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Jeff Sentell / AJC
4-star Markaviest "Big Cat" Bryant (left) is rated as the nation's No. 14 weak-side DE for 2017. Crisp County coach Shelton Felton (right) has led the Cougars to their best season since 1988.

Sentell’s Intel: Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant will be in Athens this weekend

Want a daily lap through Georgia football recruiting? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. We’ll cover the news and which way this 4-star or 5-star is leaning and add in a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.

CORDELE, Ga. — Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant will be in Athens on Saturday.

The 4-star senior DE/OLB prospect from Crisp County will be making his first trip to see Georgia play this season. The Vanderbilt game will be an integral visit for Bryant as he begins to narrow down his recruiting process to a few target schools.

“It has started to get kind of serious,” Bryant said on Thursday. “A lot of the coaches are asking if they are still one of my top schools. I’m starting to knock it down a little bit and get closer.”

The 6-foot-5, 237-pounder is rated as the nation’s No. 14 weak-side defensive end among seniors this year. Bryant feels that he’ll need to start visiting schools every week of the season from now on.

Bryant will be at UGA this weekend for the Vanderbilt game. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Bryant will be at UGA this weekend for the Vanderbilt game. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

“Big Cat” said that his top school list at this time would include Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Southern Cal. Bryant said that Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Georgia and one of the schools he likes out on the West Coast will likely get his official visits.

He’s liked Georgia for more than a minute. He almost committed to UGA over the summer. The Bulldogs have been his leader and continue to remain close to that status.

“But the more I go out and see other schools the more I realize there’s more out there than just Georgia and there’s more that I need to see before I can make my decision,” Bryant said. “This is just so hard. All these schools come at you with great programs.”

Bryant is in the camp where he realizes UGA only requires a tank of gas, but he also sees the need to take an official visit to the campus later this year despite that proximity.

“I might,” Bryant said. “I guess I am still iffy on that as one of my official visits. I realize it is close and I could use that official visit to go somewhere that is farther away, but I do feel it is important to consider Georgia as one of my official visits right now.”

This week’s visit can only enhance Georgia’s chances. DawgNation projects Bryant to be one of 5-6 linebackers (a few of whom could also be classified as a DE) that UGA will take as part of the Class of 2017.

Bryant is rated as the nation's No. 14 DE for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Bryant is rated as the nation’s No. 14 DE for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

LSU sounds like a major contender. He counted up LSU and Georgia as the two schools that gave him the best first impression. Alabama was also right up there at the very top.

That’s compared to a school like Florida. That one didn’t go as well.

Bryant said that he has a great relationship with LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron. The only games he has seen have been two at Auburn up to this point, and he spent a lot of time watching LSU and its coaches on one of those occasions.

“I realize that he’s just the interim coach but I still want to see how that plays out with who becomes the coach there and to be able to take an official visit to LSU,” Bryant said.

He’s thinking about a January official visit to Baton Rouge once they have the next staff in place, but will also make a trip to LSU during the season on an unofficial visit.

He had previously stated he would make his decision during the season, but it now sounds much more likely he could go all the way up to National Signing Day.

Bryant said he couldn’t even make a decision now if he had to.

“I could not,” he said. “I have to take all my official visits first.”

It appears that he has a pretty good relationship with junior linebacker Lorenzo Carter. Bryant has spoken to him on visits and he trusts what the former 5-star prospect has to say.

That’s partly because Carter has been down this road before, but also because he knows that Carter will keep things real. Recruiters will have a polished message but he already sees that as “lip service” in a lot of cases.

UGA assistant Kevin Sherrer is his primary recruiter. He said that Orgeron and Sherrer relate to him the best out of all the coaches that are talking to him.

He likes Sherrer a lot, but he’s also been getting the unvarnished truth so far from Carter.

Bryant's hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Bryant’s hands have been measured at more than 10 inches wide. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

“Lorenzo has told me that I will know when I just get that feeling that you know a place is where you want to be,” Bryant said. “Lorenzo said that after he took all of his visits he just knew that Georgia was where he wanted to be. He’s told me that he’s been there for three years and knows that is was still the right decision. He just had that feeling, but he knows now that it wasn’t a bad decision.”

That’s an insightful message. Carter’s UGA career hasn’t lived up to some decidedly lofty expectations up to this point, but he’s told Bryant he wouldn’t change a thing. That’s the same things he heard from the players at Alabama, too.

“We text all the time and he’s told me that there are going to be some really nice things coming to Georgia on the field based on what Kirby is building up based on the system he’s putting in,” Bryant said. “He said that it is going to work. That’s how he feels.”

Florida was Bryant’s dream school growing up during the Urban Meyer days. He’d like to get back down to Gainesville this season but hasn’t had the opportunity.

“That school is really knocking on the door as one of my top schools,” Bryant said. “But I haven’t been down there since last year. But it is getting kind of late right now.”

Another big Crisp County visitor

Bryant won’t be the only 4-star prospect from Crisp County in Athens this weekend. He’ll have junior outside linebacker Quay Walker at his side. Those two have been frequent visitors to Athens so far this year.

4-star LB Quay Walker is rated as the nation's No. 20 OLB prospect for the Class of 2018. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
4-star LB Quay Walker is rated as the nation’s No. 20 OLB prospect in the Class of 2018. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Walker, 16, is a definite 2018 priority for Georgia. The 6-foot-3, 216-pounder is currently rated as the nation’s No. 20 OLB prospect in his signing class.

He really liked Georgia awhile back, but a few other teams have caught up. Walker — just like Bryant — said Florida was his favorite team growing up.

“Georgia was my leader but Florida and Auburn have picked it up,” Walker said. “I don’t really know who I like the best out of those three schools right now.”

He felt it was more a matter of Auburn and Florida coming on stronger rather than Georgia letting up.

“Florida really picked it up,” Walker said. “I wouldn’t say Georgia went down.”

The big interest right now for him with Florida is the coaching staff.

“I have one-on-one conversations with Coach McElwain,” Walker said. “Throughout the day he just texts me. I don’t really get that out of most coaches.”

Walker (left) and Bryant (right) aren't sure whether or not they will be a package deal and go to the same school out of Crisp Country. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Walker (left) and Bryant (right) aren’t sure whether or not they will be a package deal and go to the same school out of Crisp Country. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He’s never been to Gainesville to see Florida, but he’s hoping to change that soon. He said that Florida has done the best job of recruiting him up to this point. He said McElwain texts him just about every day.

“It is not just about football with them,” Walker said. “It is really about my education with them. That’s what I sense from them along with what I hear from Auburn.”

Linebackers coach Travis Williams is recruiting him for Auburn.

“I went down there for a workout and that’s when I really fell in love with Auburn,” Walker said.

Crisp County coach Shelton Felton said that Walker’s recruiting is still in the “deer in the headlights” and “puppy love” phase. He feels that he’ll need to see what a lot more schools have to offer to understand what he’s really looking for.

Walker is also getting high interest from Florida State, but he’s yet to receive an offer. That’s one he’d really like along with Clemson and LSU.

The junior has been great in coverage this fall. He’s got an interception and has also added at least 2 touchdown catches on offense.

A funny recruiting story

Not every question with these guys is going to be about this school or that school, and when they plan on making a decision.

Especially with a great communicator like Bryant. Especially with a nickname like “Big Cat.”

I wondered what name the coaches use when they see him on the unofficial visits he has taken so far.

The four-star hybrid linebacker also has an impressive wingspan. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
The four-star hybrid linebacker also has an impressive wingspan. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

Bryant said he hears “Big Cat” or “Cat” quite a lot in casual conversation from his lead recruiters and other coaching staff members.

There was one exception.

“Nick Saban doesn’t call me ‘Big Cat’ or ‘Cat’ or anything else like that,” Bryant said. “He just called me Markaviest.”

That’s pretty much the way we all might have expected that to go. Just can’t see Saban throwing around “Big Cat” to a high school player. No matter how talented they are.

An interesting process

Bryant’s recruiting didn’t really blow up until he competed at the Rising Seniors game last December. His offer sheet grew when the practice film of what he did that week was sent out to most of the coaches around the SEC.

He’s only been a wanted man by the big boys for about 10 months, but he’s got a level head for the process despite not having the exposed to recruiting for as long as some of his peers in the Class of 2017.

He has a rule that works to prevent the need to spontaneous commit in the middle of a great visit.

“I almost committed before when I was on a visit,” Bryant said. “So I know that’s when I am going to love a school the most. So I’ve got a two-day rule now. I promised myself that no matter how I feel I’m going to wait two days before I make any decision. I’ve found out when I do that I don’t feel the same way about a school as I did when I am excited by everything I see on a great visit.”

That might be one of the smartest things I’ve heard from a prospect in awhile in terms of how they go about their recruiting decision.

LeCounte’s updated hit list

Richard LeCounte III is Georgia’s highest-rated commitment. He’s currently the only 5-star pledge in the 2017 class and will always be known as the first player to say he’ll play for Kirby Smart at UGA.

If you read this blog every day, that’s not news. He also surpasses anyone else’s expectations in trying to lure other talented players to join him. The fact he loves the program so much makes him a very popular recruit.

I’d say he’s already as well-known as all but about 15-20 players on the current team. So when he says he’s got an updated list of guys he’s working on to bring to UGA, that’s something to pay attention to.

LeCounte (and I’m not making this up) has that target list updated on his phone. That same device also has a countdown timer ticking off every second until he graduates from Liberty County High School.

LeCounte’s current Top 5 (or 6) targets

  1. Nate McBride — The 4-star prospect from Vidalia is rated as the nation’s No. 1 ILB
  2. Malik Herring — The 4-star prospect from Forsyth is rated as the nation’s No. 5 strong-side DE.
  3. DeAngelo Gibbs — The 4-star from Loganville is rated as the nation’s No. 3 S.
  4. Jeffrey Okudah — The 5-star from Texas is rated as the nation’s No. 1 CB.
  5. Cam Akers — The 5-star from Mississippi is rated as the nation’s No. 2 RB.
  6. Aubrey Solomon — The 4-star from Leesburg is rated as the nation’s No. 5 DT.

That’s quite a list. I’d say the degree of difficulty in convincing those guys to join him in Athens would go something like this:

  1. Herring
  2. Solomon
  3. McBride
  4. Akers
  5. Gibbs
  6. Okudah

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Follow Jeff Sentell 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.

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