Georgia-Georgia recruiting-Kirby Smart
Kirby Smart has made good use of the splashy entrance via helicopter in his recruiting exploits as Georgia's coach.

How does Georgia identify recruits, and are the Bulldogs doing anything special?

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What is the process for identifying potential recruits for UGA? Are there staffers that watch high school games, high school coaches that alert UGA staff or do we just look at winning high school teams? Surely there is art to the madness.

Thanks, Dan Brookshire Brunswick, Ga.

Thanks for sending in your question, Dan. It seemed appropriate and timely with National Signing Day bearing down on us Wednesday.

I’m going to do my best to answer your question, but please know that I don’t profess to have a lot of inside information. Recruiting evaluation, as one might suspect, is a very guarded vocation within all the major college football programs. It’s a very important aspect when it comes to determining a school’s success in football. That’s why it’s called the “lifeblood” of a program.

That said, I’d venture to say that the evaluation process is easier now than it has ever been. That’s especially true for a program of the stature of Georgia and most of the other SEC teams. Essentially, the best of the best come to them. High school coaches from the state and around the South send their most promising prospects to camps at Georgia and other schools within driving distance. UGA assistant coaches, high school coaches and support staff work those camps and inform the coach and recruiting coordinator of the best-looking athletes they saw. The school then follows up with letters, questionnaires and invitations to future prospect camps and builds a relationship with the prospect and his family. This process is beginning earlier than ever now. Most “great athletes” are discovered by their ninth or 10th-grade years, then recruited heavily from then until they sign.

Also, the Bulldogs are like most of the other 130 FBS programs — and well over 700 colleges nationwide that play football — in that they get sent a lot of information on potential recruits. With the advent of products and services such as those provided by Hudl, which has made it easy to upload, edit and transmit game and practice video, coaches and parents can simply create a recruiting profile and send it to whatever schools they wish. UGA, like most Power 5 programs, has an army of support personnel whose task it is to sift through the mountains of data flowing into the football office and forward it on to assistant coaches and other personnel who are authorized to actually evaluate video. But rarely if ever is a scholarship offer generated based on one’s video. They tend to only include highlights and doesn’t demonstrate what they can do against the highest level of competition.

That’s where evaluation and combine camps such as Nike’s The Opening come in. Those are invitation-only events and they’re designed to pit the best against the best. College coaches aren’t permitted to attend them, but the information from them freely flows back to the schools via social media and recruiting websites. If a relatively unknown prospect shows out at one of the elite camps, he can see his scholarship offers increase exponentially overnight.

Finally, though, the most effective recruiting tends to be done via word of mouth. That’s where Georgia coach Kirby Smart has done some of his best work. Smart is the son of  a Georgia high school coach (Sonny Smart) and a longtime recruiter of the state for Alabama, so he has an intricate network of personal relationships with coaches throughout Georgia and the South. They’re the ones who let Smart know that they have a potential blue-chip recruit coming into their program as a ninth or 10th grader and suggest that he or one of his assistants come see for themselves. That tactic will sometimes land a team with an under-the-radar prospect such as current Georgia freshman Walter Grant of Cairo. Grant did not attend many camps and none of the nationally-renown elite ones, yet the 6-foot-4, 240-pound outside linebacker was one of just six first-year freshmen to play in all 15 of the Bulldogs’ games this past season.

Very little of the actual evaluation gets done during the actual football games of these prospects. Years ago, that used to be one of the most important determining factors. Nowadays, games are more of an opportunity for coaches and their staff to make appearances and demonstrate interest. But they’ve long since decided whether they will offer a recruit by the time they show up to see one of his games. Smart and Georgia don’t just helicopter in to see anybody.

If there is any “art” to landing a recruit, it comes down to personalities and relationships. This is said to be where Smart is extremely strong for Georgia. He apparently works a room as good or better than any coach, is quite comfortable with any member of the family and is known to sit down and eat several dinners in the course of any one day of recruiting visits. That’s why he says he gains so much weight during the recruiting season. But there remains no stronger sign of respect and comfort than to sit down and share a home-cooked meal with a family and to clean your plate while doing it.

There is one other trick to effective recruiting — winning. Going 13-2, winning the SEC championship and playing for the national title in 2017 has done more than anything else for helping Georgia put together what may end up being the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in the country in 2018.

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