ATHENS – One of the best players in the country, the guy who would determine whether you should feel good about Georgia’s signing class, the highest-rated recruit in years, had in fact signed with Georgia.
And hardly anybody knew.
Brandon Miller, the nation’s seventh-best overall prospect according to Rivals, quietly signed his letter-of-intent in a back room at his south Georgia high school. Earlier, the shy high school star had sat with a few people, including this reporter, and literally shook his head at all the attention.
“I wouldn’t mind going to Bainbridge Community College,” Miller said at one point, only half-joking.
Meanwhile, up in Athens, there was a scramble for information. This was in 2004, long before Twitter, or everyone being able to text message, or phone service being good around tiny south Georgia towns. It took until early in the evening for information to finally filter up, leading to this conversation between two reporters.
“When is he going to sign?”
“He already did. With Georgia.”
“A couple hours ago.”
During four seasons at Georgia, Miller was a solid player and by all accounts a good teammate and citizen. But he wasn’t a star, which shows how silly it can be to judge a recruiting class by decisions actually made on signing day.
Still, the drama is pretty fun to watch.
From Isaiah Crowell lifting a puppy, to the Josh Harvey-Clemons saga, to Roquan Smith last year, the Georgia football program has had plenty of signing-day theater.
“I quite frankly would like to have no buzz on signing date,” Mark Richt once said. “I’d like it to be the boringest day it is.”
Richt said that on signing day 2012, when a bizarre situation led to Richt having to turn himself in for a recruiting violation.
That was when Harvey-Clemons, the highly-sought defensive player from Valdosta, announced for Georgia in the morning, and Richt expressed his excitement about it during a live ESPNU interview.
The only problem: Harvey-Clemons’ letter-of-intent hadn’t actually arrived. That’s an NCAA secondary violation. The letter didn’t arrive until the next day, after Harvey-Clemons’ grandfather, who favored Florida, finally relented.
That was a year after Crowell famously announced for Georgia by hoisting the English bulldog puppy a friend had acquired from Mike “Mad Dog” Woods. (Whatever happened to that puppy, anyway?) Well, we know what happened to Crowell: He was dismissed a year later by Georgia. Harvey-Clemons was dismissed two years into his career.
That’s the lesson for Georgia fans, who undoubtedly — along with fans of other teams — will let signing-day decisions either elevate or deflate their view of the class. Especially in a year when there are more signing-day announcements than usual.
Oh sure, it matters whether Georgia gets Derrick Brown, Demetris Robertson or Mecole Hardman. But the most hyped recruit — quarterback Jacob Eason — has already been roaming Georgia’s campus for a month.
Sometimes important signings don’t actually happen until after signing day. John Jenkins, who anchored Georgia’s defensive line during its 2011 and 2012 division title teams, didn’t sign until a few days later.
But signing day is fun for a reason. And it occasionally gets Georgia on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Back in 1996, SI followed around a high school senior named Marcus Stroud, who ditched a commitment to Florida on signing day to sign with Georgia. SI put him on the cover, ripping off a Gators shirt to reveal Uga. Stroud did go on to have a productive career, and went on to a long NFL career.
Last year’s big signing-day name was Smith, the linebacker from Montezuma who revealed his choice by bringing out his blue-and-gold gloves: UCLA.
Minutes later Smith’s phone lit up: Georgia assistants were making sure Smith knew there were reports that UCLA’s top recruiter for Smith was leaving for the NFL.
A few weeks later, Smith officially changed his mind to Georgia.
Two years ago it was Lorenzo Carter, a top-20 national recruit, committing late in the afternoon. Carter hasn’t quite lived up to the hype yet, but has time left. Isaiah McKenzie, who has emerged as a special teams star, committed to Georgia early on the same morning.
But Georgia has also been burned by players it didn’t get on signing day — especially in the notorious 2013 signing class. Defensive tackle Montravius Adams spurned Georgia for Auburn, capping a desultory year in which Georgia didn’t sign a single five-star. (The two signing-day commitments in 2013 were Davin Bellamy and DeVondre Seymour. While Seymour never played a down at Georgia, Bellamy could finally become a starter this season.)
So the lessons abound. Football is a team sport. One man can’t make that much of a difference, right?
Eh, sure. But for one day, enjoy the ride.