(Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Georgia convinced longtime Michigan commitment Otis Reese to sign with the Bulldogs on Wednesday.

Georgia’s Kirby Smart proving masterful at the ‘Art of the Flip’

ATHENS – Flip That Recruit.

That would be a great reality show for Kirby Smart. Smart and his wife Mary Beth could host it on the SEC Network each week and explain how they’re going to take this prospect, who has long since been committed to State U, and convince him he needs to come to Georgia instead.

Maybe he could follow that up with a book, like, The Art of the Flip. And then they could produce a sequel called, say, Flipping the Script.

Clearly “flipping” is something Smart is very good at. That’s a term given for changing a recruiting prospect’s mind about going to a school to which he is already committed and come to yours.

Depending on how one quantifies it, Smart and his Georgia coaching staff executed at least five flips in putting together the 2018 signing class that was finalized on national signing day Wednesday. You might have heard, that class ended up with a consensus national ranking of No. 1.

It’s no wonder, considering two of those “flips” came from Alabama commitments. One was from defensive back Nadab Joseph from Miami, who signed with the Bulldogs during the early period. Another one came Wednesday when longtime Bama commitment Quay Walker, a linebacker from Crisp County, chose the Bulldogs at his signing ceremony in Cordele.

Georgia also flipped Otis Reese of Leesburg on Wednesday. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound 4-star safety went from being the highest-ranking member of Michigan’s 2018 class to maybe the 11th or 12th for the Bulldogs. Add those names to a list that also includes quarterback Justin Fields of Kennesaw, a one-time commitment to Penn State, and Divaad Wilson of Miami, once pledged to the Florida Gators.

Smart, as one might imagine, downplays the whole phenomena of the flip. He was asked about it at least twice, once during a nationally-televised interview on ESPNU and again during his news conference Wednesday at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

He said it’s more about sustained effort than it is about changing a prospect’s mind.

“It’’s great for the fans and they all want to make a big deal about it,” Smart said. “But, ultimately, it’s really about the relationships we’ve built with that kid all along. The fan thinks that Otis Reese decided last night that he was going to go to Georgia. That wasn’t the case. There was a relationship that was developed over the last year. Same thing with Quay.”

Ah, Quay Walker. His announcement was one to behold. The versatile linebacker who Smart says could play any one of the four linebacker positions Georgia currently has an opening for had been committed to the mighty Crimson Tide since last June. But neither the Bulldogs nor the Tennessee Vols ever relented in their pursuit.

In fact, Tennessee gained considerable traction for Walker once it made Jeremy Pruitt its head coach. Pruitt had convinced Walker to commit to Bama as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator. One he joined the Vols, Pruitt went hard after Walker, and many projections had Walker heading for an orange-clad career heading into national signing day.

Not sure what kind of conversations Walker and Pruitt might’ve had before Walker’s announcement Wednesday, but Walker probably didn’t endear himself much with the Big Orange when he pretended like he was going to put on a Tennessee cap, then he flung it across the Crisp County gymnasium floor as he stood up and ripped off his warmups to reveal black Georgia garb underneath.

Smart cringed when he was asked about that move.

“I didn’t see it,” Smart said.  “I was watching 2019 and 2020 (prospect) tape at the time, so I didn’t actually see it. I did get a text from my wife that she was scared to death when he did that. That’s their moment in the sun, and some kids know how to handle it and some don’t. To each his own.”

And that’s the thing. Smart insists he’s not trying to burn opposing teams or certainly not trying to hurt opposing coaches when he changes a prospect’s mind. Obviously he has a close relationship with Alabama’s Nick Saban and with Pruitt and with Florida’s Dan Mullen. It’s simply a matter of them all being in the market for the same pedigree and position of player.

Like many veteran recruiters often say, a verbal commitment only means rival recruiters now know who they have to beat.

“Coaches in the profession understand I have tremendous respect for the guy on the other side of that flip,” Smart said. “A lot of those guys are my friends. A lot of those guys I’ve worked with.”

That’s why Smart said he didn’t get much sleep over the last couple of nights. He intimated that at one point Tuesday his staff was convinced they might sign only one of their uncommitted targets.

Instead, they went 4-for-4 on Walker, Reese, cornerback Tyson Campbell and wide receiver Tommy Bush. All but one was thought to be leaning in another direction 24 hours before signing their paperwork.

And, so, flips can be particularly hard on the recruits themselves.

“They’re torn,” Smart said. “It’s a tough decision. We make it hard on them. When they do the flip, I know there’s somebody on the other side of that. I’ve been on the other side of that. So I’m not one to get into enjoyment of that.”

Yes, but the fans certainly do. There is probably nothing greater for recruitniks than to see their team flip a high-profile prospect from a rival program, especially from one like Alabama, which is generally not in the business of losing recruits it really wants.

And that’s where this 2018 class in particular might signal some headway for Georgia in its quest to become a major player again on a national level in college football. Sure, everybody knows that the Bulldogs’ got hot this past season and won the SEC championship for the first time in 12 years and made a run to the national championship game in their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.

But Smart’s challenge and his goal is in making sure that magical run doesn’t end up as a blip on the radar screen. What he and Georgia currently are doing in recruiting is a substantial leap in that direction.

It was well-chronicled Wednesday that Georgia’s No. 1 national ranking in recruiting was its first ever. Well, that’s at least since it has been comprehensively calculated since 2000.

More importantly, though, was the Bulldogs finishing first in the SEC. And not by a little bit. With 323.31 points in 247Sports.com’s composite rankings – the third highest total in the poll’s history – Georgia finished 48.81 points ahead of Alabama. The Bulldogs had nine prospects in this class who were ranked higher than any on any of the other SEC East.

The Crimson Tide had finished with 247Sports.com’s the top-ranked class every year since 2010 before Wednesday. They were ninth, according to Wednesday’s tally.

And the strong recruiting continued a trend under Smart. His first three classes at Georgia have come in sixth, third and first nationally. That’s an average national ranking of 3.3. The Bulldogs’ average national ranking in the 16 seasons before Smart’s arrival was 8.8. But that also tended to be third or fourth among the SEC teams.

So, Georgia certainly seems to be moving into a position of sustainability. Alas, strong recruiting classes don’t guarantee anybody anything, so we’ll see.

But we do know that the Bulldogs did get pretty much anybody they wanted. Well, with the possible exception of Rick Sandidge Jr. The big defensive tackle from Concord, N.C., was really the only target of the second signing period during this recruiting cycle that Georgia didn’t get. Sandidge ended up at South Carolina, as many had predicted.

But Smart didn’t look like he was ready to go out on the town celebrating. He was admittedly worn out from the relentless pursuit of talent, no matter who claimed it.

“Have you looked at my face?” he said. “I have not slept much lately. … It was a lot of work.”

Yes, it takes a lot of effort and energy to flip a kid who says he already has made up their mind. It’s a lot easier to say, “oh, well, that’s that. Let’s go find somebody else.”

But then Georgia wouldn’t really be getting who it wanted. And for one recruiting period at least, Smart and the Bulldogs got pretty much everyone they wanted, be it via the flip or not.

“To me, there’s no great sensation in flipping a kid,” Smart said. “I think it’s more about what’s right for the kid and how is his future going to be best served by going to the University of Georgia academically so he can set himself up for success in life.”

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