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Jeff Sentell/DawgNation
Elite defensive tackle Rick Sandidge has come down to a final list of three school choices: Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Mom knows: Close to college choice, DT Rick Sandidge feels strongly about UGA

Jeff Sentell

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The main thing on Friday is the recruitment of elite defensive tackle Rick Sandidge. Somehow the narrative “out there” is that Sandidge is a slight or even a strong lean to South Carolina. Let’s take a good lap around that situation. 

It hasn’t been written anywhere before, but one of the principles behind this daily blog is a desire to avoid the goose chase.

Jeff Sentell-UGA recruiting
Prized North Carolina defensive tackle Rick Sandidge will let the school of his choice know about his decision a few days prior to Feb. 7. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Readers remember. That’s why the aim is to never run stories out there on shaky ground for short-term clicks.

Depth matters. Reporting detail matters. We’re not in the business of getting hopes up about a prospect because there’s a story quota to fill.

Please consider that as we discuss what’s going on with 4-star defensive tackle prospect Rick Sandidge, the nation’s No. 11 DT prospect for 2018.

DawgNation offers up the following summation on his situation, knowing the following to be true:

  • The Bulldogs have a pair of unsigned commitments at his position.
  • UGA likely has just four more slots left for 2018, minus a greyshirt situation that’s still too hazy to forecast.
  • Most of the recruiting industry points Sandidge to South Carolina. That has gained ground over the last two months.
  • That scenario has emerged because: 1. South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is an excellent recruiter and deeply involved in Sandidge’s recruiting. UGA coach Kirby Smart is not; 2. The Gamecocks are an up-and-coming program with momentum in several areas; and 3. The Bulldogs have those DTs committed and another signee enrolled in a very stacked class that ranks No. 1 overall.

I’m writing at length about Sandidge in this edition because I had the chance to chat with his mother, Keshia, about where he stands after his official visit last weekend to UGA.

Georgia’s shot at Sandidge does not seem like a wild goose chase. It sounds more as if the 6-foot-5, 295-pound player from Concord, N.C., has the two SEC schools on even ground.

“He’s really just torn,” Keshia Sandidge said. “I can’t think of any other way to explain this.”

Quick things to know about the Rick Sandidge decision

Sandidge comes from a very tight-knit family. He’s known as “Junior.” His parents are plugged in to this daily life.

His mother said this will be the first decision her son will have to make on his own. His inner circle will supply input and suggestions, but he will make the call.

Once he does, Sandidge will call his top schools with the news of his decision.

That’s simply the right blueprint to follow for a choice like this. Sandidge is the one who will have to live that decision through those early morning workouts and physical practices that lead to his dreams of playing on Saturdays.

This seems like a good moment to bring up his mother’s South Carolina connection.

Rick Sandidge-UGA recruiting
Rick Sandidge is rated as the nation’s No. 12 DT for 2018 by the 247Sports composite.(Jeff Sentell/Dawgnation)

She got her graduate degree in social work from South Carolina. She has Carolina gear on her truck. But it is important to know that those colors and logos were on there way before her son emerged as a national recruit.

It sounds to me like that connection has empowered South Carolina to go all in with this recruitment.

That said, her son still will make that decision on his own. No matter what her car looks like.

What is her response to everyone believing her son is a South Carolina lean?

“I think people feel that way because I’m an alum,” she told DawgNation. “UGA and [South Carolina] have been there through the long haul. They both have an equal shot.”

That sets up the decision. Let’s look at a few big-picture items:

  • Keshia Sandidge said the UGA visit gave the Bulldogs a bump. She said she’s had her mind on a certain school for the last few months months. She said she thinks his father remains without a clear preference.
  • Look for Rick Sandidge to share his decision privately with the coaches at Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina about two or three days before he makes his public announcement at his school on Feb. 7.
  • Her favorite part of the UGA official visit was seeing the coaches in an intimate setting. It was a different window into the “UGA family” than she had seen previously, she said. She said her son enjoyed spending time with the players, mentioning Georgia commit Jordan Davis as one player her son feels very much at ease around.
  • Despite the traffic jam with commits at his position and the class in general, she said UGA made them a priority. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney even made the comment the Bulldogs sure don’t want to face him should he choose another school. “They want and need him to play at UGA,” she said when asked to describe the main message from the team. “Iron sharpens iron.”

The quick back story on Rick Sandidge

This always was going to be a tough decision. Rick Sandige is not going to answer all the same questions from reporters every week. In fact, he has turned away a number of interview requests since his recruiting really took off.

We covered where Sandidge stood with his decision after his unofficial visit on the South Carolina game weekend. He was very undecided at that time. 

Rick Sandidge-UGA recruitingI remember meeting him last May in Nike’s The Opening regional in Charlotte, N.C. He honestly stated he had “no idea” what he was going to do and rolled off a dozen schools he had to learn more about.

When I saw him in late June, he told me he needed to take as much time as allotted to reach a decision.

Any schools that told him they needed to know by a certain early date were doing him a favor and removing themselves from his favorites list.

Quarterback Justin Fields has been trying to convince him to join the class at UGA. A few months ago, his mother had pressed him to reach a decision, but Sandidge told her then he was still not ready to hone in on a specific school.

How will he make his decision? Look for Team Sandidge to huddle up. Junior will listen to his family members tout the positives at each school. They will consider any drawbacks plus the academic fit for each school.

Sandidge has said he wants to study something related to sports management or sports marketing.

My feeling is the choice will come down to only Georgia and South Carolina, and that’s probably been the case for some time.

Where UGA scored with Rick Sandidge at his official visit

Keshia Sandidge said UGA coach Kirby Smart started following her on Twitter this week. She kidded that it meant she finally rated high enough to earn that follow.

“I thought it was the most hilarious thing ever,” she said. “I sent a screenshot of that to coach [Tray] Scott and I said, ‘Did I just become important today?’ with that.”

What impresses her the most about UGA?

Tray Scott-Georgia football
Tray Scott came to UGA last year after coaching stops at Ole Miss and North Carolina, among others. Keisha Sandidge said that her son has no other relationship in college football like the one he has with Scott. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

“Our relationship with coach Scott and player development (director) Jonas Jennings,” she said.

This visit was the first time the Sandidge family was able to sit down and spend a long time with the staff. They spoke with Smart and his wife. They got all their questions answered straight from the source.

She said she felt that the single biggest factor behind her son’s decision will be choosing the place that gives him the best feeling of home.

“He wants to fit where he feels the most comfortable,” she said. “Junior is really quiet. Until he gets to know people and then he opens up.”

The relationship with Jennings and Scott and cannot be understated. Scott has been recruiting Sandidge dating back to his days as the defensive line coach at North Carolina.

Keshia Sandidge said her son has no recruiting relationship like the one he has with Scott. That includes Muschamp.

The feeling is mutual. That’s why Smart hasn’t made a power move with this recruitment to offset what Muschamp is doing. Scott has shared the feeling he’s got a firm grasp of the situation.

Rick Sandidge-UGA recruiting
Rick Sandidge was invited to Nike’s The Opening and competed there. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

“From what I understand, coach Scott has pretty much told Kirby that this is his recruitment and he will take care of it,” Sandidge’s mother said. “I guess he told me he says that selfishly because [he is] putting in all the man hours and all the work and he knows we have Muschamp recruiting him [for Carolina] but it is whatever. He said he was in this thing until the wheels fall off.”

Or it was another possibility. She said that Scott told her that he’s in it “until [Junior] says he doesn’t want me to recruit him anymore.”

It appears that Scott hasn’t felt yet that he needs to call in the cavalry and involve Smart.

He probably has very good reason to think that way.

“The scariest part for South Carolina may be the connection between Junior and coach Scott,” his mother said. “Because there is no connection for him at another school like that one.”

And then there is Jonas Jennings. The Sandidges relate to him the way that several families do every year. Jennings has simply lived the path that every elite high school prospect hopes to follow.

He overcame early struggles in his life to play on Saturdays. A long NFL career came after that. Jennings can talk about both football and education, having earned his master’s in business administration.

“He’s just very genuine,” Keshia Sandidge said. “He seems like he has walked the walk and earned the right to talk the talk. I can’t explain it any better than that. He’s genuine and it is very few and far between where you get that. You don’t get that a lot with this.”

That was evident the first day they met Jennings.

“I only spent about five or 10 minutes with him and I told my husband that Jonas reminds me of me,” she said. “I can see him getting on Junior and being on Junior and making sure he was doing what he was supposed to do.”

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed just as fast as former Georgia All-America LB Roquan Smith found the ball after the snap.