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Kirby Smart is entering his fifth season as Georgia's head coach.

Recent misses highlight importance of visits for Georgia football national recruiting efforts

Connor Riley

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Recent misses highlight importance of visits for Georgia football national recruiting

Two of Georgia’s top targets in the 2021 recruiting cycle announced their commitment plans this week. Both prospects come from out of state and both are among the top players at their respective positions.

Tony Grimes, a 5-star cornerback ended up picking North Carolina. Dallas Turner, an edge rusher from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who doubles as the No. 42 overall prospect in the country picked Alabama. Georgia had been in the running for both prospects but ended up coming short in both of those recruitments.

Under normal circumstances, Grimes and Turner would probably both still be uncommitted prospects. Each player ended up moving up their commitment timeline from when they originally planned to announce.

This is due in some part to the fact that players still are not able to take visits, as the NCAA’s dead period has extended all the way to Aug. 31. This means no camps, face-to-face interactions and most importantly, visits to the campus and interactions with the coaching staff.

Grimes had multiple visits planned to Georgia over the spring and summer months. Those ended up not happening. And now with Grimes enrolling early for the 2020 season at North Carolina, the chances of Georgia flipping him are about the same as a vaccine for COVID-19 being developed by the Fourth of July.

Related: Georgia football: Checking the 2021 recruiting options at CB after the Tony Grimes decision

Turner isn’t enrolling that early and he still may be able to take visits depending on what the NCAA allows. Predicting that is murky at best though, given that should be the stance on predicting when the NCAA decides to act on anything, such as the waiver application from Georgia quarterback JT Daniels.

Georgia has had a propensity to pull off late flips of seemingly strong commitments before. From George Pickens to Jermaine Burton in the last two cycles and even the likes of Monty Rice from the 2017 class. Those are all out of state prospects who were committed to other big-time programs that Georgia ended up landing.

Of course none of those likely happen if Burton, Pickens and Rice hadn’t been allowed to visit the Georgia program. It’s not just limited to visiting for game weekends either. More often than not, Georgia’s biggest visits happen when there isn’t a game being played in Sanford Stadium on a fall Saturday.

Think back to 2019 G-Day. Future Bulldogs like Kelee Ringo, Mekhail Sherman and Kendall Milton all ended up visiting for that event. Then Milton took his all-important official visit to the program in June. Georgia’s scavenger hunt at the end of July has been a big hit in recent cycles as well for the program.

COVID-19 wiped all those visit opportunities for Georgia out. Obviously it affected other programs as well, given Georgia isn’t the only dealing with these recruiting restrictions. But the lack of visits, especially from out of state prospects, might hurt the Bulldogs more than most given the way Georgia goes about building its recruiting classes.

In each of the previous two cycles, Georgia has leaned more and more on out of state prospects to make up their highly rated classes. Georgia signed only eight players from the state of Georgia in each of the past two cycles, compared to the 17 out of state prospects the Bulldogs landed.

When relying more on out of state prospects, these visits to campus become all the more paramount. With players having to travel such great lengths, on their own dime when it’s an unofficial visit, it gives school fewer chances to impress. The Bulldogs pretty clearly make the most of those chances, as they’ve signed the No. 2 and No. 1 classes in the last two recruiting cycles.

The other point worth mentioning with Georgia is that more so than some other major recruiting programs — Clemson and Ohio State in particular — earns a lot more commitments late in the cycle than early. While Clemson and Ohio State more often than not prefer to have their recruiting classes largely wrapped up prior to the start of the football season, the Bulldogs have shown they’re willing to play the long game. They want to see how prospects develop over their senior seasons.

In the last cycle alone Georgia earned 10 commitments/signees after losing to LSU in the SEC championship game. It often makes for a very exciting early signing period. But given the new world we’re living in, the Buckeyes and Tigers, who have the No. 1 and No. 2 recruiting classes in the 2021 recruiting cycle, are at an advantage because they more often do their work early. Georgia is now in limbo waiting for the NCAA to give them the all-clear to charge once again.

Kirby Smart has long been prepared for this. He knew recruits were going to move up their timelines, as Grimes and Turner did. He knew prospects were going to grow weary of the current recruiting process.

And because Georgia has Smart at the helm, it will be fine. The Bulldogs have always been an elite recruiting program and will likely remain so under Smart. The Bulldogs have done well in-state for 2021, having commitments from six of the top 18 players and being well-positioned for many more. Just because Georgia hasn’t landed as many in-state prospects doesn’t mean Smart forgot how to recruit the home state.

The Bulldogs are also still making inroads nationally. Georgia is still in the mix for the likes of 5-star safety James Williams, 5-star defensive end Korey Foreman, 4-star tight end Brock Bowers and 4-star wide receiver Malcolm Johnson. All of those talents come from outside of Georgia.

Visits will eventually start flowing once again. Georgia will likely continue to impress those who travel from all corners of the country to visit the football program. Even some of those currently committed elsewhere.

But it’s safe to say at this point in the cycle that inability to host visitors has hurt Georgia in its recruiting efforts. And we won’t know the full extent of the damage for years given the long-game that is recruiting.

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