“Come home, son.”
Those sound like three pretty innocent words, right? The reality is far from it. The phrase might prove to be one of more effective recruiting pitches that new coach Kirby Smart might ever make for UGA.
When Westlake junior LB Jaden Hunter reached out to Smart last week to congratulate him on becoming UGA’s next coach, that was the reply he got back from Smart.
Hunter, a 4-star defensive end and linebacker prospect, is a UGA legacy. The son of the late Brice Hunter has taken an honorable stance with his playing career to make sure his father is always with him. He also knows Smart well from when he served as his lead recruiter at Alabama.
Smart played with Hunter’s father at UGA for one season. Brice Hunter was a senior when he arrived at UGA. Smart and Jaden Hunter are close enough that the Westlake High School standout almost committed to Alabama last summer. Jaden Hunter said that simple “come home son” phrase from Smart meant a lot.
“He’s already like an uncle to me,” he said. “Every time I see him he treats me like his own and we have a great time.”
That sort of personal one-on-one moment is something Smart will need to replicate often to re-recruit a 2016 class that was ranked No. 4 in the nation prior to Mark Richt‘s dismissal. That was actually one slot ahead of another impressive Alabama class.
A lot of recruiting news popped up on Sunday. Smart hit the turbo boost on the first day of actual recruiting for UGA. Ready to play catch-up? Here’s another Monday edition of the UGA Recruiting Rewind.
Today’s Smart to-do list: 1) Presser 2) Full-court press on Eason
There’s a 12:30 press conference at UGA. It will be Smart’s first session with the media as head coach. Look for Smart to rock a nice red-and-black look and say all the right things to make fans from Chatsworth to Camilla bark in front of their desktops, smartphones and tablets.
Then the new head man in Athens will catch a plane. DawgNation learned last night that Smart is expected to fly cross-country to meet with 5-star quarterback and UGA commitment Jacob Eason. Eason is the cornerstone of this year’s class given UGA’s needs at that position.
The nation’s No. 2 quarterback wasn’t planning any other official visits under Mark Richt‘s watch, but quickly scheduled an official visit to Florida after his dismissal. Look for Smart to quickly reassure Eason that UGA will still run a Pro-Style offense. That’s a key to keeping him committed. Eason and his family are still expected to take their official visit to UGA this week for the end-of-the year awards banquet.
This week, to put it simply, will be about 50 feet tall in terms of retaining Eason.
Kirby starts recruiting on the trail for UGA at “Ludicrous Speed”
Smart made his first in-home visit with Stephens County senior offensive lineman Ben Cleveland on Sunday. He also reached out to 5-star athlete Demetris Robertson. That was to be expected given the Savannah Christian standout was once committed to Alabama for almost a year. It was also confirmed that Smart had already spoken with Eason since landing the UGA job.
Cleveland is a stout 4-star offensive line prospect. The 6-foot-7 senior is very close to Eason as the two committed to UGA together in July of 2014. Both have already signed their financial aid agreements with UGA. Those allow for unlimited contact between the school and the prospect.
That’s quite a first day. Smart came out of the gate recruiting for UGA about as fast as his old Auburn nemesis Gus Malzahn calls plays.
huge honor to be the first recruit he came to visit as a head coach. welcome back home coach pic.twitter.com/LDbQbGvhft
— Big Country (@BenCleveland74) December 7, 2015
Nation’s No. 1 tight end and top UGA target set to name his Top 3
IMG Academy tight end Isaac Nauta starred for three seasons at Buford before transferring to the Florida boarding school for his senior year. Nauta ranks as the nation’s No. 1 tight end and is a rare 5-star prospect at the position. Nauta is an easy projection as a priority for Smart at UGA. He took his official visits to UGA, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma State and Ole Miss.
UGA will go down to the end with Nauta. The top contenders for his signature on scholarship papers look like UGA and Michigan. Nauta also tweeted an update on Sunday regarding the release of his Top 3.
Nauta will enroll early and should make his decision in late December. He will make that choice public at the U.S. Army All-American game on Jan. 9. Michigan does loom large here after the Richt exit. Nauta had told DawgNation that no head coach had been as actively involved in his recruitment as the former UGA coach. Florida might also be a late contender.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has also been a beast in his recruitment. Ann Arbor’s climate and distance from his Georgia family roots will work against the Wolverines, but Harbaugh is doing all he can to make up for it.
I'll be dropping a top 3 December 20th ?
— ICE ❄️❄️❄️❄️ (@inauta18) December 6, 2015
What sort of instant impact does Kirby Smart mean on the recruiting trail?
DawgNation took a good look at the board for UGA. We identified 10 prospects where the Smart hire immediately helps UGA on the recruiting trail.
Who are they? What positions do they play? This Top 10 lists also makes sure to look only at uncommitted prospects.
The UGA commits and top recruiting targets weigh in after Smart’s hiring was official
What did UGA’s commitments and top targets think after the Smart news was official? We tracked them down.
Rabun County receiver Charlie Woerner, the nephew of UGA All-American Scott Woerner, had a great perspective on what is taking place in Athens.
UGA releases old school hype video touting Smart’s return
The athletics department at UGA went old school Sunday night with the release of a classy hype video touting Smart’s return.
There’s a lot of footage of Smart making big plays at safety for UGA, but there’s also “Midnight Train to Georgia” as sung by Gladys Knight.
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.