CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Malik Herring, a four-star defensive end from Mary Persons, was once considered to be a Georgia lean.
The in-state defensive end has a close relationship with UGA head coach Kirby Smart and is close to several 2017 UGA commitments, including linebacker Jaden Hunter. So it was very interesting when Herring recently acknowledged that Clemson was his leader.
“Yeah I said that in one interview some weeks ago, but after G-Day I don’t know anymore,” said Herring, who spoke to DawgNation at Nike’s “The Opening” regional in Charlotte on Sunday.
The nation’s No. 6 weak-side defensive end and No. 114 overall prospect followed that up with another assessment of his recruiting.
“Georgia has caught them,” said Herring, who wore a pair of Georgia gloves on Sunday.
It appears that G-Day trip came at just the right time.
“As soon as I walked into the stadium from the stands I got chills,” Herring said. “When I saw that crowd I had chills from my head to my toe. I’ve never had that before. Never.”
That visit now ranks as Herring’s best experience at a college stadium.
“As soon I as came in and got those chills I started jumping up and down like I had to just get out there and play,” he said.
Herring is thinking about releasing a Top 5, but doesn’t know for sure when yet.
“Whenever it pops up it will pop up,” he said.
His commitment status is also up in the air.
“I was going to commit at the end of the season, but now I am thinking summertime maybe, or at the end of the season or something,” Herring said. “I really don’t know. I might just come out of the blue with it.”
He has received a clear picture of how he can help UGA immediately from Smart, defensive line coach Tracy Rocker and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
The junior said Smart sees him as a “5” or “6” technique defensive end, but if he stays at his current size he can play both defensive end and outside linebacker. That means his skill set gives him the ability to line up heads-up on the offensive tackle and patrol two gaps in the 3-4 defense, but also line up off that tackle’s outside shoulder in the “6” technique by the tight end. He would then set the edge in the 4-3 front as a run-stuffing defensive end.
Herring measured a quarter-inch shy of the 6-foot-4 mark in Charlotte. He weighed in at 260 pounds and carries that well on his frame. He has a nice blend of speed and power moves in his pass-rush arsenal.
Georgia continues to give a constant message in his ear about his worth.
“They need help,” Herring said. “I saw that at practice when I went. I saw that at G-Day when I met and they think I can be a big factor coming is as a freshman.”
That feedback fuels his biggest motivation for why he might choose UGA.
“Really the love from the coaches,” Herring said.
He said that was also a big reason why he still has Clemson very high on his list.
“They’ve got great coaches at Clemson and also some crazy fans,” Herring said. “I love their crazy fan base.”
Herring acknowledged the appeal to stay in-state despite that connection to the Tigers. The recent commitment of four-star offensive guard Netori Johnson, a former Alabama commitment, only enhanced the cause for him to stay in-state and play at UGA.
“I think them boys right there are trying to have that No. 1 recruiting class in the nation,” Herring said. “They might be the first recruiting class in Georgia history to be ranked No. 1 in the country. They are telling me this year’s class could be an (ESPN) ‘30 for 30’ special one day and that I should be a part of it.”
UGA moved into the No. 8 slot on the 247 team rankings with recent commitments from Johnson and four-star cornerback William Poole III. It is early, but it is interesting to note that Alabama (fifth) and Clemson (sixth) are the only other schools among that Top 10 with less than 10 commitments.
Georgia’s current average rating per commitment trails only Alabama and No. 1 Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be in the top slot for a while with a class that already boasts two five-star prospects and another 10 four-star recruits.
Herring said there are five other schools he is also considering at this time.
“USC, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan and Florida,” Herring said. “All those schools are recruiting real hard. Some schools are getting close to pulling away for me, but they can’t find that extra step yet.”
Some of his peers performed on low sleep on Sunday, camping at the big Nike event mere hours after their high school proms wrapped up.
“Malik Herring does not do proms,” Herring said. “I do football right now. I am grinding, but I might do it my senior year.”
Herring was distraught after the event on Sunday. He promised his mother he was going to bring back a golden ticket to Nike’s all-star “The Opening” combine in July. He didn’t make it, but his showing at the Atlanta and Charlotte regionals should land him among the 166 elite athletes invited to that elite prospect showcase.
There have only been 72 invitations extended to that event so far with five more regional combines to go.
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.