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Kirby Smart outlines what Kelee Ringo must do this spring for Georgia football

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart can’t stop others from building lofty expectations for redshirt freshman Kelee Ringo.

While Smart doesn’t put much into recruiting rankings, he’s likely aware that Ringo was the top defensive back in the 2020 signing class. In fact, Ringo is the highest-rated defensive back prospect Smart has ever signed thanks to his 6-foot-2 frame and 10.43 100-meter dash as a junior.

Add in Georgia’s glaring need at cornerback and it’s easy to see why he’s someone a lot of people expect big things from, starting this spring.

“I think there’s been a lot of hype around Kelee and I think for his sake he has to work,” Smart said of what he wants to see from Ringo this spring. “He has to decide that I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to live up to my expectations and not everybody else’s.”

Ringo is still a mystery at this point after missing his entire freshman season due to surgery on his labrum in the preseason. The highlight of his first season in Athens was that he was able to dress out for Georgia’s final game against Cincinnati.

Georgia didn’t have a need at corner last fall but it certainly does now with Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and DJ Daniel all off to the NFL.  Which is why Smart considered it fortunate Ringo was able to recover from his injury last fall.

Related: Tyson Campbell, DJ Daniel confident they impressed NFL teams at Georgia Pro Day

“As far as the surgery, he’s still getting up to speed,” Smart said. “To think you’re going to sit out and not go out there and go against a guy running 21, 22 miles an hour and just walk out there and go just because you’re fast, that’s not the case. He’s got a lot of confidence to gain in our system.”

Ringo has flashed some impressive times this offseason in workouts, frequently running with top speedster Arian Smith. Ringo has earned credit for being attentive and diligent in his rehab from Smart and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.

Smart praised the redshirt freshman for never checking out last season despite having no shot at seeing the field. Safety Lewis Cine offered up similar thoughts on Ringo.

“Kelee is a great kid but also a great player,” safety Lewis Cine said. “He’s learning as everyone else has learned because he sat down the whole year due to his injury. He’s learning, playing fast. Kelee is a sound kid.”

But playing cornerback is more than being able to run fast.  Campbell and Stokes demonstrated that last season.

Smart knows better than most what it takes to be a successful defensive back, as he was one himself at Georgia. He’s made it a habit to develop defensive backs into NFL draft prospects, whether it be in his time at Alabama or as the head coach of his alma mater.

The Georgia head coach linked playing cornerback to that of being a .300 hitter in baseball.

“You fail seven out of 10 and you’re a hall of famer in baseball. It’s hard out there,” Smart said. “It’s tough. You saw it with Tyson (Campbell) and (Eric) Stokes this year. They’ll be high draft picks and they had some tough competition.”

Smart added Ringo isn’t where he needs as he tries to assume a possible role as Georgia’s top cornerback.

Related: Georgia football needs a strong offseason from Kelee Ringo

It’s also worth keeping in mind Ringo has had only two spring practices thus far and plenty of time to grow and develop under new defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae and Smart himself.

The hype is only going to continue to grow surrounding Ringo. Smart knows that is just how the college football industrial complex works.

The head coach also believes he’s got a player capable of meeting those great expectations.

“He’s got a lot of confidence to gain in our system,” Smart said. “He’s got a lot to learn in our system, and you know what? He’s not shying away from it.

Kirby Smart shares his thoughts on Kelee Ringo

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