“This is my dream team, this is our dream team at the University of Georgia. … I really believe that this class will end up being the largest and most talented and the best bunch in the 11 years now (I’ve been at Georgia.)”
– Mark Richt on Feb. 2, 2011, National Signing Day
ATHENS — From the beginning it was a hard name to live up to, and Georgia coaches knew it. They also didn’t really care. The program needed a spark, coming off a 6-7 season and a year removed from the lowest-rated signing class of Richt’s tenure. Someone, nobody quite remembers who, came up with the Dream Team idea, and they ran with it.
It worked. Georgia basically ran the table on in-state recruits: Malcolm Mitchell, Jay Rome, Damian Swann, Ray Drew … and on signing day itself the jewel of the class, tailback Isaiah Crowell, announced for Georgia by cradling a Bulldog puppy.
(A five-star offensive recruit who fills Georgia’s biggest need. Sound familiar?)
It was Georgia’s best class in years. Its 26 members, or at least those who stayed, played in two SEC championship games, helped get Richt off of the hot seat, and a half-dozen are now in the NFL. A few more could join them.
Now the Dream Teamers are almost all gone from the program. Only seven remain, including a couple who never thought they’d be here this long. Richt is back on the hot seat. The 2011 class leaves a complicated legacy: Some of the most highly-rated didn’t pan out or didn’t last at Georgia, while a few of the three-stars are in the NFL right now.
“It was cool to be labeled that, and have such a great class,” Georgia offensive lineman Hunter Long said. “But as you know some of those guys fell off along the way. But the guys that have stuck around it’s been a great ride.”
Long, Mitchell, Rome, Sterling Bailey, Devin Bowman and Nate Theus are those that remain, along with Chris Mayes, a defensive lineman who signed, didn’t qualify, but joined the team two years later.
Mitchell, a receiver, and Rome, a tight end, were among the most highly-recruited, both out of Valdosta, and their January commitments were big wins for Georgia. Both were considered good enough to be three-and-out to the NFL.
“I wouldn’t have made it to my senior year because I would’ve left as a junior,” Mitchell said.
The temptation is to downplay the Dream Team, perhaps because of a name that made it hard to live up to. In fact, on an individual level it proved to be a pretty accomplished group.
Mitchell will finish in the top four all-time in Georgia career catches. Bailey has been a starter the past two years.
Six Dream Teamers are now in the NFL: Center David Andrews has started every game this year for the New England Patriots, despite being undrafted. Linebacker Ramik Wilson is playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. Damian Swann and John Jenkins are playing for the New Orleans Saints. Crowell, who only played one year at Georgia, is in his second year with the Cleveland Browns. Nick Marshall is playing cornerback and returning kicks for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The latter two are part of the star-crossed nature of the class: Neither lasted more than a year at Georgia, with Crowell (the SEC freshman of the year in 2011) gone after a gun-possession arrest (later dismissed) the summer of 2012. Marshall, Chris Sanders and Sanford Seay were dismissed following a theft from a teammate’s room in February of 2012. Marshall ended up back at Auburn, where he played quarterback twice against his old team.
A few other Dream Teamers are still waiting on the NFL: Drew, one of the most highly-rated members of the class, spent some time on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad this season but is currently a free agent. Amarlo Herrera, a sixth-round pick by Indianapolis this year, is on that team’s practice squad.
The Dream Team had some misses: The only quarterback in that class, four-star Christian LeMay, transferred because of playing time and is now the backup at Jacksonville State, an FCS school.
Other players were hit by injury: Receiver Justin Scott-Wesley stopped playing this team because of chronic knee problems.
But there were some unexpected hits: Andrews, Conley and Wilson – all playing as NFL rookies – were three-star recruits.
“The no-name guys that came out of recruiting, the three stars and stuff like that … it’s those hardworking guys who go through the process and work their tails off for four years and see their dreams come true,” Long said. “It’s great to see.”
It’s a reminder of the inexact science of recruiting. But others, like four-stars Mitchell and Swann, were just as pegged.
Now the Dream Team chapter is officially closing.
“I definitely didn’t feel like I’d be here five years,” Rome said. “You know everybody goes in hoping they’ll only have to do three. Maybe four. But you couldn’t have told me I’d here for five years. But now that I’ve been here for five years I wouldn’t change it.”