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Jeff Sentell / AJC
Richard LeCounte III poses with UGA commit Jeremiah Holloman at a community event held in his honor on Monday, Dec. 19, 2016 in Flemington, Ga.

An appreciative community honors 5-star Richard LeCounte III on his way to UGA

Want a daily lap through Georgia football recruiting? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this 4-star or 5-star might lean and add a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.

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FLEMINGTON, Ga. — Richard LeCounte III has signed all of his papers with UGA.

He told me that yesterday after a packed house at the Liberty County Performing Arts Center and a special evening held in his honor.

The leader of Georgia’s stacked recruiting class signed his financial aid papers during his official visit earlier this month. But that felt like an afterthought after an entire community wrapped him up in a big hug and thanked him for representing Liberty County so well to so many up to this point of his ascending athletic career.

LeCounte posed for dozens of pictures and even more autographs at a special community ceremony in his honor. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte posed for dozens of pictures and signed far more autographs than that at a special community ceremony in his honor. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

LeCounte also signed and signed and signed yesterday during that event.

The occasion drew more than 250 smiling faces out on a dreary night in South Georgia to express their appreciation for his achievements.

He received a watermark crystal award from the City of Riceboro. Multiple proclamations were on hand. He was even given a certificate noting that he had been awarded the key to the city.

The ceremonies on hand turned that community center into a Richard LeCounte museum for a night. There was a table that chronicled his athletic career through pictures. Basketball was on the left side. Baseball was in the middle. Football was on the right.

LeCounte wrapped his arms around his mother Erika (left) and his father Richard LeCounte II on Monday evening.
LeCounte wrapped his arms around his mother Erika (left) and his father Richard LeCounte II on Monday evening.

Liberty County won its first state basketball championship with LeCounte helping to lead the way last winter. His Panthers also won their first region championship in football this fall.

The 5-star prospect at safety was also named a U.S. Army All-American this year.

LeCounte — who ranks as the highest-rated commitment in Georgia’s class  — even broke out a special red UGA bowtie he had been saving for a very special occasion.

The newly-minted high school graduate was deeply thankful.

“It is special to see all these people come together,” LeCounte said. “Just to see how many people care for you to come together and how many people are out there in that foyer just looking out for me. That’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

A table was on display that noted his athletic acheivements up to this point. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
A table was on display that noted his athletic acheivements up to this point. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He also thought of his grandmother.

Alberta LeCounte worked for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Department. She was a lieutenant, but that rank didn’t come close to reflecting her status in that community.

It is a deeply touching story. His grandmother worked as a jail detention officer and even went out of her way to help someone in need on her last shift.

This was his day, but he had the lady that left his life when he was just 8 years old in his heart.

“She would’ve been one of the first people here in that red Volvo,” LeCounte said. “Coming and smiling to cheer me on. That was my biggest fan. I know she is watching over me and protecting me every day. That’s something that really choked me up during the ceremony.”

LeCounte wore No. 4 in high school in tribute to both his grandmother and his mother.

Surprise guest 

Jeremiah “JJ” Holloman will room with LeCounte at Georgia. Those two will move in after the week they spend together in Texas at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Holloman and his mother, Oneida, made the trip to surprise LeCounte and his family. They’ve established quite a bond along the recruiting process.

LeCounte was already a player back in 2009. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte was already a player back in 2009. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

“He’s a great kid,” Oneida Holloman said. “How could we not be here to celebrate somebody who has achieved so much? He’s been a blessing to ‘JJ’ and also his friend. He’s been an ear that will always listen to him. We had to make the trip.”

Holloman and LeCounte will both earn a 5-star rating for how clean and neat they are. That’s why they will room together in Athens.

“Everybody is telling me all this stuff about him,” Holloman said. “I’m learning all this stuff about him. I already knew he was a hard worker but I didn’t know what type of person he was and how he was able to affect an entire community like he has. He’s always been about more than football. … It is about being a great person period and affecting as many lives around him as he can in a positive manner.”

The commute meant a four-hour ride each way. But Holloman and his mother brushed it off like the slight misty rain that fell in Hinesville on Monday night.

6 quick things about LeCounte 

  • He hopes to put on at least 10 pounds and preferably 15-20 by Georgia’s spring game. That would be quite a feat.
  • LeCounte intends to maintain a 3.8 grade-point average while he is at UGA.
  • The first thing he’ll do when he gets to UGA will be to hit up the “Raising Canes” restaurant. He is a huge fan of their chicken fingers.
  • Where would he have played college ball if Kirby Smart stayed at Alabama? That little-known fact would have been to Ohio State. His favorite thing about Alabama was the way Smart recruited him. But he also wanted to play for his home state. When Smart got the job at UGA, it was all over. He became the first prospect to commit to play for Smart at UGA exactly 53 weeks ago.
  • richard-lecounte-bowtie-uga-by-jeff-sentell
    LeCounte wore a UGA bowtie on Monday evening. He said that he had been saving it for a special occasion. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

    When Smart was hired by UGA, it sent a signal to him that the days of complacency or above-average football was just not going to cut it. “For them to make that big change in coaching just let everyone know that being average is not what we like, ” he said. “We have to go above and beyond. We have to give 110 percent. The direction we are going in is great.”

  • How much does he love Georgia now? His father Richard LeCounte II answered that question by saying “he loves Georgia so much he wanted to figure out a way he could have gotten there and started playing six months ago. He would’ve liked to have found a way to skip a year of high school liked he skipped a year of middle school football.” LeCounte said his official visit to UGA this month was probably the most fun he has ever had in his life.

A popular promise

LeCounte repeated a vow on Monday night he shared previously with DawgNation on his Facebook Live interview with UGA fans. That was when he said that the Bulldogs would not lose to any team in orange while he’s in that locker room.

LeCounte was honored by the City of Riceboro with an engraved watermark keepsake. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte was honored by the City of Riceboro with an engraved watermark keepsake. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

That covers the gamut of some of UGA’s main rivals, but he singled the most important one out on Monday night.

“We are definitely beating Florida,” LeCounte said. “I look forward to being in Jacksonville.”

That sound you hear that sounds like property being destroyed is my colleague Brandon Adams breaking his chair he was so happy to read that this morning.

Why is he such a natural leader? 

Spend any time around LeCounte and it is obvious he is comfortable in the company of adults. He’s grown up around mature people and has always hung around an older crowd.

Excelling at sports was a natural outlet for that. LeCounte was the type of athlete who never played with kids his own age.

LeCounte will enroll early at UGA in January. This was one of many banners that were hanging up during the Richard LeCounte III celebration held in his community on Monday night. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte will enroll early at UGA in January. This was one of many banners that were hanging up during the Richard LeCounte III celebration held in his community on Monday night. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

His best friend is a great example. That’s Ohio State junior LB Raekwon McMillian. McMillan was a senior at Liberty County when LeCounte was a freshman.

His peers are naturally drawn to his charisma and energy.

“I’m the type of person that loves to see people in good spirits,” LeCounte said “I never like to see someone having a bad day. That right there drives me to be better because I don’t want to have a bad day myself. If somebody sees me down, then something is wrong.”

His mother used to let him watch speeches made by Martin Luther King Jr. when he was younger. His parents also took him to the King Center and that national historic site in Atlanta when he was a boy.

How did that affect him? LeCounte told his mother he would be President one day.

LeCounte signed one huge banner with an autograph but also made a point to express his appreciation for the support as well. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
LeCounte signed one huge banner with an autograph but also made a point to express his appreciation for the support as well. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

“We are so grateful that we weren’t selfish and we didn’t raise him to be selfish,” his mother Erika LeCounte said. “That’s why I believe he can lead easily. Because he is not selfish. People are attracted to leaders that are giving and are sharing. That’s what I learned early in life and that’s why I taught him to give and to share. That’s why it is easy for me to give him to the coaches for all those countless hours and nights and to camps and to practices. We gave him to this community and now they chose to come back today to help support him. They are ready for the next phase of his career at UGA, too.”

It was interesting to see all of LeCounte’s former teachers show up in the crowd on Monday night to wish him well.

His mother called it a relief to be able to send her son off to his college dream.

“You heard him say in that ceremony that he wanted to go to Georgia all his life,” Erika LeCounte said. “For all of his life we have been preparing for this and it happened. It is such a wonderful blessing.”

The nation’s No. 2 safety prospect made a scrapbook when he was nine years old. It chronicled his hopes and dreams.

He’s a football player so it would be fitting to call it his playbook. But it looked more like a map to get to where he was on Monday night and where his career now trends to the Southeastern Conference.