Liberty County (Ga.) High School had a few seniors sign football scholarships on last week’s signing day, but it was be nothing like the spotlight and fanfare the school will see next winter.
Over the next year, the eyes of Georgia will be on 5-star recruit Richard LeCounte III, who is considered by some to be the state’s top prospect for 2017. LeCounte, who starred both ways as a junior for Liberty County this past season, has already committed early to Georgia, but nothing will be official until 2017.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder is ranked as the nation’s No. 1 athlete for the Class of 2017 and, now that signing day is in the books and the Class of 2016’s commitments are old news, LeCounte and his fellow juniors will shift ever so suddenly onto center stage, where they will remain until signing the dotted line.
“It’s real big,” LeCounte said of the upcoming year. “It’s important, and I feel good about it.”
Unlike most of next year’s elite prospects, however, LeCounte’s college destination will not be shrouded in mystery. The junior has already committed to play at Georgia. In fact, LeCounte was the first commit for freshly-appointed Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.
According to to Liberty County coach Kirk Warner, LeCounte has always held the Bulldogs close to his heart, but he also had a close relationship with Smart while the coach was still operating as the defensive coordinator at Alabama. So when Smart was announced as coach Mark Richt’s replacement, LeCounte didn’t need any more convincing.
“He always loved Georgia, but his relationship with Coach Smart really put it over the edge, just solidified his decision,” Warner said.
Less than a week after Smart was revealed as the Bulldogs’ new coach, LeCounte announced on Twitter that he would be also be heading to Athens. That LeCounte committed so soon somewhat surprised Warner. That his player was headed to UGA, on the other hand, did not. Warner himself played tight end for the Bulldogs from 1986-1989, and couldn’t be happier with where his protege is headed.
Even now, more than a year before he arrives on Georgia’s campus, LeCounte is working to improve the Bulldogs. Part of the reason he committed so early was to help convince other recruits to join UGA’s Class of 2017, he said. LeCounte recently broadcast a trip to Athens on Periscope during which he walked through the Bulldogs’ facilities in a red No. 4 UGA jersey. At one point, Smart leaned over his shoulder, pointed to the white No. 4 and said “Baby Champ,” a reference to UGA alumnus Champ Bailey, a longtime NFL cornerback who also wore the No. 4 uniform. LeCounte’s face lit up. “Baby Champ!” he agreed.
The junior currently plays receiver, safety and kick returner for Liberty County, and while he will probably see most of his college future in the secondary, there’s potential for him to play offense, defense and special teams at UGA.
“I’ve been saying this since I saw him as an eighth-grader, he has a football IQ that is off the charts,” Warner said. “He’s going to be a smart, heady, special player for Georgia.”
But there is still a handful of schools that are set out to sway LeCounte to rethink his decision.
“Honestly, I’ve pretty much made my mind up where I’ll be going,” he said. “I’m open to talking to other coaches and taking my official visits … I just make sure that they know I’m committed.”
LeCounte’s father, Richard LeCounte, Jr., said at the moment, there’s almost no way his son will flip his commitment.
“As of now, no, I don’t think they have a chance,” he said. “His mind and his heart are set on UGA.”
But before LeCounte can make it official, there’s still one more season of high school ball to play.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Warner said. “Even though he’s committed, he’s going to give 150 percent to Liberty County High School while he’s here. I can’t wait until August 26th.”
Neither can LeCounte. He’s as excited for this year’s season as any other he’s played at Liberty County. The fact that he’s committed already doesn’t affect that in the slightest. August 26, the start of LeCounte’s final campaign at Liberty County, is going to be memorable.
But what about when signing day rolls around next year? That’s going to be epic for LeCounte, too. UGA fans might not have to wait until next February on LeCounte because he plans to enroll early in college and start classes in January.
Note: Here’s a viral video of LeCounte dunking …
— Young Keenan.. (@I_Be_Keenan) February 7, 2016
— By Daniel Wilco, Special for DawgNation