Can a player be committed without the modern label of being a public commitment?
That’s what it seems like for 4-star defensive end Malik Herring. Herring keeps his words close, but his genuine over-the-top personality cannot camouflage his actions.
He’s funny. Charming even. No CSI detective is needed to unravel that he seems amped to play for Tracy Rocker, Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker in Athens. He will be at Smart’s three-day high school camp this weekend, too. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder seems inseparable from Georgia commitments at camps. Clemson is also very big in the picture. In fact, he makes sure to bring up the Tigers whenever the UGA boys start in on him.
Herring was always around when any group of Georgia commitments took pictures at The Opening last week in Oregon. We’re not talking the stuff from the “Where’s Waldo” books either. The nation’s No. 7 defensive end and No. 98 overall prospect even wore a Georgia hat (a lost bet over a Madden football game) on the Opening’s final day last Sunday. He was part of the throng of commitments who welcomed 4-star running back Toneil Carter to Georgia, too.
That was a wave of Georgia commitments, and Herring might not talk like a commitment, but he clearly acts like one. It seems he’s test driving the Georgia commitment for about six months until he decides to give the verbal, much less sign on the dotted line.
The Bulldogs seem committed to him as well. There is not a conga line of other defensive ends the program is actively recruiting to set the edge and rush the passer in Athens.
He thought hard about committing to a school this spring but backed off. Herring now plans to wait until August. At least. He has a very good reason.
“It is very hard,” Herring said. “The only thing holding me back is my Mom. I had a date set up to commit in August. My mom wants me to make my decision in December. We are going to think and talk about it. I want to talk to her about it because I really want to do it. I have a special reason to do it on that date. “
When you hear the reason, you will want to slap his back. Every bit of his “Undercover Dawg” act then sounds worthwhile.
“That date in August I have set is my auntie’s birthday,” Herring said. “My aunt was such a special woman. She passed away from breast cancer and was such a big part of my life. I really want to do it on that day.”
Neco Davis passed away during his sophomore year of high school. That was the “hard year” of his life. He also tore his ACL and missed a lot of time.
“She even helped me through that,” Herring said. “She always told me she could not wait for me to come back so she could see me on the field. That inspired me. She could not wait, but she died the week of our rival game against Jackson. I was supposed to be back for Lamar County. I told her that and I always felt in my mind she would always be there to see me return to that game. It was close. It was just two weeks.”
Her memory still tugs on his heart. The big man doesn’t hide that either.
“I will always remember the last time I got to talk to her,” Herring said. “She told me she loved me and I told her I loved her, too. She was like my best friend. She was young. We talked about rap music. She asked me to take her to a Young Jeezy concert. That’s how we clicked. Her son is now like a brother to me. I love that dude. I want to give him the world if I can.”
What day in August? Herring — of course — isn’t giving up that date. Yet.
“I don’t want that to be known yet,” Herring said. “I want my decision to honor my auntie, though.”
That is “kinda sorta” what Herring is thinking now in terms of his decision timeline.
There are other Georgia tugs on Herring. Jaden Hunter and Herring describe their relationship as”brothers” and they have long planned to play together. Hunter committed to Georgia back in January.
Herring has long been a part of the “SICEM17” group message chat. That’s populated with UGA commitments, but also others who are leaning in the direction. It is all about establishing a bond well before everyone shows up in Athens.
Is there anything wrong with Herring’s approach? Not at all. Especially given the tribute he is planning. It is actually an old school approach. The only person who should ever have the reins on his recruiting process better show up at his dinner table.
It has also been fun to watch while his process plays out.
Herring will buzz by interviews conducted with peers and chant the word “Dawg” and point to uncommitted prospects. He will hand others a Georgia rubber band to wear on their wrists during a media session. If Herring signs with Georgia, that class will have more personality than a reality show with Breon Dixon, Netori Johnson, Richard LeCounte III and Herring on the same team.
The Georgia commitments interact several times a day together through that group message. They’ll talk about the NBA and the NFL, but also the latest music everyone is listening to. Herring got kicked out of that group message in Oregon but was quickly invited back.
He’s aware of the momentum Smart has established. There has already been 16 stars worth of commitments this month. The Bulldogs now have the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class.
“I already had that gut feeling as soon as he took the Georgia job he was going to bring in that No. 1 class,” Herring said. “That’s Kirby. When you know Kirby well and see all the talent in the state of Georgia, you could really see all that coming.”
That might also sum up Herring’s eventual decision, too.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and 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. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.