Nation’s No. 1 athlete: UGA has ‘put their foot on the gas’ in his recruiting

Mecole Hardman, Jr., is the nation's No. 1 athlete.

Mecole Hardman, Jr. is on his way to Texas right now. The nation’s top-ranked athlete has set up a mental perimeter of sorts with that trip. He’ll be playing in the International Bowl on Sunday and isn’t expected to return to Georgia until Monday, when the dead period is in effect.

Where does UGA stand? The phrase “hammer down” would best describe the program’s recruiting efforts. He feels Kirby Smart and company are recruiting him harder than any other program right now.  

Smart and new UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker are his personal co-recruiters.

“Georgia has really put their foot on the gas and are trying to go all out in their recruiting,” Hardman, Jr. said. “I talk to coach Tucker every day. Coach Smart just called me. I am going to call him back right now after I get off the phone with you. It’s like crazy how they are trying to lock me in and stuff. … Georgia is really doing everything but it is really not pressure. It is more about building a relationship with me.”

Mecole Hardman, Jr. is rated as a 5-star prospect and is one of the top priorities for UGA’s signing class in 2016. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

The nation’s No. 13 overall prospect feels Tucker’s NFL and SEC experience can help him reach the next level if he signs with UGA. 

“He’s a great ‘DB’ coach,” Hardman said. “I wouldn’t mind being coached by him at all. I think he can develop me into what I want to be at the next level and go from there.”

But then he made sure to say that Georgia was not the only program that has amped up its game for the final stretch.

“Alabama and coach (Jeremy) Pruitt is coming in hard,” Hardman, Jr., said. “Tennessee and coach (Zach Azzanni) are also going in hard. They are all trying to get that last little bit in before Sunday and before Signing Day.”

Hardman said his impromptu visit to Georgia this weekend was a result of him sitting at home “bored” with not much to do after cancelling his official visit to Alabama. He said he made the trip and “chilled” but had the chance to hang out with 2017 UGA commitment Breon Dixon and 2017 5-star cornerback prospect DeAngelo Gibbs.

But Hardman also said it would still be accurate to say Alabama was his leader.

“You can still say Alabama is my leader,” Hardman, Jr. said. “I have no problem with anyone saying that, but it is getting close to Signing Day and everything is really starting to shut down for me.”

He specifically mentioned three other programs that are chasing the Tide.

“I would say with Georgia and Ohio State and Tennessee, they are right there all together,”  he said. “I think they all have got a chance to push forward to the top. After this week, I think I will slow down and think and look over stuff and think about it and pray about it. I hope that the decision comes to me that will be the right decision for me and my family.”

It was reported last week that Hardman’s parents would be taking their own visit to UGA this weekend. He is not aware of that.

Mecole Hardman., Jr, the nation’s No. 1 athlete for 2016, wasn’t supposed to be at UGA this weekend. (Randy Schafer / Special)

“I don’t know how that got out,” Hardman, Jr. said. “I don’t know what’s going on with that. (My parents) haven’t talked to me about that. I’m just not sure about that. I don’t know anything about that.”

The nation’s No. 1 athlete and five-star prospect hosted Azzanni, the Vols’ receivers coach, on Monday night. He said the visit went for a couple of hours and it was about the same themes he’s heard from a lot of schools, including UGA.

  • “Come build something new.”
  • “Be a part of something great.”
  • “Win a championship and make some history here.”

It is worth noting that Tennessee coach Butch Jones never made an in-home visit with Hardman, but he said it was a good visit because he and Azzanni go back aways across three years of his recruiting. UGA coach Kirby Smart will be the final coach to make an in-home visit.

There’s a big question with Hardman’s recruiting and his interest in Alabama. That relationship with former UGA defensive coordinator Pruitt is very strong, but the wonder is how much have his parents seen that campus.

Hardman said that his father has been to Tuscaloosa. If that becomes his choice, the elite talent from Elberton, Ga., said that his mother can become acquainted with the academic side of playing at Alabama after signing day.

“I told them it can come later after signing day,” he said. “I also told her that all the SEC schools have great academics. They can come there later after signing day. They can come up there anytime.”

This break in Texas was by design.

“That’s why I wanted to come out here to Texas,” Hardman, Jr. said. “I wanted to shut down a bit and come out here by myself and think about my decision and go through it like that. Then when I get back on Monday I won’t have no peer pressure or anything like that from coaches or anything. I can go to signing day and make my decision.”

Mecole Hardman should be a factor on both sides of the ball and on special teams in college. (Student Sports)

He said that 5-star UGA signees Jacob Eason and Isaac Nauta would love to see him join the class, but they are also allowing him the time to make a decision without significant pressure.

“Those two are my boys and I am very close to them,” Hardman, Jr. said. “They know I just have to make this decision on my own for what is best for me.”

Hardman also said there is a chance he might go back to his long-standing hope of making a “silent” or “secret” commitment before signing day. He felt Sunday or Monday would be an ideal time if he chose that route.

“I think I will have my decision by Sunday when I get back home and then I will call the school and let them know I am coming and start from there, so they can give me papers so I can sign them and be able to fax them over on signing day.”

ALSO: Make sure you check out Hardman’s Highlight video re-mix. It is as good as it gets for game film from a space athlete.

 

 

Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.

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.

 

 

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