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Jeff Sentell / DawgNation.com
Tucker High DE Derrick McLendon has a lot of reasons to strongly consider UGA.

Georgia recruiting: How Kirby Smart and a current Bulldog are working on big DE Derrick McLendon

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 an elite prospect like Derrick McLendon might lean plus add some perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.


The aftermath of G-Day has been the theme to watch during the last two weeks.

There was the narrative the Bulldogs were chasing their tail on the trail in the early going for the 2018 class. Where was the momentum? The de-commitments of Adam Anderson and Max Wray magnified the matter.

Rival schools had double-digit commits. Georgia was down to one commit on the morning of its spring game.

Derrick McLendon
Tucker DE Derrick McLendon was named to the Elite Sophomores Classic game back in December. (Jeff Sentell / SecCountry.com)

Yet bit by bit, the signs are coming out. Jadon Haselwood and Nolan Smith promised good things last week. Christopher Smith II delivered some of that good news on Monday.

Ryland Goede, a 4-star TE in 2019, also shared his perspective that he didn’t think anything was off-target with UGA recruiting. 

Derrick McLendon’s input only adds to the big picture. The standout DE from Tucker High is another highly-regarded rising junior in the state of Georgia.

He was at G-Day. It was his first-ever visit for a game inside Sanford Stadium. McLendon said that trip definitely has him thinking about UGA. Harder than he did before.

“My perspective on Georgia has changed,” McLendon said. “It definitely went up after the spring game.”

McLendon now plans to make his commitment this fall on Sept. 29. That’s his 17th birthday.

Where UGA matters with Derrick McLendon

McLendon is already closing in the 6-foot-4 mark. He appears to be a solid 230 pounds. Look for him to fill in around 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds by the time he’s a high school senior.

Georgia sees that out of him. The Bulldogs point to what Lorenzo Carter does for the defense now. They tell McLendon you can do all of that here. Maybe even more.

“I felt welcomed when I stepped on the field that day at Georgia,” McLendon said. “The coaches were speaking to me more. We were having real conversations. They interacted with me way better than they normally did. I just felt like a priority at the time and I feel like I am a priority now still to this day.”

Derrick McLendon
Derrick McLendon told DawgNation that he now feels like a priority at UGA. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation.com)

There are a lot of natural launch points to start from here. McLendon has known Kirby Smart since he camped at Alabama in the eighth grade.

McLendon stood out at that camp. Smart told him he’d have an offer if he put together a strong freshman season. But then Smart got the Georgia job.

The location of the UGA campus will also help the program’s cause with McLendon. His mother’s family is mostly in Atlanta.

But his father’s folks are mostly located or from Elberton. That’s the slice of Northeast Georgia that Mecole Hardman, Jr. has now put on the map. There are a lot of Bulldogs fans on that side of the McLendon family.

The McLendons actually know the Hardmans. But there’s another connection here that seems to matter more than anything else to his thought process.

Current Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter got the chance to speak with McLendon recently. This was Defensive lineman-to-Defensive lineman stuff. From one Tucker Tiger to another.

That chat hit home. Better than any pitch from a coach.

“He basically told me he wanted me to come take his spot when it is my turn,” McLendon said. “He’ll either be in the league or just leaving to go to the league when I get there in 2019.”

Georgia junior DE Jonathan Ledbetter shared some perspective on the program with 2019 target Derrick McLendon. Ledbetter also played at Tucker High School. (Jeff Sentell / DawgNation.com)

The young Tiger quizzed the alumni. What is it about Georgia he loves? What does he love there outside of football?

“He was just like the people and the connections you will make with the Georgia people are just amazing,” McLendon said. “The fan base and their alumni base is just huge. I just look at things like that.”

Ledbetter was in his shoes as a recruit a few years ago. McLendon knew he would tell him what he had to know. Not what he wanted to hear.

I knew about that situation he got himself in with some troubles and how Georgia and the school and the team was right there for him,” McLendon said. “They supported him. He is still there. That meant a lot for him. That means a lot to me.”


The other “up there” schools for Derrick McLendon 

Georgia is by no means the team to beat for McLendon. But the Bulldogs are digging in to make a strong run. McLendon now places UGA as one of his “up there” schools.

That’s an important clarifier when players with his size and skill level get a lot of throw-out or camp offers. McLendon has the big offers but doesn’t have a star rating. Yet.

“Florida, LSU, South Carolina are the schools which are showing me a lot of attention,” McLendon said. “Now Georgia, too. Alabama has now started in here lately, too. I have got to make my way down there.”

Derrick McLendon-UGA recruiting
Derrick McLendon said he just wants to hear “honesty” from the coaches that will recruit him to play for their program. (Jeff Sentell / SecCountry.com)

Ask him about the visits which have really grabbed his attention.

The first thing he said in response was “Ooooh” after that. McLendon is a sharp young man. He aims to be a mechanical engineer or maybe even go to law school.

He can already articulate his thoughts well in an interview setting.

“That’s kind of hard,” he said. “There are three of them that I would say are a dead-on tie. The three there are Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. LSU was a good visit but there were a million kids there on a ‘Junior Day’ so that’s just like Alabama to me there. I will have to make a visit on a day when I can really get to know the coaches and connect with them better on a personal level.”

He’s looking for honesty.

“I like it when they tell me what they are recruiting me to play,” McLendon said. “If they recruit me and get me to come to their school for all four years, I won’t be going up there blank. They will have filled in the blanks for me. Are you recruiting me as a defensive end? A linebacker? Both? Defensive tackle? What do I need to do? That’s what the schools I just called out there have done for me and told me.”

South Carolina wants him to play the “Buck” spot at OLB in their front. Georgia wants him for that Lorenzo Carter role. He’ll float from DE to OLB in certain looks. Florida also wants him as a combo DE. He compares to the role held down by Lithonia DE Jordan Smith.

The rising Tucker junior likes to hear his player parallels. The comparisons. What roles he will fill. He wants to be able to watch the film of those players.

“I will develop my game and my body into the structure of that guy,” McLendon said. “So I will be ready. So I can ready to play when I first get there.”

When he interacted with new Georgia line coach Tray Scott, he heard that.

“He said watch Lorenzo Carter do this move here during warm-ups,” McLendon said. “Then he said ‘now come over here and watch your friend Jonathan Ledbetter here do this.’ He told me to watch those two guys. It felt more hands-on. I felt like more of a priority. I just felt more love.”

The other McLendon contenders

Which schools really seem to be on his mind?

Florida: “I feel good about Florida right now,” he said. “I like the intensity that (defensive line) coach (Chris) Rumph coaches with. Coach (Jim) McElwain always stresses I am a hight priority. That’s another thing I look at. How much of a priority am I with the head coach? I lot of kids look at how their position coach is recruiting them really heavy and like that. But I look at it from the position coach and also what the head coach is saying to me. Coach McElwain stresses that I am a big priority.”

McLendon can say the say thing about Will Muschamp.

South Carolina: “I like coach Muschamp,” he said. “He is a great guy. I also like (wide receivers coach) Bryan McClendon. He is just an Atlanta guy. I love Atlanta. This is my favorite city. I always stress that I’m coming back here when I finish college and maybe after I make it to the NFL. Coach McClendon just reminds me of Atlanta.”

Kirby Smart is also big into his recruiting, too.

Georgia: “Coach told me that stuff about offering me when he was back at Alabama,” McLendon said. “He’s more of a coach that gets straight down to the point. He says ‘We are offering you a scholarship because you are this type of player and we like the way you play.’ There’s no sugar coat. There’s none of that typical ‘you are just a big guy and we like you.’ Coach Smart doesn’t start off any conversation like that. He cuts straight to the nitty gritty.”

It sounds like Alabama is the next trip on the horizon. He still hopes to visit Clemson. He doesn’t have an offer from those Tigers yet, but he does get a lot of mail from that program.

Tennesse is another school to watch for McLendon, but he noted he hasn’t heard as much from that program as of late.

The 230-pound prospect is also intrigued by taking a trip to the West Coast to check out Southern Cal. McLendon sounds like he’s always been a fan of the USC mystique out in California.

The Nolan Smith factor for UGA

McLendon was asked to specify that “nitty gritty” he hears from the Bulldogs. The specifics. When he did, he dropped Nolan Smith’s name.

Smith is already a key commit for the Bulldogs in 2019. The 5-star prospect now rates as one of the nation’s Top 10 players for 2019 by the 247Sports Composite.

Nolan Smith
Nolan Smith is Georgia’s highest-rated commitment for the Class of 2019. (Jeff Sentell / SecCountry.com)

“They say at Georgia that Nolan and I will play side-by-side,” McLendon said. “That’s always a big compliment there. I love Nolan. That’s my boy.”

He can already envision what an offense would do faced with the prospect of having to deal with the two of them on the same side of the defense at Georgia.

“Nolan and I have known each other since we were in the sixth or seventh grade,” McLendon said. “Just to play beside him would be something, man. I’ve been playing beside him in every all-star game. To get an opportunity to do that would be a big opportunity.”


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