Homegrown: Richard LeCounte III is a unique placesetter for the Kirby Smart era
EDITOR’S NOTE: This original Richard LeCounte III story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access the other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com.
The year was 2015. It was a summer night in July. The Mark Richt era was on its last season in Athens.
There was this rising 2017 prospect who kept bounding up and down. He wasn’t the biggest cat, but boy could he move. He was so springy.
That young man’s name was Richard LeCounte III. He was a “Down South Georgia Boy” prospect if there ever has ever been one. But back then, those guys didn’t go play football at the University of Georgia.
LeCounte had the hops and the explosive acceleration. He was often found near rising senior Mecole Hardman, Jr. at that camp. Hardman went on to basically shine as brightly as anyone at that camp that night at both the receiver and cornerback spots.
Those two represented potential glory for Georgia. If the Bulldogs could only start signing guys like those two.
Georgia did. Hardman put in his three years and is already making millions and weekly highlight reels in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs.
LeCounte is still in Athens, but he’s currently in a stretch that can be called the best football of his time at Georgia. The program would be lucky to keep him away from Hardman’s new league for one more year the way he’s playing.
The former 5-star safety tied for the team-best total in tackles (6) against Kentucky. He shadowed future NFL tight end, Kyle Pitts, down in Jacksonville with great success and also had six tackles on that night.
He picked off Missouri last Saturday in the red zone and returned that theft 71 yards. The former Liberty County star might have scored if he didn’t have to vault over a teammate on that return.
Those three games came after he managed just one tackle against South Carolina. That was saying something after LeCounte finished his sophomore season with 74 tackles. That led the Bulldogs in 2018.
It was an up-and-down year for LeCounte, though.
He’s made sure that the valley against Carolina didn’t become another “rat trap” trend.
“The difference between Richard now and then is he’s bought in a little more into the understanding of what I have to [do]within this system,” Kirby Smart said while describing LeCounte’s proper thought process on Monday. “What is my job? I have to make calls and decisions on my side of the field that is critical to our success. I’ve said after the [Missouri] game that I think in the last two or three weeks he’s taken a little more ownership in that.”
“He’s taken a little more initiative to watch [game] tape and not just think I can go out there and ball. I’ve got to go understand and play within the defense to make plays and he’s doing a better job of that.”
That’s the present for LeCounte. It is a pretty good one at that.
But it doesn’t change the fact he will always be a bookmark recruit of the Kirby Smart era at Georgia.
Richard LeCounte III: When he chose to be a Bulldog
There will be a time when Kirby Smart’s first teams come back to celebrate their success between the hedges in Athens. There is already going to be a definite one with that SEC championship team from 2017.
LeCounte was on that team.
When he’s taking another dip in the cheers of Sanford Stadium, the astute DawgNation fans will be able to point down to the field or to the Jumbotron and say the following: That was the first big-time recruit to take a chance and invest in Kirby Smart’s Georgia.
DawgNation broke the news Smart was hired by Georgia on Dec. 6. That was a Sunday.
Smart earned the commitment from his first 5-star recruit less than a week later. LeCounte wanted to play for a coach like Smart. But he also wanted to play for that winning formula which was firmly in place at Alabama.
But he wanted to do it for Georgia. When Smart was hired, it was all he needed to know. His thoughts about Alabama and Ohio State didn’t last much longer than that week.
When he chose Georgia, LeCounte was rated as the nation’s No. 1 ATH and the No. 22 overall prospect for 2017. It was just after he finished his junior season.
— Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) December 13, 2015
Smart even flashed some creativity with that “COUNT” reference in his tweet that signaled Georgia just landed a major recruit.
From there, LeCounte was a monster for Georgia on the recruiting trail. He became the type of recruiter that every year fans now wish for another “LeCounte” in that cycle.
He was that future Bulldogs who cared so much and bleeds so much for his home state.
LeCounte’s message was simple. He just wanted all of the “Dawgs” in the state to stay home. When he showed up at the Rising Seniors game in Atlanta later that month, he started walking up to guys and calling them ‘Dawgs, too.
He was proclaiming them a part of “SICEM17” before those guys fully realized they were going to sign with Georgia, too.
There was also that time at the “Rising Seniors” game when he lost a tooth, threw it to a defensive coach and never missed a practice rep. It will never be forgotten in the history of that game. When asked about it the next day, it suddenly dawned on him that he never bothered to ask that coach for his tooth back.
LeCounte showed up at the Opening clad in Georgia gear that next February. He even had a Georgia cell phone case.
He did backflips at the Opening finals out in Oregon. LeCounte was working fellow 2017 RB targets, Toniel Carter and D’Andre Swift, on that trip.
Those two both chose Georgia. So did Andrew Thomas that week.
When he visited for the games each week, he celebrated and cheered for his future teammates as very few recruits have done so before.
Or have since.
When December rolled around, he was Santa in a pair of DawgNation “Christmas Commitments” videos.
With the “My Savages” hit from Future playing in the background, he coined the “we ain’t done yet” phrase that still stands in the hearts and minds of the Georgie fan base.
It makes a lot of sense to hear Smart say those things about LeCounte now. That’s because he has been constantly evolving.
Backup and special teamer as a freshman. Full-time starter and leading tackler in 2018. Yet with that, he showed his passion and aggressiveness a little too much in 2018.
It might have been he had too much of that “Hit Stick” he always carried with him as a talented and passionate kamikaze defender a year ago.
Those big hits are still there now, but so is the realization he has to be a full-time safety net or an eraser to cover his teammates more for a unit that is putting up some special weekly performances in 2019.
Looking back, straight ahead and looking forward
When he was on campus that first year, he laid a lot of bricks for the 2017 class in Athens. That one, his class, finished No. 3 overall in the 247Sports Team Composite ratings.
But what was that phrase that LeCounte liked to say on the trail? Well, he had a “we ain’t done yet” for the 2018 class, too.
He once spoke to a group that included Justin Fields, Kearis Jackson, Jamaree Salyer and Zamir White, among others. The phrase “national championship” was used while the future core of the 2018 class was on campus, too.
“I guess there was like — I don’t know — maybe 15 guys in the room,” Fields said back in 2017. “He was just like ‘If we get all you guys then we definitely have a shot at winning a national championship while we are here.”‘
That line caught some ears.
“Then he said ‘If you come in here there might be a guy above you on the depth chart that’s pretty good but every day in practice we’re going after each other and making each other better,’” Fields said. “He said ‘We’re going 100 percent and full-throttle’ in his message to us.”
Shooters do like to shoot. LeCounte is one of those.
“I told them that we needed all of those guys to stay home or come here,” LeCounte said after the Rose Bowl win in 2018. “I told all those Georgia guys that we needed them to stay home and stay in-state. Just to give us a try. I am never going to be the guy to tell anybody where they need to go. But I just wanted them to know that this program could really be something special if we could get every one of them to come.”
This seems the perfect time to catalog all the marquee moments for LeCounte in Athens. He’s already experienced quite a lot.
- He enrolled early in January of 2017 as part of Smart’s first big class. There was that big reception at the UGA basketball game.
- Georgia beat Notre Dame in Notre Dame that fall
- The Bulldogs rolled Florida in 2017
- Georgia won the SEC championship and the Rose Bowl during his freshman year
- The Bulldogs played for their first national title since 1980
- The two memorable games with Alabama where the Bulldogs stood toe-to-toe in the reigning dynasty in college football
- Georgia now has two straight SEC East titles and three straight wins over Florida
It means a lot for LeCounte to have been a part of this renaissance of the Georgia program.
“It is something special man,” he said last month. “Every day I thank God for being in the position that I am,” he said. “I come out there with a great staff. A great group of teammates and I do the thing that I love. I go to school and I play football.”
“So it is always a blessing when I wake up in the morning.”
There has been a flurry of moments with DawgNation for LeCounte. Can he even believe that his first three years at Georgia have included all of that?
“I couldn’t even imagine things like that and it happening back then,” he said. “I’m so blessed to be here with this great group of guys.”
Georgia’s Homegrown Talent: The DawgNation series
- Homegrown: From Rodrigo Blankenship to “Hot Rod” status at Georgia
- Brian Herrien: Why he embodies the Georgia Bulldog spirit
- Trey Hill: From Homegrown to the center of the Bulldog offense
- Homegrown: The twists and turns in Quay Walker’s road to UGA
- Eric Stokes is more like “UGA grown”
- Charlie Woerner: Homegrown from a Bulldog family
- Jake Fromm: From the Little League World Series to duck holes to the face of a program
- Andrew Thomas develops quickly into a hometown here at UGA
- Warren McClendon: Family roots run 44 years deep for this Georgia family
- D.J. Daniel: Likely impact defensive back took a longer route to Athens
- Travon Walker: Expect big things on the line from 5-star freshman
- Dominick Blaylock: Talented freshman WR found a homegrown fit in Athens
- Nolan Smith: From “Baby Boy” to a long-awaited Bulldog in Athens