Georgia bound: James Cook, nation’s No. 3 RB, chooses Bulldogs

James Cook-UGA recruiting
Elite Georgia running back target James Cook has made his college decision: Georgia.

This sort of thing rarely ever happens. Well, except maybe to the red and black.

James Cook, the nation’s No. 3 running back in the 2018 class, has made what should be seen as his final college commitment.

James Cook, the nation’s No. 3 RB per the 247Sports Composite, chose UGA on Thursday night. (Dawgnation)

Cook chose Georgia in a decision shared from his Twitter account Thursday night.

It means the Bulldogs now have commitments from the nation’s No. 1 and No. 3 RB prospects for 2018, as ranked by the 247Sports composite.

It should be seen as a coup that rarely happens in the modern era of recruiting and star rankings.

RELATED: The heartfelt reason why James Cook made his choice Thursday

When one elite back chooses a school, the other big-timers find their own niche where they can be the go-to guy for all the carries.

The Bulldogs also signed a pair of elite RBs in 2012. Keith Marshall was rated as the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose RB and the No. 2 RB overall. Todd Gurley was rated as the nation’s No. 6 RB and as the No. 9 RB overall for that cycle.

Cook becomes Georgia’s 18th commitment for the 2018 cycle. The Bulldogs now have the nation’s No. 5 class and the No. 1 overall class in the SEC.

Southern Cal is the only school that can boast it has done something even more impressive than what UGA has accomplished with this duo.

The Trojans signed the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 running back prospects in 2007: the late Joe McKnight and Marc Tyler.

Georgia assistant Dell McGee loomed large in decision

Varondria Burnett, Cook’s mother, broke down why Georgia appealed to her son last month. She said without an ounce of hubris that she knows James will produce happy fans and highlights over the next three to four years.

But the single mother is more interested in what a school can give her son. That’s where Georgia RBs coach Dell McGee was a crucial factor.

“I need someone who is around him more like every day to actually groom him,” she said. “If he does choose Georgia, I will be very excited to see what Dell can do for him in that area. I want him thinking about always doing positive things and always making the right decision off the field. I’d like to see how a man like Dell can bring that out in him. I think Dell can bring that vocal side out. I think he could have him smiling more.”

He took an official visit to UGA on Sept. 23. That is still his only one. It was a visit his mother described as “bananas.” 

But the big visits for the Cook family came over the summer. That was when McGee saw how Burnett acted with her son. He saw how she had to get him to speak up at times and to answer questions.

Burnett was frustrated because she sees “amazing potential” in her son. She said she thinks he can be the young man, once he gets rolling, to give speeches to his future team before games.

McGee took all of that in. Then, according to Burnett, he said something she never expected any coach to say on a recruiting visit. It was basically: Trust me with your baby. I’ll make him the man you want him to be. 

“He told me that if I would allow him to coach James and if I trusted him with coaching him and being a big part of his life, then he would do everything he could to make sure James became the man that I knew he could be. He said he wanted to be the guy that brings all of that out in James.”

The Bulldogs were in the thick of the race for Cook after that.

McGee, it should be noted, was described by 5-star QB Justin Fields as the best recruiter in the country after he made his decision to commit to UGA earlier this month.

James Cook on UGA and a star-studded backfield

Cook ― not known for giving out extended interview responses ― went past the 10-word mark when describing McGee last month.

“He is a good coach,” Cook said. “He is also a pretty good off-the-field coach and just a pretty good coach overall there. Dell’s a good guy.”

Cook said he sees a strong class forming at Georgia.

“Georgia could be pretty good,” Cook said. “You see a lot of guys that seem to look like they want to start building something there.”

Cook and his family already know how he’d potentially fit into that talented backfield.

“We are [talking about] playing in the SEC,” his mother said last month. “I’m OK with that. We need that, and I know how they want to use him. I love Zamir [White]. I love the fact that they do have those other backs there to carry that load. It is a plus-plus-plus for us with all of that.”

James has an NFL dream. He plans to sign with UGA, but he knows he won’t see his body punished with repeated 30- to 35-carry games in the rigid SEC.

That mirrors the way Cook shares the load in high school at Miami Central. He rotates with three or four other quality backs. It keeps him fresh and ensures his gas tank is full when he tries to gash a big-time defense.

The Bulldogs also will use him to attack the edges early in his career. When he packs on another 10 to 15 pounds of armor through the Georgia strength program, then he can take on more of those inside runs.

“I love it,” his mother said. “We love it. I think Georgia has the perfect plan with how they want to use James in their offense.”

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