Trey Sermon, the nation’s No. 11 running back prospect for 2017, has nine SEC offers. The four-star recruit visited UGA last weekend.
“The new staff is recruiting me a lot harder than the other staff,” said Sermon, who plans to enroll early. “(UGA running backs coach) Dell McGee seems like a great guy and a great mentor. I got a good vibe from him the first time I met him.”
Why does the new staff view him differently? It might be because of each recruiter’s own preference, but it is more likely the athlete Sermon has morphed into of late. His body has changed in subtle ways his coaches had not picked up on.
When Sprayberry coach Billy Shackelford learned that Sermon weighed in at 217 pounds at Auburn, he couldn’t stop smiling.
“Are you really now?” Shackelford said. “A real fatjack. Uh-oh. Look out. I hadn’t even noticed. That’s outstanding. He still looks skinny at that size. He has a chance to be a really strong big back with speed.”
The UGA visit was important because he brought his family along for the first time. Sermon said his mother liked everything. He gave the visit a “9” out of 10.
“We got there kind of late because we got stuck in traffic,” Sermon said. “The main thing is I would have liked for the visit to have been longer.”
Sermon said UGA “definitely moved up” because coach Kirby Smart was honest with him.
“His exact words were ‘You are a priority for me and I really want you to be a part of the program because I really feel like you’d become an even greater player if you came here’ when we spoke,” Sermon said.
The junior standout said Smart really liked him as a person.
“Georgia is really communicating with me well right now and building a relationship with me,” Sermon said. “Coach McGee and I have a pretty good relationship right now, but I can see it getting better and better.”
UGA, like most schools, told him that they will sign two backs this year. Sermon also described UGA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney as “pretty funny.” Chaney hoped to use him at running back and slot receiver.
It was actually his second trip to UGA in February. He’s also closer to a decision that most might think.
“At first I thought maybe I wanted to wait until November to make a decision but I decided to probably make a decision no later than September,” said Sermon, who plans to major in communications.
He’s visited Auburn and Ohio State recently. He really had a lot of one-on-one time with running backs coach Tony Alford, but Urban Meyer was out of town.
Which schools are in it? Sermon said that he hopes to visit Florida and Tennessee again soon. He’s also planning a Notre Dame visit this summer. He starting to narrow down his schools and paying attention to which schools are recruiting him the hardest.
He said that Auburn, Florida, UGA, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee are recruiting him the hardest right now. His best relationships right now are with Alford, Tim Horton at Auburn and coach Robert Gillespie at Tennessee.
Sprayberry’s “bell cow” is rated as the nation’s No. 127 overall prospect, but there’s a football example that shows he’s more valuable than that.
“He got hurt in the second game and played another game and a half with a broken back,” Shackelford said. “At first the doctors were saying it was a deep contusion and a deep bruise and we were going under that assumption and limiting him in practice and stretching him. But you could tell he was laboring through it.”
His coach felt Sermon was maybe 60 percent, but he still piled up 200 yards and three touchdowns in one game with that broken back. When that injury was finally diagnosed, he was lost for the season.
“I’ve told that to every recruiter that has came through,” Shackelford said. “Here’s a kid that was able to produce through a substantial injury. That’s always been something they appreciated because so many guys — especially the running backs and receivers — only like to compete when they are feeling frisky at 100 percent.”
He’s got that blend of speed, size and length. A great parallel would be former Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon. That’s why Sermon wears his No. 4 jersey. What else makes him stand out? There was a play that should have gone for no yards. His blocks weren’t there and an all-county linebacker was on him in the “A” gap.
“In the space of about a yard Trey was able to make three moves with a defensive tackle also falling into the play,” said Shackelford, describing the play which went for a touchdown.
While most premium athletes like Sermon tend to rattle off, he’s described by those who know him as a soft-spoken kid. He recently got some significant body art on each bicep. “Trust God” and “Have faith” were inscribed on his arms after a five-hour ordeal.
“With the path I’m on it is easy to get distracted but just by looking at these things every day will always help me stay focused and grounded,” Sermon said.
That’s a good thing. He’s actually more than “a little” afraid of heights. Running stadium steps can even give him pause.
“He could even be the best defensive player in the state if he put his mind to it,” Shackelford said. “He has that rare ability. To me, he’s really a no-bust kind of guy in college.”
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.