Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele told three-star inside linebacker Monty Rice he was a perfect fit for the Tigers over the weekend.
Rice, rated as the 20th-best prospect in the nation at his position for 2017, has heard a similar pitch from UGA. He doesn’t have a leader but felt UGA, Alabama, Auburn and Florida State were the schools in the mix for him right now.
Alabama and Auburn should be expected given his in-state status. He hails from James Clemens High School in Huntsville. Yet Rice’s continued interest in UGA is another example of coach Kirby Smart and assistant coach Glenn Schumann benefitting from their recruiting experience while working at Alabama.
Rice gave Smart a very big compliment about training linebackers with Saban all those years. It is a big reason why UGA stands out to him.
“Say if I was heavy on going to the NFL I would be able to go from there,” Rice said. “….Unless I got hurt but it would be a for sure thing. Because you know (former Alabama linebackers) Reggie Ragland, Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley and Courtney Upshaw are all dudes they put in the league. That’s pretty good. (Smart) knows what he is doing. Saban didn’t do it by himself.”
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound prospect is a clear UGA target, but telling his story allows the chance to examine the linebacker board for 2017. That’s arguably the most fluid position for UGA in this recruiting class.
The Bulldogs have commits from a pair of four-star linebackers in Breon Dixon and Jaden Hunter. The versatile Dixon could be a hybrid safety that stays in the box against spread teams in hurry-up mode. Several recruits have told DawgNation that UGA could take four or five linebackers for 2017.
Georgia has targeted players who can play inside or outside and cross-train at both spots. Those standouts are Nate McBride, Tyler Taylor and Leonard Warner III in the state of Georgia. But UGA also has a definite shot at Rice plus two other Alabama prospects in Oxford’s K.J. Britt, and New Market’s Will Ignont. Britt projects to Auburn. Ignont is uncertain even though he’s made a silent commitment.
The nearly 6-foot-3 McBride is the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker. He’s been timed at 10.6 seconds in the 100 meters, and the 228-pound prospect can bench press 400 pounds. Ignont is the No. 6 prospect at inside linebacker and Britt is No. 12. Taylor, from Lanier High in Georgia, ranks No. 9 overall at ILB.
The 6-foot-4 Warner, a Georgia standout from Brookwood High in Gwinnett County, is rated No. 15 overall at outside linebacker but seems like a better initial fit at inside linebacker. Then there’s also Robert Beal, Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant and Walter Grant at outside linebacker.
Those are the eight strongest possibilities for UGA at linebacker at this time. Could Rice get lost in the shuffle?
“When I went down there for my second visit, I was told basically if I wanted to commit there that day I could,” Rice said earlier this year. “I can say ‘I’m going to Georgia any day’ if I want to.”
Rice said Smart and Schumann made that clear.
“They told me there are six inside linebackers that they are targeting and they said they would take commitments from three or four of them,” Rice said. “I’m one of them.”
The Georgia coaches didn’t run down the full list with Rice, but it is almost certain McBride, Britt and Ignont would be the other three names. Rice said when he heard that, he put UGA at the top of his list.
Rice was asked at Big Cat Weekend who was recruiting him the hardest. He named Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Florida and LSU in that particular order. He also shared his current thinking on UGA.
“Georgia is a great school,” Rice said. “I like Kirby Smart and (Glenn) Schumann and (UGA defensive coordinator) Mel Tucker. They know what they are doing and will probably be a program just like Alabama. Tough. Run the ball. Play good defense.”
The future criminal justice major has felt like he was a priority at UGA for a long time.
“There are some things they told me to not tell other people, so I’m not going to say it,” Rice said. “It’s not anything bad. They just showed me some things that were really good. They told me that I’m at the top of the list.”
Rice named four coaches who were recruiting him that really stood out. Schumann was among those four.
“He’s real smart,” Rice said. “He knows what he is doing when he talks about linebackers. He has some techniques that look pretty good.”
Which schools would get an official visit? Rice could only say Florida State and LSU at Big Cat Weekend.
Alabama is also a major player. Lane Kiffin sent him a direct message on Twitter this winter that said Nick Saban already hoped he would commit. That had him smiling. He’s wanted to play there for awhile and is aware of the linebacker tradition in Tuscaloosa. He’s had family members go to Alabama, too.
They don’t pressure him, but they do make sure to mention the Tide. Playing time will be a big issue there for him. Alabama is loaded at linebacker and signed the nation’s No. 1 ILB last year in Ben Davis. That program seemingly does that every February. Will he crack the top group of linebackers that Alabama will take a commitment from? That remains to be seen.
He also liked Auburn after Big Cat Weekend. He said the visit was “shocking” and it was worth the three-hour trip.
Rice said he wasn’t certain if he would make his decision before his senior season as previously planned. Enrolling early — which was once a possibility — is also now up in the air.
SEC Country’s Chris Kirschner contributed to this report
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. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.