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Jeff Sentell / AJC
5-star CB Tyreke Johnson is Richard LeCounte's choice to build the 2018 class at UGA.

Sentell’s Intel: Richard LeCounte III feels 5-star Tyreke Johnson can build the 2018 class at UGA

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 might lean and add a dab of perspective to help fans figure out what it all means.
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When Richard LeCounte III speaks, it is safe to say that DawgNation is going to listen.

We’ve got something to discuss today that should perk those ears up.

The wildly-popular 5-star safety is Georgia’s top-rated commitment for 2017. He’s endeared himself to the fanbase by committing more than a year in advance of when he will enroll early.

LeCounte said at that time he committed so early because he wanted to go to work helping to bring other great players to Georgia. That has not been lip service.  Several UGA commitments — including 4-star defensive end Robert Beal Jr. — have said LeCounte’s influence and passion were a major factor in his decision.

When DawgNation had LeCounte on one of its recent Facebook Live chats it allowed the chance for UGA fans to pepper him with questions. There was one particular topic in the chat which stood out. It was one I knew we’d have to come back to.

The relationship between 5-star UGA commitment Richard LeCounte III and Johnson (right) will be a major factor in his decision. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
The relationship between 5-star UGA commitment Richard LeCounte III and Johnson (right) will be a major factor in his decision. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

LeCounte was asked who was going to bring in the next crop of Bulldogs for 2018.

He answered quickly.

“Tyreke Johnson,” he said. “He’s got it. He’s the man.”

The first thing to keep in mind is that Johnson has not committed anywhere yet and does not plan to for some time.

Another 5-star recruiter for 2018? 

Johnson is rated as a 5-star recruit. He’s been pegged as the No. 12 overall prospect for 2018. That’s an even higher ranking than LeCounte among their respective recruiting classes. The Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Fla.) standout has only played cornerback for his high school team but is still rated as the nation’s No. 2 safety for 2018.

That’s because of his 6-foot-2 frame, his 185 pounds and the fact he began his prep career at safety just to get on the field. He’s got great size and scouts haven’t budged yet on their initial projections ranking him at safety. (Side note: Johnson said that colleges are exclusively recruiting him to play cornerback.)

"Johnson

LeCounte’s prediction should not just be seen as simple theater. Johnson has said LeCounte is like a brother to him. He clearly would enjoy the chance to play with him.

The intrigue there is Johnson still notes UCLA as his public leader, but at the same time holds UGA in very high regard. A google search of all his recent interviews reveals a constant pattern of Georgia and UCLA being placed at the very top of his options.

The 2018 U.S. Army All-American said that Georgia and UCLA have been the most consistently strong programs in his recruiting.

Which schools are recruiting him the hardest right now? That approach doesn’t always work. Those schools are simply doing the best job at recruiting him. Their pitches make him think hard about his decision.

“Every time I go to UCLA it just feels like home to me,” Johnson said. “There’s just something about being out there in California and feeling that vibe. There’s also nothing else quite like getting the chance to play for UCLA and getting the type of education that they offer there.”

Johnson plans to pursue a double major in business and finance, but also praised the academic muscle at UGA. He told DawgNation on Wednesday that Georgia was the first school which felt like home to him.

Former defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt offered him when he was still in middle school.

“There’s nothing like going to Georgia and being between those hedges,” Johnson told DawgNation on Wednesday.

The obvious question

Why did LeCounte say that about Johnson?

“He just feels Georgia has a very good shot with me,” Johnson said. “Richard and I are like brothers. We talk about everything. It is just very hard for me to explain right now because I am feeling a lot of emotions about my decision. It is just that I love Georgia. Win lose or draw I am still a Dawg. But at the same time, I do still need to look at other schools. I love Georgia. I’d love to play with Richard. I would love to play with Jaden Hunter and all those guys in his class. I would really love to play with all of them.”

Johnson had UGA shorts and a UCLA backpack on at the Cam Netwon 7-on-7 event on Memorial Day. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Johnson had UGA shorts and a UCLA backpack on at the Cam Newton 7-on-7 event on Memorial Day. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

He added another important point.

“There’s just some things I have got to find out to see whether or not that is still the best situation for me on the field wise,” Johnson said. “Because they are getting a lot of guys in this 2017 class. It is one of those things that I have to see how the depth chart is going to play out.”

He’ll watch to see who joins the class. Who’s playing well? Who might be underrated? Who’s underrated? Johnson will watch to see which 2016 signees come on and start earning major playing time.

“I want to make that depth chart sets up right for me because I plan on going in and making an immediate impact,” Johnson said.

Could he be another Pied Piper-type to lure other big-time players to join him at the same school? Johnson said LeCounte definitely had that part right and offered up a jaw-dropping example why.

“I’ve got some guys lined up that I know we are all going to play together in college,” Johnson said. “I can tell you now that I know where I go that I am going to bring in another four guys with me that will all play ball together in college. We’ve already talked that out and got that all lined up.”

Something like that seems incredibly hard to pull off given the individual fits and best decisions in play for so many elite players. That said, it would be stunning if that’s exactly what Johnson has lined up.

“Wait for it,” Johnson said. “You’re going to see that. I plan on bringing those five guys with me wherever I sign. … You can just wait for it and call us the ‘Fab 5’ if you want to when it all plays out.”

The latest on Johnson’s decision 

Johnson is an excellent communicator. He’s the sort that can take an interview into another direction and the conversation leads to places no one should ever expect it to go. That almost always leads to great things.

“My decision is very complicated,” Johnson said. “It is one of the toughest decisions I feel I will ever have to make. Every school is coming at you with some good. That’s playing time on the field. That’s their resumes. They’ve put guys in the NFL. But then again you have to look at the depth chart and do your own research. There are a lot of good liars out there. That’s some college coaches. You have to see through it. You have to see the real instead of listening to them telling you the fake.”

He trusts players. He’s established two players on every one of his top schools that can help him with that. The list at Georgia is longer than that. He feels he can go to Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Natrez Patrick and Reggie Wilkerson for that in Athens.

Johnson will be at Ohio State this weekend and will also attend the Iron Bowl later this month.

His decision will be fascinating to follow on several levels outside of the LeCounte connection and his affinity for UCLA. It even goes beyond all that “Fab 5” stuff.

Why? Let’s tick off the reasons.

  • Johnson would relish the chance the play with his older brother. He believes in second chances and his older sibling is now tearing it up at QB for East Mississippi Community College. That’s the same program that has been made famous by the critically-acclaimed “Last Chance U.” documentary that’s attracted so much attention to the school on Netflix.
  • Tyreke Johnson said to expect the school that offers De’Andre a second chance to receive an official visit from him. It doesn’t matter who large or small that program might be. If a major program Johnson already favors did so, then his process might end quickly. It is important to note that those charges were reduced to a misdemeanor. That decision might hinge on a respective conference’s by-laws allowing them to admit a transfer student with a case like that on their record.
  • It sounds like Johnson has a lot of thinking left to do with his decision. A lot of that centers on the fact that he’s not certain which opportunities will be made available to his brother at this time. Johnson is averaging 264 passing yards per game for East Mississippi this year after eight games. He’s thrown 22 touchdown passes and just four interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. The former Florida Mr. Football is also averaging 70 rushing yards per game. Most importantly, he’s led his team to an 8-1 record. (The only loss came in the opener. That’s when the Lions had to sit out the majority of their veteran players due to sanctions suffered in a bench-clearing brawl in the final game of the 2015 season.)
  • Tyreke Johnson told DawgNation that he now wants to take his official visits next fall before making his decision. He will enroll early, but he had a recent conversation with his mother that led them to the conclusion that those were going to be vital. Pamela Jones, his mother, will play a very important role in his decision. Look for him to take at least four of his official visits before he makes his decision. “At the end of the day where my mom feels like home is where I feel like home,” Tyreke Johnson said. “Because there’s nothing less like a mother’s blessing. There’s nobody like here. It is one of those things where she hasn’t been to UCLA yet. She has to see it. She hasn’t been to Ohio State yet. She’s only been to Alabama once, but we have got to get her back out there. It is one of those things if that we are on the same page and my father is on the same page with a school, then it is going to be ‘go time’ for me.
  • The UGA-related quote on that topic: “My mother and father both love Georgia,” Tyreke Johnson said.
  • His mother’s influence should be an eventual swing factor. “A praying mother or a praying grandmother is going to be key,” Johnson said. “A praying female can see through anybody. They can read the fake and the real very quickly. It is just one of those things where she can read the people for me. Because guys tend to get caught up in all the football and the coaches and thinking about playing in the NFL. Your mom can lay back, pay attention and really listen to what everyone is saying and really look deeper into it.”
  • Johnson doesn’t want his backside kissed by colleges. He prefers when recruiters inform him he’s offered initially and quickly speed things up by letting him know he’s a priority and a definite take no matter the circumstances. That gets things very real very quickly for him in his evaluation process. Johnson said he doesn’t need constant “love” from that point on. He also likes it when recruiters — like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart — tell him what he needs to work on and point out his flaws. He said that promises of playing time and those attractive carrots do nothing for him.
  • That initial offer he got from Pruitt while he was at Georgia will help Alabama’s chances at landing Johnson. The 5-star DB has followed Pruitt’s career since his time as the defensive coordinator at Florida State. “It seems like he has the Midas touch,” Tyreke Johnson said. “If he recruits you, then you’re like gold. When he recruits and signs you and plays you, it seems great things are going to happen.”

Johnson’s film provides an up-close look at a special talent.

 

 

 

 

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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, rankings and ratings used in this report are from the 247Sports Composite.

 

 

 

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