ATHENS — Kirby Smart has built a football monster at Georgia, recruiting one class after another filled with top-flight talent.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out they all can’t play, or a psychiatrist to predict that riding the bench won’t sit well with players talented enough to play elsewhere.
Still, the NCAA transfer portal hasn’t taken the toll on Georgia that it has other programs.
Smart may have gotten a jump on the competition by anticipating the blossoming issue before the NCAA relaxed transfer rules.
Smart, in his fourth year leading the Bulldogs program, explained more than a year ago why players are prone to transfer now more than ever.
“It’s a me-now society, they want the self gratification, they want to know they are going to be able to play,” Smart said.
“It’s about the team, and you can’t be just about you, even through there is a me generation and me society. I think you can sometimes, when you explain it to them that ‘this is what’s best for you,’ then you can help them understand why you’re trying to do what you’re doing.”
Sometimes, but not always, and so talented back-up quarterback Justin Fields took his talents to Ohio State where he will likely start and compete for the Big Ten championship this season.
ESPN analyst Chris Fowler correctly predicted at the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game that Fields’ high-profile transfer would open Pandora’s Box.
“I think you could always go to whatever tribunal exists, and make whatever case you want, to get the result that you desire,” Fowler told DawgNation. “But yeah, it is a Pandora’s box if you open that up.”
Georgia, however, lost only one other player free of disciplinary issues who figured to contribute immediately, tight end Luke Ford.
Here’s a breakdown of the 8 players transferring from Georgia.
Justin Fields, QB, Kennesaw, 2018 class
New school: Ohio State, eligible immediately
Where it leaves Georgia: Thin at the position, Fields was in line to succeed Jake Fromm
The former 5-star and high-profile backup was the early poster child for the NCAA transfer portal, opting to leave Georgia after failing to beat out incumbent Jake Fromm.
Fields played in 12 of the Bulldogs 13 games last season, Smart at times forcing the issue of playing the true freshman even when games were still in the balance and Fromm was performing well.
Smart went to great lengths to provide the Fields Family the quarterback competition they desired, not naming Fromm a starter for the opening game and publicly maintaining the competition remained open from week to week.
Several outsiders, including former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, suggested UGA should develop a package to make the best use of Fields until he could get a complete grasp on the Pro-Style offense.
Former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney insisted before the season started that Fields would not be used in a package, and that he could run the same offense as the more experienced Fromm.
Fields’ most significant play came in the closing minutes of the SEC Championship Game, when Smart inserted him for a fake punt the team had worked on each week. Georgia got the look it wanted from Alabama, but Fields was late calling for the snap, and the Tide adjusted to a never-before-unveiled personnel package and formation.
Fields lobbied to travel to the Sugar Bowl with the team, even after announcing he was considering a transfer and had started talks with outgoing Ohio State quarterback Duane Haskins.
Smart, still holding out hope Fields might stay, allowed the pending transfer quarterback to stay with the team.
“We’ve been very open and honest that we would like him to stay,” Smart said at the time. “He’s worked really hard. He competed his tail off throughout the year and played a team role throughout the year.”
Fields hired high-profile attorney Thomas Mars to help his bid for immediately eligibility with the Buckeyes, a request the NCAA granted.
Brenton Cox, OLB, Stockbridge, 2018 class
New school: Florida, status pending
Where it leaves Georgia: No immediate effect, loss of quality depth
Cox was considered such an impact player that he was granted his wish to wear the No. 1, a testament to his 5-star recruiting status and the faith the Georgia coaching staff had it could develop him.
Cox was recently passed by on the depth chart, however, with incoming freshman Nolan Smith and junior college Jermaine Johnson flashing their playmaking skills through spring drills.
Cox attended Georgia’s Fan Day last Saturday, signing autographs and offering no clues that he might be on the Florida roster within the next week.
But Cox had built up some baggage in his limited time in Athens, running afoul of the law in April when he was arrested prior to a spring practice on misdemeanor substance charges. Marijuana had been found in Cox’s dorm room.
Soon after, Smart made Cox and a teammate run stadium steps with high-profile boosters in attendance. Cox was the sixth player arrested in a six-week span, and Smart had to put his foot down.
Cox’s rules infringement was also expected to result in a one-game suspension in 2019, per UGA policy.
Cox made 20 tackles as a backup last season, his most notable playing time coming in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama after starter D’Andre Walker was sidelined by an injury.
Contain duties proved challenging for Cox, and then-Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts took full advantage, making plays outside of the pocket.
Earlier in the season, against Middle Tennessee State, Cox had the same sort of containment issues. When Walker looked to correct him, Cox returned a shove and the incident was blown up on national television.
Cox appears in need of a fresh start, and both parties figure to benefit from his departure.
J.J. Holloman, WR, Covington, 2017 class
New school: Florida International
Where it leaves Georgia: Holloman was set to star, leaves position group inexperienced
Holloman was the Bulldogs’ leading returning receiver when he was unexpectedly dismissed from the program by Smart on account of a domestic incident that occurred in April of 2018, according to police reports and testimony.
Holloman’s ex-girlfriend filed a police report this June, more than a year after the event, stating that Holloman had hit and choked her during an early morning incident at his apartment.
Police questioned Holloman, who consented to the interview without an attorney present, and he admitted striking the woman after she had struck him during their domestic quarrel.
The woman did not wish to press charges, and the case is inactive.
Smart dismissed Holloman shortly after his police interview came to light.
“Jeremiah Holloman no longer represents the University of Georgia football program,” Smart said on June 21. “We expect every member of our team to uphold the highest standards and values of the University of Georgia and Georgia football. It is disappointing when this does not happen.”
Holloman was a 4-star prospect coming out of Newton High School and was ranked the No. 125 overall player in the country. He chose Georgia over offers from LSU, Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.
Luke Ford, TE, Carterville, Ill., 2018 class
New school: Illinois, eligible 2020
Where it leaves Georgia: Ford would have been a major contributor, incoming grad-transfer TE Eli Wolf eases the pain.
Ford was a 4-star ranked the No. 51 overall prospect in the country and the No. 3 tight end coming out of high school, but he grew homesick during a freshman campaign that saw him play in nine games and make one catch for 4 yards.
Ford left the team during the bowl practice session to return to Illinois, but Smart and his staff coaxed him to take part in the Sugar Bowl practices with hopes it would rekindle a desire to stay with Georgia.
Ford remained intent on leaving, however, even with starting tight end Isaac Nauta sending out vibes that he would be turning pro at the end of his junior season.
Chaney was Ford’s position coach and primary recruiter, but he, too, had one foot out the door, less than two weeks away from leaving to become Tennessee’s offensive coordinator.
Ford’s appeal for immediate eligibility, on the grounds of wanting to be closer to his ailing grandfather, was denied by the NCAA, even with Marrs aiding on the case.
Deangelo Gibbs, DB, Loganville, 2017 class
New school: Tennessee, redshirting
Where it leaves Georgia: No effect in deep defensive backs room.
A four-star prospect Gibbs was believed to be serving an indefinite suspension at the time he entered the NCAA transfer portal last spring. Gibbs did not travel to New Orleans for the Bulldogs’ Sugar Bowl appearance.
“Deangelo is currently right now not with the team,” Smart said at the time. “He’s just not with the team.”
Gibbs was once a coveted five-star prospect from a celebrated high school program (Grayson) choosing Georgia over offers from Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound prospect could not, however, get out of doghouse while with the Bulldogs.
Gibbs played in just six games as a freshman, but he did not travel or take part in the SEC Championship Game, the Rose Bowl or the College Football Playoff Championship Game.
Gibbs proceeded to miss the 2018 spring football session before being reinstated last fall. Gibbs played in just seven games last season, making seven tackles.
Jaden Hunter, LB, Atlanta, 2017 class
New school: Western Kentucky, status pending
Where it leaves Georgia: No effect in deep linebackers room
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Hunter was a 4-star prospect coming out of Westlake High School, choosing Georgia over offers from Clemson, Alabama and Auburn.
The son of late Bulldogs’ team captain and All-SEC pick Brice Hunter, Jaden appeared in two games last season and two games in 2017.
Jaden Hunter is a redshirt sophomore who left the team in good standing.
Hunter’s mother, Brandi Hunter-Lewis, played basketball for Georgia (Brandi Decker) and was a member of two Final Four teams.
The Bulldogs have heavily recruited the linebacker position, diminishing Hunter’s chances for playing time. Hunter has also dealt with a hamstring injury this spring, according to coach Kirby Smart.
“This has nothing to do with the University of Georgia or the coaching staff,” Brandi Hunter-Lewis said of her son’s decision. “Jaden loves Georgia and has respect for our family’s legacy at the University of Georgia.”
Matthew Downing, QB, Alpharetta, 2018 class
New school: TCU, eligible immediately
Where it leaves Georgia: Thin in room, two healthy scholarship QBs
Downing was a preferred walk-on at Georgia and the Bulldogs No. 3 quarterback last season. Downing’s value was such that he was part of the 70-man travel squad for every game.
Lightly recruited coming out of Alpharetta high school, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder went right to work in Athens and impressed teammates and coaches.
Downing announced his intention to leave in January, less than a month after former UGA walk-on QB Stetson Bennett announced he was returning to UGA after a year away at junior college.
The Bulldogs also signed freshman D’Wan Mathis in the 2019 class early signing period n December.
Downing is among five quarterbacks competing at TCU, while Georgia is down to two healthy scholarship quarterbacks after Mathis’ offseason surgery.
Tray Bishop, S, Dawson, 2017 class
New school: Navarro (Texas) JC, eligible 2019
Where it leaves Georgia: No effect in deep defensive backs room
Bishop was a 4-star prospect coming out of Terrell County High School, the No. 20 cornerback in the nation and 153 player overall in the 2017 signing class.
Originally an Auburn commit, the U.S. Army All-American flipped to the Bulldogs after also starring as a quarterback in Georgia’s smaller high school ranks.
An off-field legal incident involving a surveillance incident led to Bishop’s suspension from the Bulldogs and he left he Georgia football team without appearing in a regular-season game.
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