat as a runner and passer, even if he doesn’t beat out Fromm.
“He’s awesome, just like every other freshman,” said wide receiver Terry Godwin, a senior. “He’s trying to prove a point.”
Smart already has proved a point with recruits. By starting freshman quarterbacks each of the last two years, the message to recruits is clear: The path to playing time is not based on seniority.
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