Nolan Smith II is a 5-star defensive end from Savannah, Ga., and he’s ranked as the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect by one of the major recruiting services. Most importantly for Georgia fans, he’s committed to the Bulldogs.
However, everything might not have turned out the same if Mark Richt was still UGA’s coach.
Smith is finishing out of his high school career at Florida’s IMG Academy, and he made some candid comments this week that generated some attention. Smith told Bradenton.com’s Jason Dill on Wednesday that his first visit to Georgia as a high school freshman did not go very well.
“I didn’t like it (the visit to Georgia) … I hated it,” Smith recalled on Wednesday.
The reason? Per the Florida website, it was because of Richt.
He was UGA’s coach at the time of Smith’s visit in 2015. Richt, of course, is now the coach at Miami.
Said Smith on Wednesday: “Even Deshaun Watson went out of state, and he won a national championship for somebody else. There’s a lot of Georgia stories about Georgia boys going to Georgia that a lot of people don’t know about. … (Watson) went to Clemson, played quarterback and got drafted.”
First, let’s set the record straight on Watson and UGA: Watson was clearly one of Richt’s biggest recruiting misses while Richt was coach of the Bulldogs. Watson was a lifelong Georgia fan who grew up around 40 miles from Athens. It seemed like it was going to be a perfect match.
So how did Watson end up at Clemson instead? Props to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who (1) identified Watson early as an elite quarterback prospect and (2) then aggressively recruited him early. The superstar quarterback committed to Clemson on signing day of his sophomore year (November 1, 2012) at Gainesville High School.
UGA didn’t get around to offering Watson until nearly a year after he was committed to Clemson — January of 2013. By that time, it was much too late for the Bulldogs. Watson ended up as one of the most decorated high school quarterbacks the state of Georgia has ever produced.
Watching Watson leave the state to play college football upset many UGA fans, including Bulldogs great Hines Ward, who told 247 sports, “The one thing that irks me is we’re losing great talent. To see the quarterback at Clemson leaving Gainesville to go there. It’s like, ‘what in the world?'”
Back to Nolan Smith II: Kirby Smart, Richt’s successor at UGA, and his staff deserve major praise for radically changing Smith’s perception of the Bulldogs in a positive manner. Smith, who committed to the Bulldogs in January of 2017, raved about UGA “building a culture,” per the Bradenton paper.
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Smith was recently elevated to the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect for this year’s class, per the 247sports ranking. That’s not to be confused with the 247sports composite rankings, which combines the rankings of several recruiting services, but it’s just as nearly as accomplished. By the way, Smith is the country’s No. 2 overall in composite rankings.