Kirby Smart has turned the volume all the way up on recruiting at UGA.
That sounds like an opinion, but the facts are stacking up to make that abundantly clear. UGA is set to host a “Freshman Day” in Athens on Saturday with a V.I.P. guest list. The Bulldogs will welcome the Top 50 freshmen prospects in the state.
The concept — which has never been done before with freshmen — comes at an intersection of moment and opportunity. The Class of 2019 in Georgia runneth over with players of immense talent and potential who are already well-known on the youth football scene.
The idea is the brainchild of former Grayson coach Kenyatta Watson. He’s well-connected because his son is among those 50. Watson said that 27 of those ninth-graders are already starters on their varsity team. He said at least 20 of them already have SEC offers, but only a select few hold UGA offers.
That makes Saturday’s practice a perfect moment to orient them with Smart’s new UGA.
How good are these guys? Grayson freshman Owen Pappoe is already on the short list for the nation’s No. 1 player honor for 2019. He had 10 offers by his first day of high school and was arguably the best player on Grayson’s defense last season. He racked up 52 tackles during the playoffs and now has 26 offers. Watson is very close with Pappoe and his family.
Walton freshman receiver Dominick Blaylock — the son of former college and NBA great Mookie Blaylock — is likely among the Top 10 receivers in the state now. Upson-Lee freshman defensive end/linebacker Travon Walker is a perfect example of what this day can mean to the program.
Walker is already 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and will get college offers as soon as he starts visiting schools with his impressive background. He’s still a relative unknown. Then there’s a player like Griffin defensive tackle Tru Thompson. Thompson (6-2, 300) is already has Florida State and Miami offers, but has yet to earn a UGA offer.
The new coaching staff doesn’t really know these homegrown guys yet. They will soon.
“The general consensus among these families and players has been that UGA waits too late to offer them,” Watson said.
Looking for evidence of that? Watson knows Martha Brown well. Her son Kameron is among the 50 that will be at UGA on Saturday. Her older son Derrick Brown was a five-star defensive tackle and the No. 1 prospect in the state for 2016. He signed with Auburn.
UGA had its hat on Brown’s table on signing day, but might have fared better if it had really started recruiting him hard before his junior year. That’s the feedback Watson said he heard from Brown.
The genesis of the idea came from a chat Watson was having with new UGA defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The former NFL defensive coordinator said the staff doesn’t really know all the elite young players in the state yet. That’s when Watson suggested a “Freshman Day” concept.
He can roll off all the stats. MaxPreps.com’s Freshman All-American team had five first-team picks from Georgia and another two on the second team. There was an “Elite 101” listing that rattles off the top rising ninth graders in the country. The state of Georgia had 36 players on that list. Georgia has more offers among its Class of 2019 prospects on rankbyoffers.com than any other state in the nation.
“What makes this class so phenomenal is the sheer number of big linemen,” Watson said.
When UGA was full go with the concept, Watson sent out a mass text to those 50 families and quickly heard back from all involved within an hour.
“I am going to be inconspicuous with this from now on, but I tried to get this together because this is what all the parents wanted,” Watson said. “Their kids were already getting exposed to other colleges and they wanted to get the chance to check out Georgia in their home state.”
Watson also got some of that “instant feedback” from Smart.
“Kirby said it was ingenious and unbelievable,” said Watson, making sure to embellish the unbelievable in that statement to convey the right emphasis on the first two syllables.
Why all the fuss about players who won’t arrive for 42 months? The schools that UGA will compete against for this load of in-state talent are offering them. Auburn has already offered more of Georgia’s elite freshmen than any other program. That’s one reason.
As for the rest, Watson laid it out simply. He knows his son and his peers. They are prone to seek out the instant gratifications that modern society offers up so freely.
“Recruiting is about relationships now,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody says. Those schools that say they won’t offer a freshman can be that way. But let’s use Owen as an example. He already has 26 offers right now. Do you think he will even care about anybody that offers him now? You have to be one of those five top early schools to offer these kids now to get them.”
Tired of seeing players like Vonn Bell, Derrick Brown, Raekwon McMillian, Robert Nkemdiche and DeShaun Watson leave the state? This is how you do it.
Build that relationship early. That builds that fence around Metro Atlanta and the state of Georgia when it comes to recruiting.
“If Kirby builds a fence around Metro Atlanta, then Georgia will win national championships,” Watson said. “No question.”
What’s the biggest way to know that this plan is the next wave? Watson said Alabama just reached out. They want to host a “Freshman Day” of their own.
Score one for Smart. Alabama is already copying something in place at UGA. That’s progress.
UGA CHANGED the game y'all will see Saturday!!! ?? #TRUE19
— Owen Pappoe (@opfreak15) March 16, 2016
UGA’s FRESHMAN 50 VIPs
(a star next to player’s name indicates they are already a starter)
*ATH Owen Pappoe, 6-1/207, Grayson High School (26 offers)
*OT Keiondre Jones, 6-3/265, Callaway High School (UGA, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee offers)
*ATH Jashawn Sheffield, 6-2/175, Frederica Academy (5 offers)
*WR Dominick Blaylock, 6-0/175, Walton High School (13 offers)
*ATH Jaylen McCollough, 6-1/165, Hillgrove High School
*ATH KJ Wallace, 5-10/165, Lovett School (Auburn, South Carolina and Vanderbilt offers)
OL Jakai Clark, 6-0/265, Grayson High School
OL Wanya Morris, 6-5/265, Grayson High School
OG Chilton Tolliver, 6-0/265, Grayson High School
*QB Knox Kadum, 6-1/180, Rome High School
DT Tru Thompson, 6-2/300, Griffin High School (FSU and Miami offers)
OL Quentin Skinner, 6-0/235, Buford High School
WR Adrian Crompton, 6-2/180, South Gwinnett High School
OL Ty Murray, 6-3/270, Carrollton High School
DE Derek McClendon, 6-3/240, Tucker High School
OL Michael Brooks, 6-2/270, Cedar Grove High School
OL Harry Miller, 6-5/300, Buford High School
DE Nolan Smith, 6-2/200, Calvary Day School
LB Trevon Salter, 5-9/205, Grayson High School
CB Kenyatta Watson, 6-1/168, Grayson High School
*CB Malik Fleming, 5-10/170, Creekside High School (Louisville)
RB Jeremy Smith, 5-11/185, Jenkins High School
QB Ross Malmgren, 6-1/180, North Paulding High School
*RB Jamious Griffin, 5-9/180, Rome High School
OL Riley Simmonds, 6-3/250, Buford High School
QB Jkori Jone, 6-1/165, Grayson High School
*ATH Paris Brown, 5-10/180, McEachern High School
DB Malik Washington, 5-9/175, Parkview High School (Auburn)
WR Jaden Hazelwood, 6-3/190, Cedar Grove High School (Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisville, West Virginia)
ATH Justin Shelly, 5-8/155, Tucker High School
LB Kameron Brown, 6-0/215, Lanier High School
LB Kareem Hobbs, 6-0/186, North Paulding High School
OL Jake Winskie, 6-4/255, Brookwood High School
CB Jaylen Alexander, 5-11/165, Grayson High School
OL Trente Jones, 6-4/250, Grayson High School
*DE/TE JD Bertrand, 6-1/215, Blessed Trinity High School
*RB Steele Chambers, 6-0/198, Blessed Trinity High School (Vanderbilt offer)
DL/TE Christopher Hinton, 6-5/265, Greater Atlanta Christian (Michigan offer, son of former NFL great OL Chris Hinton)
*QB Zach Gibson, 6-1/175, Johns Creek High School
OL Warren McClendon, 6-5, 275, Brunswick High School (Alabama offer)
*OL David Bowman, 6-4/260, West Forsyth HS
DB DJ Turner, 5-11/150, North Gwinnett HS
*LB Charles Thomas, 6-0/205, Langston Hughes High School
*TE Ryland Goede, 6-5/210, Kennesaw Mountain High School
*LB Xavier Billingsley, 6-1/180, Columbus High School
*ATH Zion Hawkins, 5-11/170, North Paulding High School
*OL Justin Eboigbe, 6-5/230, Forest Park High School
ATH Munir McClain, 6-2/160, Mays High School
QB Nathan Presnell, 6-5/195, Hiram High School
SS Kenny Edwards, 5-10/170, Grayson High School
WR Nance Hill, 6-3/180, Westminster High School
WR Anthony Edwards, 6-2/190, Therrell High School
WR Nick Manson, 6-2/175, Mundy’s Mill High School
DB Jahquez Evans, 6-1/160, Mays High School
RB/LB Raylynn Thornton, 6-2/185, Columbus High School
*LB Kevon Glenn, 6-1/205, Riverdale High School*
RB/DE Kamonty Jett, 5-10/190 Roswell High School
DE/LB Travon Walker, 6-4, 240, Upson-Lee High School
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.