Georgia football: Kirby Smart looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic affects recruiting

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Is Kirby Smart still “The Kang” when it comes to shaping and recruiting Georgia’s biggest targets? Yes. Most definitely yes. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Kirby Smart took some time on Tuesday morning to update the fan base through a couple of channels. American is in the midst of a global health pandemic concern. He sought to educate the public on all things Georgia football through a couple of media opportunities.

The first of those was on Atlanta’s WCNN-AM “680 The Fan” on Tuesday morning. He spoke with Chuck Dowdle on the “Bulldog Roundtable” program.

Smart did not entertain any speculation on what was to come. The onus of what was on his mind was the health of everyone as a large. The COVID-19 health scare is something that just goes beyond football.

It goes beyond even the daily news cycle of college football recruiting, too.

“You are concerned for the well-being of the young men you are recruiting,” Smart told Dowdle. “The primary concern right now is not where a kid is going to go to a school. It is how is he doing. How are his teammates doing? How are his grandparents doing? How are his parents doing?”

“Is it affecting their livelihood? Are they able to put food on the table and work with so many people unemployed? That’s probably the biggest concern right now. It is building relationships with these kids so that they know and trust that you care about them.”

The Bulldogs only have four commitments in their 2021 class. As a means of comparison, the Ohio State Buckeyes have 15 commitments for their 2021 class. That Ohio State class ranks No. 1 in the nation on the 247Sports Team Composite ratings.

The Bulldogs rank No. 15 nationally at this time. That’s good enough for No. 3 in the SEC behind Florida (13 commits) and Tennessee (8 commits) so far in this cycle.

Smart’s okay with that. The Bulldogs have traditionally lagged behind other schools until the summer months with their recruiting momentum. Georgia tended to wait on those crucial spring practice evaluations before extending and accepting those scholarship commitments.

“Some kids might move up their decision time,” Smart said. “Some might push back. That’s not a big concern for us right now. It is more about how we can support them and help them understand. What they can do right now is work within their own friendly confines. Because they can’t go out to high school gyms. Everything is closed. So they have got to do it on their own. They have got to self-motivate. You find out a lot about somebody if they are able to do that when nobody is watching.”

Smart and the Georgia staff is getting a new snapshot of America and COVID-19 with every recruiting interaction.

“I find it unique every conversation I get to have,” Smart said of those conversations. “I am genuinely interested in what is going on in your community. How are they handling this? What is your high school doing to adapt? What does your community support look like? Because we are recruiting kids all over the country. Not just Georgia.”

“So it becomes a conversation piece in some of the hotbed areas. It is like ‘Man this is really impacting them’ and I know from watching the news. So what are they doing to protect themselves?”

Check out the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision recruiting calendar for 2019-2020. That dead period in February combined for some unique timing affecting UGA. (NCAA)

Georgia football: COVID-19 affecting recruiting operations

The calendar and the timing at work here has also slowed Georgia’s traditional recruiting momentum.

Consider the following:

  • The entire month of February was a dead period for on-campus college recruiting. That was unique to the recruiting calendar for the 2020 cycle. 
  • When that month was up, the Bulldogs and their staff were on spring break. That was tied to the academic calendar at UGA. 
  • When the COVID-19 shutdown and stay-at-home guidelines quickly materialized, it all added up to about five and a half lost weeks of face-to-face recruiting. There is no end in sight at this time. 

Georgia did benefit from being very active with the 2021 class in the month of January. It is not as dire as that may seem. For example, Ohio State does not have a pattern of welcoming a core of elite prospects in January for the upcoming cycle. The Buckeyes didn’t have the back-to-back-to-back “Junior Day” weekends for 2021 recruits in January that Georgia did.

Ohio State is still faring pretty well so far without those.

What that February dead period meant was it offered the Georgia staff the ability to learn how to recruit these young players differently without that face-to-face contact.

“So during February, you had to look at it say how can I recruit without them coming to campus,” Smart told reporters in a conference call later on Tuesday. “Well, and behold, that’s how we’re having to recruit the total time now and timing-wise we got a raw deal because when we came back, we were on spring break. So, two of our weekends, that we would’ve been active, we had spring break, where our staff, our players our campus was dead. Nobody was here. So, other campuses were able to bring kids in the weekend of March, and the next weekend of March where both those were tied to spring break, we lost both weekends.”

It is coming in handy now. It has been FaceTime communication. It has been talking to family members.

As stated earlier, the push right now is focused on checking in on the well-being of the players they recruit.

“I know the kids are getting bombarded because recruiting is a competitive market,” Smart said. “And as you can imagine, they’re getting a lot of calls. A lot of college coaches don’t have anything going on right now and they’re calling out these kids a lot.”

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