ATHENS — Never one to miss an opportunity to talk recruiting, Georgia’s Kirby Smart pounced on one Monday night at Athens Country Club.
Speaking to the Touchdown Club of Athens at its annual spring meeting, he turned to honorees David Andrews and Malcolm Mitchell and labeled them Examples A and B why evaluation — and not just stars — is such an important component of the recruiting process.
An assistant at Alabama when the two players were coming out of high school, Smart said. “We didn’t recruit David too hard. Look at the mistake we made!’ Conversely, he said, he and Jeremy Pruitt recruited Mitchell “as hard as I ever recruited anybody.”
“These two guys are great examples,” Smart said. “One was highly-recruited, one wasn’t, yet both of them are great players. Recruiting is an inexact science. We’re always looking for a guy (like Andrews) that gives us an edge, the guy that plays harder than everybody else. I think about that each practice and some of the guys that stand out aren’t the highest recruited guys. So much of the public perception and the media perception is the 5 stars and the 4 stars and all these things. But so many of our best players are the guys who have the right intangibles. If you get enough guys with the right intangibles, it can carry over for your team.”
Smart spoke on a myriad of subjects and was very revealing with regard to personnel and facilities and even strategy as he spoke and answered questions for nearly an hour. But the think he was most passionate about and the thing he got most excited about was talking about recruiting.
And that is something that Smart has done very well in his short time as Georgia’s head coach. The Bulldogs’ 2017 class was ranked No. 2 in the nation by Scout.com and No. 3 in 247Sports.com’s composite, which averages the rating for all the major recruiting sites. Smart also helped Georgia put together a No. 8-ranked class by the 247 composite in his first season when he succeeded Mark Richt in December and didn’t actually take over the job full time until Jan. 15.
So the man knows a thing or two about recruiting. And he said that’s why this — the recruiting cycle that will encompass the class of 2018 — is in many ways the most important one yet. It is of paramount importance, he said, that the Bulldogs keep up the positive momentum on the recruiting trail.
“Recruiting went really well (in 2017), but I think with good recruiting you have to be careful that the next year doesn’t become a hurdle that you have to get over,” Smart told the members-only crowd. “Now, everybody’s saying, ‘oh, you just signed the greatest class, the second- or third-ranked class.’ But our competitors are saying, ‘how’re you going to play when they just signed all these great players.’ Thos players who aren’t on campus yet, who haven’t played a down yet. You have that hurdle to overcome. Fifty percent of your roster is freshmen or sophomores. So they’re all back. Yeah. But how am I going to play everybody.”
As a result, Smart said he issued a challenge to the Bulldogs’ assistant coaches. He told them that this was the most important recruiting year yet. He told them that they have to work even harder and more tirelessly to find that kid like Andrews, the kid who grew up always wanting to go to Georgia, and plays hard all the time but may just be a little below the radar in terms of drawing across-the-board interest from the football powerhouses.
They still want those guys, mind you, the ones like the multiple 5- and 4-star prospects that they amassed this past February. But now Georgia has to be even more clever and more dogged in its pursuit.
“Human nature is to relax,” Smart said. “‘We had a good class last year, right? Let’s just sit back and relax.’ You know what? You better go harder, because if you recruited this hard to get that class, you’re going to have to work harder to get the next class. Everybody has to understand that. It’s a call to action is what that is.”
Smart is getting plenty to work with. He said the new $31 million indoor athletic facility was probably responsible for luring at least 10 major prospects into the fold this past recruiting cycle and is still making a difference. And the plans to build a $63 million locker room and recruiting lounge addition at Sanford Stadium is also paying dividends.
Not coincidently, Smart wasn’t above soliciting more donations to continue to make improvements to Georgia’s football facilities, which he identified as being substandard to the upper-crust of the SEC after arriving from Alabama.
“That impacts them,” he said of having the best of everything. “So does the other places. So does the weight room , the stadium, the recruiting room. So those things DO matter. And I’m very appreciative of everyone in this room who helped us by donating for the indoor facility . That was huge for us.”
Of course, winning helps, too. And Smart said he knows that better than anybody. He wasn’t ready to pronounce the Bulldogs as having arrived yet. If anything, he remains pretty critical of what he’s seeing on the field one week into spring practice in Year 2.
But he believes an improved offense and special teams can get Georgia where it wants to be pretty quickly.
“It’s pretty obvious we’ve got to improve on offense. We’ve got to score more points,” Smart said. “How do we do that? Well, we’ve got to convert in the red area. We were horrible there last year. We have to improve there. We’ve already started down that road by doing more red area. If we can be successful in the in the red area and convert field goals opportunities into touchdowns, we’re going to score more points. So we’ve got to be better in the red area.
“The other thing on offense we have got to be able to throw the ball and loosen people up. We’ve got a quarterback who has a great arm, great arm talent. He has the ability to do it. He struggled last year to get us into the right situations at times. We’ve got to help with that, make it simpler, give some space places to guys like Sony, to Brian Herrien.”
But if Georgia is going to get itself back into the championship conversation, it’ll be through recruiting. And Smart and his staff are promising that they will outwork all comers in that department.
“We’re in a state that’s always fertile with all kinds of talent,” he said. “So you want to recruit this state first, and then go get your needs outside the state. We were very fortunate to do that in this last class.”
Doing it in this next one promises to be a challenge. Finding a few Andrews and Mitchells along the way will help.