ATHENS, Ga. — The race to secure the commitment of Jacoby Stevens should be intense over the next 15-20 days.
The nation’s No. 1 athlete will make his decision later this month or in early August. Stevens told DawgNation earlier this year Georgia led and that no other schools were gaining ground in that race.
A lot has changed since then. Stevens told DawgNation on Saturday night his feelings for Georgia have remained the same, but his decision has been complicated by the fact his attraction to Auburn and LSU have risen to that same level of comfort. It sounds like Alabama is right off that lead pack (but gaining) and there’s a newcomer to the fray in Mississippi State.
“I am just in a place where I am trying to figure everything out,” Stevens said. “Those schools are all giving me something to think about.”
The issues are multi-fold and yet based on entrenched recruiting relationships. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has been recruiting Stevens since he was a freshman. When he committed to LSU back in September, Lashlee asked his parents if it would be okay if he could still keep recruiting him. That impressed the family.
Auburn has made up ground on Georgia of late by pitching Stevens as a multi-purpose athlete. (Jeff Sentell (AJC)
Derrick Ansley, who’s now the defensive backs coach at Alabama, has also been recruiting Stevens since he was in the ninth grade. LSU Director of Player Personnel Austin Thomas also weighs heavily here. While Stevens did de-commit from LSU last November, the 5-star prospect still feels his connection to Thomas is as strong as any he’s established during his recruiting process.
“Those guys have always had great relationships with me,” Stevens said.
He will also enroll early and would possibly be a dream safety tandem in Athens with 5-star prospect Richard LeCounte III. Yet that might be part of the problem.
Auburn has gained a lot of ground with Stevens by pitching him as a multi-purpose athlete. He likens his ideal situation to the one Adoree’ Jackson has established at USC.
He feels that can only help his career.
“People are trying to list me as a safety but I consider myself as an athlete,” Stevens said. “I can play both sides of the ball. I can play special teams and help my team win the entire game. Just give me a chance to contribute the whole game. Auburn is doing a good job of selling me that I can play both sides of the ball and show off my versatility. When people ask me what position I play, I just say athlete because I don’t think I actually fit into one specific position grouping. Auburn is selling me hard about playing on both sides of the ball and using my versatility as an athlete.”
The fluid 6-foot-2, 196-pound prospect visited Conference USA member Charlotte (formerly UNC-Charlotte) on Saturday and also plans a stop at East Tennessee State on Sunday. The interest in Mississippi State was sparked by the commitment of his Oakland High School teammate Kaleb Oliver to the Bulldogs. Oliver also plays safety.
My best read on all of this is he just doesn’t know. If he had to sign right now, he couldn’t. He’d be one of those guys who takes a few weeks after National Signing Day to choose his school.
“I would just tell the schools right now to give me an opportunity to be great on both sides of the ball,” Stevens said. “You won’t regret it. That’s the same thing I tell my high school coach right now.”
The defensive tackle spot in this year’s class
Don’t look for the defensive tackle position to weigh heavily in the Class of 2017. The Bulldogs just signed three big-time defensive tackles in 2016 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see defensive end David Marshall move inside from time-to-time during his career at Georgia. That’s why I can see the Bulldogs signing just one defensive tackle this year.
Lee County senior Aubrey Solomon was the primary target, but he definitely seems to be entrenched with Michigan. That commitment sounds very solid. Tyrone Truesdell of Laney High in Augusta was a popular name this spring, but that attention seems to have cooled off.
Mathis is rated as the nation’s No. 14 defensive tackle for the Class of 2017. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Keep the name Phidarian Mathis in mind. The 4-star defensive tackle from Louisiana was at the Kirby Smart Camp on Saturday and drew a lot of attention. Line coach Tracy Rocker watched him closely in drills and Mathis moved pretty well for a big man. Mathis is pretty raw. His trip to Athens was his first actual camp on any college campus. He also won’t be that tough to pry away from LSU.
He hails from a part of that state some might consider to be Southern Arkansas as much as anything else. LSU doesn’t hit that area as hard and almost expects prospects from that region to come to them. Mathis has an offer from Georgia, but his recruitment is just getting started.
Let’s keep in mind he chose Georgia as his first camp. That might go a long way. He’s not expected to make a commitment anytime soon. Don’t look for that to happen until the halfway point of his senior season at least.
The early race for 2018
Count me in the group that feels Georgia won’t know what it has with Smart until 2018. That’s how long it will take for the staff to build the depth necessary to tussle with the Alabamas and Ohio States of the land. Smart even pointed out at SEC Media Days that 63 percent of the team is comprised of sophomores, redshirt sophomores, freshmen and redshirt freshmen. His roster also has just 12 scholarship seniors. The better mix would be 63 percent sophomores and juniors. That scenario preserves the elite talent on a roster that has yet to take early entry to the NFL.
Georgia’s best team in the near future won’t arrive until 2018. That’s when Jacob Eason should be a junior. That gives the program the chance to support that group with a 2017 recruiting class that is currently rated as the nation’s second-best. That’s when Richard LeCounte III, Jaden Hunter, Netori Johnson, William Poole III and Andrew Thomas will all be sophomores.
Zamir White has never had less than 100 rushing yards in a high school game. He scored 45 touchdowns last year as a sophomore. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
We’ve established a habit on DawgNation and the DawgNation Daily podcast of talking up the “Five Guys” Georgia must sign for 2017. That grocery list evolves. When one of those needs are met with a commitment, it sparks a new collection of names.
But we haven’t discussed the 2018 class much collectively. So much of the focus (and rightfully so) is placed on all the wins this staff is stacking up in 2017, but it is also worth taking a quick look downfield to 2018. We’ve brought up Trevor Lawrence, Jamaree Salyer and Zamir White from time-to-time, but never as a group.
Consider this: The highest-rated prospect for 2017 that Georgia has a strong chance to sign is 5-star running back Cam Akers out of Mississippi. He’s rated No. 9 nationally, but then the next highly-rated guys after Akers are LeCounte and Stevens. LeCounte is rated as the nation’s No. 26 prospect and Stevens is right after him.
Now take a look at the Top 5 players on Georgia’s mind for 2018. The startling fact is just how high each prospect is rated considering Georgia either leads or is seen as one of the primary schools to beat for each of these players.
- 5-star QB Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall ranking)
- 5-star OG Jamaree Salyer (No. 10 overall ranking)
- 5-star RB Zamir White (No. 4 overall ranking)
- 5-star CB Tyreke Johnson (No. 9 overall ranking)
- 5-star DE Justin Mascoll (No. 11 overall ranking)
The Bulldogs benefit from the fact Lawrence, Mascoll and Salyer are in-state prospects. Johnson hails from Jacksonville and White is from North Carolina. Proximity to Athens helps out a great deal. Johnson was even at the Kirby Smart Camp on Saturday.
I’m on record saying I don’t think Georgia will attain the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class no matter what it does this year. The Bulldogs won’t sign enough of the nation’s top 20 players in 2016 and Alabama and Ohio State still have a lot of big names to add to their classes, too.
The year for all of that talk will be in 2018. Georgia could land at least three of those names and finish in the Top 3 for all five of those elite players.
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.