SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The UGA contingent is heavy this week at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Ben Cleveland, Jacob Eason, Jaleel Laguins and Julian Rochester will each be representing the program as UGA commits. There are also major uncommitted UGA targets like 5-stars Derrick Brown, Mecole Hardman, Jr. and Demetris Robertson in town, plus 4-star defensive gems Brian Burns and Nigel Warrior competing this week.
The event culminates with an NBC broadcast at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, but look for a steady flow of information about practice performances, recruiting implications and Top 5s this week.
The week’s UGA storylines:
Ben Cleveland, Jacob Eason and Julian Rochester get ready to enroll at UGA
Why that matters: Each one of those UGA commits will enroll early, which means they will commute from San Antonio to Athens after Saturday’s game. Cleveland and Eason have been committed since July of 2014 while Rochester is Georgia’s highest-rated defensive recruit.
Expect Eason to have a fantastic week as he’ll have a lot of familiarity with the game plan. His high school coach, Tom Tri, will be one of the assistants for the East team this week. Eason — a native of the state of Washington — is playing on the East team. The National Gatorade Player of the Year has the chance to play with, or influence, several of his potential UGA teammates.
Cleveland and Rochester will both look to verify their reputations as two of the nation’s finest trench players in one-to-one competition. Then they will be off to Athens.
5-star tight end Isaac Nauta decides this week
Why that matters: Nauta, the nation’s top-ranked tight end, has UGA, Alabama and Michigan as his final three schools. The former Buford standout spent his senior season at IMG Academy in Florida but will enroll early. He’s already gone through the admissions process at Georgia and Michigan, but didn’t need to do that at Alabama.
He’s a rare 5-star talent at that position, and the 6-foot-4, 237-pounder should be regarded as a must-sign to pair with Eason for the next three-to-four years. Nauta is playing his decision close to the vest, but the Bulldogs are the popular prediction of the recruiting industry.
Nauta told Dawgnation on Sunday that he’s down to two schools, but kept those two programs in his head.
Which way are Derrick Brown, Mecole Hardman, Jr. and Demetris Robertson leaning?
Why that matters: Those guys are all five-star prospects. Brown is rated as the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle while Hardman and Robertson come in at the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, respectively, among the nation’s top-ranked athletes.
Brown maintains that he is wide open among his five finalists of Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State and Tennessee. He’s already taken his official visits to Alabama and Mississippi State.
Hardman just released his Top 6 which included Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan and Tennessee. UGA and Alabama seem to be the teams to beat, but Hardman sure won’t be the one to say that.
Robertson has stated that Stanford has pretty much been his leader ever since he de-committed from Alabama last summer. UGA and Alabama also still loom large here.
UGA’s recruiting class needs to include at least one of these guys. Anything more than that would be a mighty impressive haul for new coach Kirby Smart and his incomplete coaching staff. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see UGA get two or even three of those guys.
Has UGA gotten back into the lead group with Brian Burns?
Why that matters: Burns hails from American Heritage (Fla.) which has been a pipeline to UGA in recent years, sending the likes of Isaiah McKenzie, Sony Michel and Marshall Morgan to Athens. UGA was once in his top group and in a co-leader spot.
Yet, it appears the Richt-to-Smart transition hasn’t hurt the program. Burns told 247sports.com’s Thomas Goldkamp on Sunday that Georgia, Florida and Florida State were all even at this time.
UGA has a chance, due to the fact it was the first program to outline his Saturday future in a Leonard Floyd role. Burns liked that, and every other program that’s chasing him soon adopted the pitch. Smart and UGA assistant Kevin Sherrer loom large here.
Can Kirby Smart make a late dash for Nigel Warrior?
Why that matters: Warrior is intrigued by UGA because he likes what Smart can do defensively, but it appears he won’t seriously consider UGA until Alabama’s former defensive coordinator is able to name his defensive backs coach at UGA.
Could it be current Alabama defensive backs coach Mel Tucker? Or is it a wild card?
Warrior, the son of NFL Pro Bowler and Tennessee all-time great Dale Carter, can make a case for himself as the nation’s top safety with consistently strong practice and game performances this week.
He told SEC Country on Sunday that UGA’s chances have improved with Smart’s rise to head coach.
Jaleel Laguins remains loyal to UGA
Why that matters: Laguins has said over the last month he’s “uncertain” about how much UGA wants him now. The Alabama blueprint for inside linebackers prefer their athletes to be in the 235-pound range. Laguines, who weighs about 216 pounds, spoke to Smart briefly after he was hired, but hasn’t heard from him much since. He’s being heavily pursued by SEC rivals Alabama, Florida, LSU and Tennessee at this time, but is remaining loyal to UGA for now.
He recently told DawgNation he wanted to see just what Smart’s plans are for him before he makes any decision regarding his commitment.
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.