Is UGA recruiting at a higher level?
Ask any high school coach in Georgia that question. Go ask any coach in Alabama or Louisiana or Texas, too. That answer will be yes.
The easy thing to do with Alabama in town this week would be to look at Jeremy Pruitt, Rob Sale and Kevin Sherrer’s positions on the UGA staff and start making a few quick assumptions.
Those coaches all worked for Nick Saban at one time at Alabama. That’s why UGA now goes after elite talent like wearing “Silver Britches” on Saturday depends on it.
Things have changed dramatically with UGA’s recruiting approach, and people have noticed.
“The big thing I would say about Georgia’s recruiting prior to hiring coach (Jeremy) Pruitt was that in a lot of ways it was almost archaic,” said Glynn Academy coach Rocky Hidalgo, who also coached at Walton High School in the Metro Atlanta area.
“They were years behind not just how Alabama recruited, but also how a lot of schools were recruiting. It was evident in how they were evaluating talent and mining databases for all those things. I’ve seen a big difference in how Georgia approaches recruits and how aggressive they are now. I think that those new hires have had a huge influence on that.”
It’s not an Alabama thing, but also a Clemson and Ohio State thing. That’s the way the nation’s best recruiters go about reeling in the country’s top players. Central Gwinnett High School coach Todd Wofford is aware of it, too.
“There have been certain teams over the years that have a very aggressive style of recruiting with Alabama being at the very top of that group,” Wofford said. “Georgia wasn’t recruiting poorly by any means, but it was maybe not recruiting as aggressively as those other guys. But now since Pruitt and all those other guys are there you can definitely tell a difference in the way Georgia recruits and especially how it recruits the state of Georgia.”
Wofford used to notice how elite players had multiple offers from out-of-state programs before receiving a UGA offer. He was happy to see that trend reverse its course.
“Now you see Georgia identifying and offering guys at the same pace of an Ohio State or an Alabama,” Wofford said. “That can only help them with the top players as time goes on.”
Wofford now puts UGA in the same group with Alabama and Ohio State as the most aggressive and dedicated recruiters in the country. Other high school coaches would also put Clemson in that in the same category.
Hidalgo also noticed how Alabama used to put pressure on UGA by coming in and offering players in the state of Georgia early.
“There was really nothing to lose for Alabama because if it didn’t work out they weren’t the state school in the state of Georgia,” Hidalgo said. “I see that Georgia is now putting pressure back on Alabama by offering the very best players in the state of Alabama, too.”
Here’s a few ways that the UGA seems to approach recruiting much differently than only a few years ago:
- Recruiting is embraced: The fact Pruitt and Sherrer used to be high school coaches less than a decade ago only advances their understanding of today’s high school player. This staff — with only two holdovers from the 2013 team — is wired for recruiting.
- Freedom to offer: Assistants now have more freedom to extend offers. Those weren’t always a clear-cut thing going back just a few years ago when Mark Richt had to officially extend the offer on behalf of UGA.
- More manpower: UGA puts at least two assistants on each target, if not more coaches. The area recruiter and position coach will recruit the player at a minimum. Elite talent will be recruited by those men, plus the coordinator and any other recruiters on staff. The “kitchen sink” approach applies to the very best players.
- Super early offers: Players have been offered as early as the summer prior to their freshman season. Richt has told high school coaches he’s not happy about that, but that’s the way things are now. UGA was often heavily criticized in the past for waiting “too late” to offer kids, especially prospects from the state of Georgia. This past summer, UGA offered a pair of rising ninth graders over the span of a few days.
- Strategical visits: UGA has moved away from the traditional “Junior Day” where dozens of elite prospects show up at the same time and largely get ignored — simply because there’s too many recruits and never enough coaches to pay attention to them. The Bulldogs have done a better job of planning — and inviting the elite recruits to come in smaller batches over several weekends.
- Gutsy evaluations: This staff trusts its own evaluations. It is OK to not only be the first SEC or Power 5 offer, but also the first offer of any kind. For example, UGA was the first SEC school to offer Texas speedster Davion Curtis, who was largely ignored by even the Texas schools. Curtis later ended up committing to UGA.
- New territories: UGA will now fight for elite players in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas — far beyond UGA’s normal territories of Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.. That’s a smart counter by UGA given the way other Power 5 programs recruit the Atlanta area.
- Relentless travel: It is becoming standard procedure for multiple assistant coaches to be far away from the team on a recruiting visit the night before an SEC game. For example, UGA dispatched assistant coaches to Texas the night before the Vanderbilt game.
- Cutting edge marketing: Modern recruiting methods like graphic design edits and 70 pieces of mail per day to specific recruits are also employed.
These are not blanket statements, but simply a look at things that happen more frequently now than they did prior to the arrival of Pruitt and the new assistant coaches on the current staff.
Jeff Sentell covers 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.