When the news broke last week that Kirby Smart was going to be the next head coach at UGA, it was apparent the hire could stimulate recruiting among top-tier defensive prospects. Yet if Smart retains a Pro-Style offense, then UGA will still have a great shot at its elite targets on offense.
Smart was the most favored choice, and his hiring gives UGA a shot at a few players who had not been considering the program that highly to this point. The hire immediately reinforces the commitments of 4-star running backs Elijah Holyfield and Devwah Whaley. Anybody who saw Alabama’s run game under his mentor Nick Saban doesn’t really need to ask why.
One of Holyfield’s first thoughts on the move was a hope Smart brings along Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran, which appears to be in the works. Whaley wanted reassurance the new staff would still run the ball, and that’s an easy projection considering how often Alabama put the ball in Heisman Trophy favorite Derrick Henry’s hands this fall.
Yet those two standouts are prospects who are already committed to UGA. Now that Smart’s the name, I see 10 players who will now take an even longer and harder look at UGA.
10 prospects where the Smart hire immediately helps UGA
5-star LB Ben Davis, Sr., (Gordo, Ala.)
Davis told DawgNation that UGA was still one of his top schools after Richt was let go, placing the Bulldogs among his top three. Alabama, where his father starred, was considered the leader by most although Davis never publicly voiced that status. Smart and Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis were his main recruiters for the Tide. The nation’s No. 1 ILB will be a priority for Smart, but he also has a great relationship with UGA linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer. If Smart retains Sherrer, the chances of prying Davis away from Alabama increase. Davis told SEC Country that UGA was going to be one of his top schools no matter who was hired, but the acquisition of Smart has to help.
4-star DB Shyheim Carter, Sr., Kentwood (La.)
Although Carter was once committed to Alabama, he was strongly considering UGA because of his relationship with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. UGA was seen by many as the best bet to eventually reel in his signature on National Signing Day. This move helps to retain that interest. If Pruitt returns, then UGA would be an overwhelming favorite to land Carter.
4-star DE/OLB Jaden Hunter, Jr., Westlake
Hunter almost committed to Alabama this summer, and Smart was one of his key recruiters. Hunter’s late father, Brice, also played alongside Smart at UGA. His hiring might sway Hunter as much as any elite recruit on the UGA board.
Unrated DB Antonio Kanonu, Jr., Tyler Junior College
Kanonu immediately vaulted UGA from nowhere on his board to No. 2 with TCU. That’s directly because of his relationship with Smart, his lead recruiter at Alabama. He is unranked by the major services at this time, but did receive a 5-star ranking for a lesser-known service.
4-star ILB Nate McBride, Jr., Vidalia
The speed demon at linebacker was considering both Alabama and UGA as his favorites. Smart was a big reason why he was looking hard at the Tide. He’s ecstatic about the Smart hire, and if UGA keeps linebackers coaches Sherrer and Mike Ekeler, it would be hard to see McBride playing anywhere but UGA.
4-star DB Xavier McKinney, Jr., Roswell
The Alabama commit hoped for an offer from UGA earlier this year and finally received it. Smart was his primary recruiter at Alabama, and look for his interest in UGA to now escalate. McKinney is an impressive safety and he’ll help lead his team into the Class 6A state title game against Colquitt County at The Georgia Dome this week.
5-star DB William Poole III, Jr., Hapeville Charter
Poole, one of the nation’s best for 2017, practically gushed on his Twitter account about Smart came out last week as the guy who would get the nod. He said that was the news he had been waiting for.
4-star DE Janarius Robinson, Sr., Bay (Fla.)
Robinson, an FSU commit, was said to be wavering over the last two months. He was at UGA’s all-star “Dawg Night” prospect camp in July and took an unofficial visit in October. Alabama was a major factor in his recruitment. Before Richt’s exit, there was also talk he might use an official visit on UGA. Sherrer has been working hard on Robinson.
4-star DB Nigel Warrior, Sr., Peachtree Ridge
Warrior is a gem of the 2016 class, and while UGA was a contender, it was never considered the likely landing spot. Alabama was seen as a much more attractive destination, but the Smart hire should now boost UGA’s chances. He might be the best safety in America this year, and his decision will affect a pair of highly-rated juniors at Peachtree Ridge.
5-star OLB Lyndell “Mack” Wilson, Sr., Carver-Montgomery
Wilson postponed his commitment lat week because he was concerned about Smart making a move. Upon hearing the news of Smart’s move, he had a simple yet effective statement: “I’m interested.” Smart, like for so many discussed here, was his primary recruiter at Alabama. He’s already set an official visit to UGA now in the wake of the Smart hire.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.