ATHENS, Ga. — Check that headline above. Digest it. That wasn’t a tease. The answer might be yes. The first day of the three-day Kirby Smart camp drew a big crowd. Georgia assistant coach Glenn Schumann said the turnout seemed like double the size of the June camps during his opening remarks to the campers.
I had my eyes on three big-time linebackers. That’s Alabama gap-stuffer Kenney “KJ” Britt, South Georgia standout Walter Grant and Brookwood albatross Leonard Warner III.
Kirby Smart probably wouldn’t mind seeing Georgia go 3-for-3 with those guys to stack up his linebacker board for 2017. Can the staff land all three? There is a lot of recruiting left to do, but Georgia looks to be in a very good spot with all three linebackers at this time. Let’s start with the young man that needs the table pounded over and over right now when it comes to his stock.
Let me tell you a little bit about Walter Grant
Grant can play either linebacker spot or at defensive end. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Ok, that was an opening line. This will be a lot about Walter Grant. He’s rated as a 3-star prospect. Now forget that. Grant got the golf cart treatment all afternoon in Athens. Deservedly so.
The Georgia staff knows the value of a linebacker that can play defensive end, outside linebacker and inside linebacker and not look foolish doing it. There are a lot of hybrid guys in this class, but Grant can play defensive end or outside linebacker right away in the SEC.
The 6-foot-5, 232-pound prospect looks like the most underrated player in the South to me. How does a guy like that only merit three stars? Well, geography is a start. He hails from Cairo High in South Georgia. That’s not exactly a place recruiting analysts can get to with a quick hop.
He also doesn’t do camps on the exposure circuit. Clearly. Grant is ranked as the nation’s No. 22 OLB and the nation’s No. 322 prospect for the Class of 2017.
Isaac Nauta (left) is a UGA freshman. Walter Grant (right) is a big UGA target at LB for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
The Cairo coaching staff told me this spring when Nick Saban saw Grant cover a back out in the flat on a wheel route on film, he became an instant offer. Saban told his Syrupmaker (love the nickname) coaches a play like that was pivotal in the national championship game last January.
I met Mr. Grant this spring and everything to me sounded like a race between Alabama and Georgia. Florida State was also in the mix.
Grant is an intelligent football player with length to spare. He helps line up his teammates on defense before the snap and is athletic enough to play tight end for the Syrupmakers. The inserted photo shows the type of frame he has. He’s sitting on the back of a golf cart with UGA freshman tight end Isaac Nauta. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Nauta was the nation’s No. 1 tight end a year ago. Mr. Grant’s length compares nicely to Nauta’s frame.
Grant played in the Elite Juniors Classic in December and earned Defensive MVP honors after collecting five tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery.
Georgia should be in a good spot considering the other highly-rated linebackers Alabama is chasing. He’s rated as the No. 34 prospect in Georgia by the 247Sports Composite and there’s no need to diss that rating. Those rankings are by-and-large the proper guidepost at least 75 percent of the time. The margin of error simply increases when a kid just doesn’t get seen enough. Grant fell through the cracks. I’d place him among the Top 15 players in Georgia this year. Easy. Especially because of the versatility he offers on defense.
Stock way up on Brookwood’s Leonard Warner III
I’ll be honest: Leonard Warner III was a guy to me who passed the eye test, but maybe not the make-a-ton-of-plays-on-film test. Warner has all the measurables and the reach, but when I saw him play all that good stuff didn’t always translate into game-changing plays.
The nearly 6-foot-4, 224-pound prospect had a Georgia offer like a lot of offers, but I used to wonder if that was a committable pledge given the volume of linebackers Georgia is recruiting this year.
Let’s be clear: I don’t wonder about that anymore after seeing him at The Opening. In fact, I pretty much did some gassers because I had underrated him.
I saw Warner chase and defend elite slot receivers he had no business sticking with. But he did. He was nowhere as fast as those guys, but he chased them like a dog tracked a faster rabbit and then broke up a lot of plays with his length. He was also laser timed at 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Mr. Warner helped himself at The Opening as much as any Georgia commitment and target I saw last week. I also did some checking. My sources tell me that his Georgia offer is very committable. That’s commendable, but his stock is even higher than that. He’s likely viewed by the staff as the type of player they will wait on before they take commitments from other linebackers on the board.
I don’t think that means they won’t take a commitment from Britt or Grant or Nate McBride. But I do think Warner falls right in line with those guys and Crisp County OLB Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant. Toss in those names and Breon Dixon and Jaden Hunter and that’s a mighty good LB class. A lot of length and speed and three-and-outs would be on the way.
Warner is also a fantastic student. He was only in Athens on Friday and plans to visit Georgia Tech on Sunday. The two in-state schools are seen as the teams to beat for Warner, but the young man has the academic transcript to go to Duke, North Carolina, Northwestern or Stanford.
The latest on KJ Britt
Kenney Britt will decide on Aug. 6. That’s his beloved grandfather’s birthday. The word on the street comes back that he will decide between Georgia and Auburn. He visited UGA on Friday, but he actually camped, too. He worked out, while Grant and Warner were just visitors.
Britt is rated as the nation’s No. 15 ILB for the Class of 2017. (Chris Kirschner / AJC)
Britt was sweating and grinding fresh off a great performance at The Opening. The 6-foot, 229-pounder earned first-team defense honors among the nation’s elite. What does his decision look like right now? He told me in Oregon his decision was not just Georgia and Auburn. He added Cal, Florida, LSU and Stanford to the mix.
He also kind of downplayed the way he seems to be trending to Auburn and Georgia.
“The only reason I visit Georgia and Auburn a lot because it is not that far from me,” Britt said. “If I lived closer to Florida and LSU, I’d visit those places all the time, too. That Auburn-Georgia stuff everyone says really doesn’t matter to me. I take Florida, LSU and Stanford seriously. I’m serious with all those schools right now.
He said there’s a “98.9 percent” chance he commits before his senior year. He also did refer to UGA commits Jaden Hunter and Richard LeCounte III as “brothers.” He will enroll early. He would study civil engineering at Georgia or LSU, but he would be a nursing major at Auburn and Florida. Some recruits would say a decision like this would weigh on them, but not Britt.
“This isn’t hard,” Britt said. “Besides I don’t even know where I am going yet so I’m just chilling. … In the end, I am just going to follow my heart.”
That said, the fact he was working out in Athens on Friday has to be a good sign for Georgia fans. A “made” prospect with all the offers and national respect he has earned does not do that unless he is feeling “some type of way” about a school.
Read his words, but we should also pay attention to his actions on Friday.
Quote of the week so far
Did you get a chance to check our latest story on 4-star defensive end Malik Herring today? Give it a click. Herring might just be the most committed undecided prospect in America right now. We explain why, but also give a real feel-good reason why.
Herring could play either the “5” or “6” technique on the defensive line at UGA. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Herring is funny. He gave me this nugget when I asked him about Georgia commitment D’Antne Demery at the Opening last week.
“I like that man’s punch off that line,” Herring said. “Demery has got a great punch. He’s got a punch that will make you think about your life and what you’re doing with it after he hits you with it.”
In case anyone is wondering, the “punch” he’s talking about is what you want out of an offensive tackle in the football vernacular. It is a great way to gain separation from a defensive lineman. But also have them question their profession, too.
Just making sure you saw another LeCounte highlight
Richard LeCounte recently earned his fifth star from 247Sports because of plays like this one he made last week at The Opening. This guy, man.
He will be worth the price of admission for his three years in Athens. I dug up two angles on it. Why? Because it is that good.
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.