The nation’s No. 1 athlete named UGA as his leader last Sunday.
What has happened in the recruiting world of five-star prospect JaCoby Stevens since? Did that alert the college football powers of the competition? Have any programs stepped up their game in the race for Stevens since he released his Top 7?
Yes. But the one that hunkered down the most was already in the lead. That news will delight those who will be dragging their wife and kids plus their aunts, uncles and that second cousin who doesn’t really like sports to G-Day at Sanford Stadium.
“Georgia is still recruiting me the hardest right now,” Stevens said. “By far. .. You could say no one is gaining any ground on Georgia right now.”
When Stevens returned from an unofficial visit to his No. 2 school, he had about “50 pieces of mail” from UGA waiting on him at home. That’s a big counter to Stevens making a trip to his native Louisiana to visit the LSU program he had once given his commitment.
Stevens (Oakland High School/Murfreesboro, Tenn.), the nation’s No. 22 overall prospect, also said he will be in Athens as part of the 93,000 expected for G-Day on April 16. That will be his first game-day experience at UGA inside Sanford Stadium.
“I want to experience how it is there on a game day to simulate that,” Stevens said.
What does the five-star athlete hope to experience on that trip?
“I want to see what the fans will be like and how loud the place will be and also see how the coaches react in a game situation,” he said. “I think after going to my first game at UGA that my excitement and interest in UGA can only build from there.”
Stevens has UGA as his top school because he can see himself there more than at any other school.
“I just see myself walking to class there every day and talking to the students there,” Stevens said. “But not only that but going to practice there and putting my pads on there and getting ready to prepare for each team week-in and week-out and doing the walkthrough on Friday and feeling the excitement around that campus. Seeing poster boards going up. Then comes that Saturday and I can see myself warming up and coming back in and then running back out onto the field with all the fans roaring.”
The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder has only made two trips to Athens and has yet to see a game there. So where does his decidedly strong interest come from?
“It starts with (UGA defensive coordinator) coach (Mel) Tucker,” Stevens said. “I really like Coach Tucker and what he is doing. I just like that man and how he is. If Coach Tucker was still at Alabama, then Alabama would have been in my Top 5 for sure. Then Coach (Kirby) Smart is another major plus.”
He said Smart told him something recently which really cemented UGA as his top school.
“It wasn’t a conversation with Coach Smart about football,” Stevens said. “It was about religion, which was a really great eye-opener. He knows how I value religion. He respects my religion and he said on my next visit that we were going to go and find the church on campus that would be available to me. That was crazy to me. Because then I could really see he was not only going to worry about me on the field physically but also spiritually finding a way for me to fit in at Georgia.”
7 things to know about No. 7 for Oakland High
- He recently attempted a standing broad jump despite having never really practiced or tried that skill before. He wound up soaring 11 feet, four inches. Why is that a big deal? The best broad jump at the 2016 NFL Combine was an inch shorter than that.
- The nation’s top-rated athlete plays cornerback, receiver, quarterback, running back, safety and returns kicks for the Patriots. He’s even going to try and work out at punter during spring drills.
- Despite his lofty ranking, he’s deeply motivated for his senior year because he had the worst game of his career in his last game. Stevens said he did not respect the receiver who beat him twice on key plays in a state semifinal playoff game. That fuels his preparation for 2016. He watches the tape of that low point just about every week.
- He has a friendship with future NFL Top 5 pick Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey played ball at nearby Brentwood Academy in Tennessee. Stevens said Ramsey has given him a few pointers and he actually trains with his father. The former All-American at FSU tied for the best broad jump at the NFL combine with his 11-feet, three-inch effort.
- Why does he never try on a jersey on visits? Stevens feels it is a matter of respect. “I feel that is disrespectful to the man who wears that jersey right now,” he said. “He put in the heart, blood, sweat and tears for that jersey to wear that jersey and it is an honor. I just don’t want to come in and throw his jersey on and say, ‘hey, this could be me.’ I won’t do that until I earn that jersey.”
- Stevens and his father are considering whether to enroll early. If so, that will mean he will announce his decision at Oakland High in a school ceremony or he will make his decision at the Under Armour All-American game. If he does not enroll early, he’ll make his commitment on National Signing Day at his school. “The odds of that are 50-50 right now,” he said.
- He’s close with Class of 2018 UGA commit Max Wray. Their families know each other well and they train each week at the same performance facility in nearby Nashville. Look for Stevens to go to UGA with Wray whenever the family makes a trip. And vice versa. “Our relationship is exactly like that. Max and his family are real good people and we are already real close.” Stevens said that Wray has already been selling UGA to him for about “two or three weeks” now. “I will wear something red or black and Max always tell me that it is a sign for me to go ahead and go to Georgia,” Stevens said. “He says that it already looks good on me.”
G-Day, Georgia’s annual spring football scrimmage, is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, at Sanford Stadium. Check back here daily for DawgNation’s G-Day coverage brought to you by Georgia United Credit Union.
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.