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Bulldogs staying full to brim on scholarship numbers under Kirby Smart

Georgia-question of day-May 2-2018
It remains to see whether Liberty County's Tramel Walthour (right), here with his coach, UGA letterman Kirk Warner, will be enrolling with the remainder of the 2018 signing class in June.

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Dear DawgNation,

With the recent transfers both into and out of the football program, do you believe that Coach Smart is telling the outgoing players that they will have little to no possible playing time and encouraging them to transfer, thus making room for players who do have a chance to play? If so, could you compare these decisions with Coach Richt’s past tenure, and possibly Coach Saban’s current policy.

Thanks for all the great Dawg news!

 Ray Bailey, Franklin, N.C.

Thanks for the question, Ray, and it certainly is a good one. I would imagine it’s one a lot of folks who have followed Georgia for a while, at least well back into Mark Richt’s tenure, have at the very least pondered in their minds if not discussed with fellow Dawgs followers. Let’s just say we’re definitely seeing a different approach to roster management than we did before.

To be clear, at this moment Georgia will exceed the NCAA’s mandated maximum of 85 scholarship players when the remaining 17 freshmen from the 2018 recruiting class enroll in classes on June 4. I’ve got them at 87 after the recently announced transfers of Pat Allen and Jaleel Laguins, the medical disqualifications of Rashad Roundtree and Sam Madden and the addition of graduate transfer Jay Hayes of Notre Dame.

I’m not 100-percent certain about these numbers as UGA doesn’t share its accounting on grants-in-aid — though it probably should, if you think about it — but that’s just counting who’s coming back on scholarship, who has departed that was on scholarship and who’s coming in on scholarship. There are ever-changing rules about back-counters and fore-counters, etc., so I don’t know if/how any of that may apply here.

What is evident, though, is the overall ingress and egress of players is up at Georgia since coach Kirby Smart arrived in 2016. That should come as no surprise considering the coach under whom Smart apprenticed at Alabama. Many of the current NCAA and SEC rules regarding oversigning and the oversight of the medical disqualification process are in place because of what Nick Saban was doing at Alabama, which reportedly issued 13 medical hardships from 2007 to 2011. That’s when the SEC adopted legislation that involved it in the medical DQ process.

I’m not saying there is anything unethical or even questionable about anything Smart and the Bulldogs are doing now. There will always — always — be attrition in college athletics, and football in particular. It is, after all, a contact sport that requires academic eligibility and team-rule compliance. But generally, the previous regime’s philosophy was that all prospects who signed letters-of-intent with Georgia did so with the assurance that their football grant-in-aid would be good for at least five years, as long as they abided by school and team rules and regulations.

Neither Allen nor Laguins, the two latest team departures, have wanted to talk about their specific situations since announcing their transfers. The statements they released lead one to believe that it was totally their call to go elsewhere based on a lack of playing time. There definitely wasn’t much PT for either one of these former 4-star recruits. Laguins, a linebacker from Watkinsville, played in six games and didn’t record a tackle as a redshirt freshman last season. Allen, who would’ve been a redshirt junior offensive lineman, played in eight games in his three seasons, including a start at guard to open last season. But he hadn’t figured in any of the spring practice depth-chart discussions, and Georgia has continued to recruit blue-chip offensive linemen with great zest.

It is possible — and quite logical — that these young men simply read the writing on the wall. More likely, they were told directly that there probably wasn’t going to be much playing time in their futures. In answer to the other part of your question, yes, the exit interview remains an integral part of the postseason process. But if somebody overestimated their potential as a major college football player, that’s on the school and the coaches, not the players that accepted their offers to play. Both Allen and Laguins indicated that it really hurt them to have to leave UGA.

Meanwhile, Georgia still has to get down to 85 by the time all these players use their football scholarships to enroll in school. As stated before, that date is approaching quickly. That might explain the cryptic exchanges I’ve had with signee Tramel Walthour and coach Kirk Warner down at Liberty County High. It has been reported that the defensive tackle has been asked to “grayshirt” (meaning enroll and pay his own way until January), but also that he has not. Warner, who I covered as a Georgia tight end and know quite well, hasn’t cleared it up for me. Of Walthour, he says, “he is a Dawg,” but also “don’t know yet” as to when he’ll enroll.

We’ll see, eventually. If Walthour ultimately doesn’t make it to Athens as he expected, it wouldn’t be the first time. Remember when 4-star running back commit Toneil Carter had his scholarship offer withdrawn after Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return for their senior seasons? Carter landed nicely at Texas, but he and his family in Houston were more than a little upset about how all that went down.

Maybe that’s just the cost of doing business these days. At its base, college football is a numbers game — you have to have more good players than the other guy. Georgia has signed 21, 25 and 26 players in Smart’s three years as coach, or 72 in all, and those classes all were highly regarded. So it remains to be seen how many the Bulldogs will be able to sign next year. But just as important to sustained success is having good relationships with high school coaches and administrators and their potential future prospects.

So far, so good.

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