The nation’s No. 1 athlete plans a lot of trips over the next few months, but what he has already learned about UGA makes it a viable contender for a coveted out-of-state athlete in the Class of 2017.
JaCoby Stevens took his second trip to Athens earlier this month and plans another for perhaps for the G-Day game. He’ll blend that trip in with planned stops at Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC.
He’s already formed a very high opinion of new UGA defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mel Tucker. That was based on observing Tucker coaching the skill players on his defense in practice.
“Coach Tucker coaches the defensive back skill guys great,” Stevens said. “He’s the best ‘DB’ coach in college football right now.”
The 6-foot-2, 196-pounder liked the way Tucker’s resume translates to what he sees on the practice field.
“He’s fresh out of the NFL,” he said. “He runs the NFL defenses and he knows what to look for. You can also see the work he did with players at Alabama. You can tell from there. When he came to Alabama you can see that Cyrus Jones went up a couple of notches. Then you can see a guy like Eddie Jackson, too. He really didn’t play the season before and became a Jim Thorpe (Award) semifinalist. Then you had a freshman like Minkah Fitzpatrick that came all the way from New Jersey and contributed really big for Alabama as a freshman toward a national championship. You see all that and then watch him coach up close and you can tell he really knows what he is talking about.”
Has he already seen enough from a potential position coach to cement UGA as one of his five official visits? That answer is yes.
The nation’s No. 22 overall prospect also noticed Kirby Smart’s energy.
“What I like about coach Smart is he is a hands-on head coach,” Stevens said. “He’s not one of those laid-back managers. You can see coach Smart pick up a ball and throw it in a DB drill. When the safeties break from the other DB’s to go to specific safety and corner drills, you actually see Coach Smart coaching and working with the safeties on rolling back into Cover 3 and Cover 2 breaks. You really see Coach Smart active in practice. I really like to see that in a head coach.”
Tucker and Smart have already established a weekly call with Stevens to invest in that relationship. He chats with Smart and Tucker on Wednesdays.
“We get on the phone every Wednesday,” Stevens said. “First, I will call Coach Tucker at like six o’ clock or maybe 6:30 and we will chat for awhile and then I call Coach Smart at seven. We talk about life and not just football. Then during the week, we will send each other texts and share stuff over the phone.”
The rising senior at Oakland High School (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) lives up to his No. 1 athlete ranking with his on-field job description. He’ll play cornerback, quarterback, running back, safety, wide receiver and return punts and kicks for his Patriots.
He preferred to discuss the schools “in the hunt” as opposed to a Top 5, but felt Auburn, Florida, Oklahoma and USC were right there with Georgia as the schools that stand out to him at this time.
Which school of those five was hitting him up the most right now? Stevens said his answer would have to be Georgia at this time.
“Auburn and USC are really on me a lot,” he said. “I don’t think that (new USC director of player personnel) Austin Thomas even takes breaks when it comes to talking to me since he has been at USC. That’s another school I have been talking to a lot. I’ve been talking to coach (Jim) McElwain at Florida. We talk and text all the time. Those are three schools I talk to all the time along with Oklahoma. I am talking to everybody at Oklahoma it seems like, too.”
The main reason for his recent trip to UGA was to bring his mother and sister on campus. His father had already made the trip. His mother has already been to Tennessee and he plans to take her to Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Oklahoma and USC, too.
“I wanted to show them why I liked Georgia so much and I think they saw why because my mom and my sister really enjoyed themselves,” Stevens said.
His mother is a teacher so the academic support at UGA was something she needed to see.
“You are forced to see your academic mentor every morning,” Stevens said. “They lay out your schedule every day and you have a tutor for every class. They made sure you have your grade-point average high enough to get into the school that you need for your major. They help you off the field at Georgia as much as they do on the field. That’s something my Mom really looks for.”
He noticed what Mom thought, too.
“In certain circumstances of the visit I had never seen her as excited about other schools as she was already about Georgia,” he said.
His younger sister is just 13 years old, but she’s already an adept volleyball player. She’s an imposing middle hitter at 5-foot-10 and catching up with her older brother in height.
“There are a lot of tall women in my family,” he said.
Stevens feels that practice habits are an indicator of future team performance. That’s a belief that is shared by Archer four-star cornerback Jamyest Williams, too.
“I wanted to see how they coached their players and how the players responded to them,” Stevens said. “I think that went really well. The way they players respond to coaching during tough practices can show you what type of season a team is going to have.”
Stevens said he could see himself making a silent commitment, but does not plan to make his decision until National Signing Day in 2017. He can enroll early, but isn’t sure if he will pursue that option at this time.
“That’s something I am thinking about,” said Stevens, who plans to major in business marketing.
Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.
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.