ATHENS – As the state goes, they could not be from farther apart. Allen Kennedy is from Valdosta in extreme South Georgia. David McLane is from Northeast Georgia’s Hartwell. They didn’t know each other before Wednesday, yet there they stood on either side of a round, silver railing in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, talking UGA football.
They were both there at the Bulldogs’ football complex Wednesday to celebrate Georgia’s latest recruiting class, ranked among the best in the land this year. It’s an annual ritual hundreds of Georgia fans participate in. Kennedy was attending for the first time. McLane has been coming every year since 2002.
“I just wanted to come and experience it and see if Kirby could do for Georgia what he did for Alabama all those years,” said Kennedy, who spent Tuesday night at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education with his 11-year-old twin nephews, Taylor and Thomas. “So far I like what I’m seeing. He put an emphasis on bringing in some big offensive linemen. Looks like we were able to do that.”
Kennedy is a contractor in the timber business down in Valdosta. McLane teaches pre-kindergarten in Northeast Georgia.
“I just like coming here and being with all my fellow Bulldogs fans,” said Kennedy, who took a personal day to make the hour-plus drive down to Athens. “I like hearing the coaches speak, too. It’s just about being with the Bulldog Nation for a day.”
Those two men were among a couple of hundred fans who milled around the third-floor museum area of the football building and ate the donuts and drank the coffee that UGA provided for them free of charge. These gatherings started a couple of decades ago so the attendees could be among the first to get the news of arriving letters-of-intent from signees, then sent in by facsimile. That’s not exactly the purpose anymore.
Now the fans serve mainly as a backdrop for the hours-long, streaming broadcast show hosted by Chuck Dowdle with former Bulldog and current volunteer kicking coach Kevin Butler. The fans’ main task Wednesday seemed to be to whoop and holler and yell on cue as a producer waved his arms frantically whenever the podcast returned from break.
Most stood, some sat on couches in the middle of the room and others sat in folding chairs they brought as if they were attending a tailgate. They would perk up considerably whenever Georgia would trot out an assistant coach to be interviewed on the set, which special teams coordinator Shane Beamer, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker all alternated doing.
But the grand finale, as always, was when head coach Kirby Smart came in to be interviewed at a little past 11 a.m. In years past, Georgia’s head coaches always took the opportunity at that juncture to engage the fans in a little question-and-answer session. Smart didn’t bother with that last year and he didn’t this year either.
That did not sit well with more than a few fans.
“Can we ask you some questions, Coach?” a man, who would identify himself only as Tom from Snellville, shouted from the back of the crowded room.
Smart did not acknowledge him, only waving to the crowd, giving a thumbs up and smiling as he departed through a doorway behind the studio set and down some back stairs.
“It’s bullcrap,” said Murphy Head, who drove over from Johns Creek early Wednesday morning. “They literally and figuratively turn their back on the fans.”
Former Georgia head coaches would take questions from fans for about 10 or 15 minutes, then send up various assistant coaches to do the same. Both Head and the Snellville guy said they liked it better that way.
But the fans probably like the way Smart is recruiting better. There were no surprises either way on Wednesday, no flips from Georgia or to it. That means the Bulldogs’ class will likely finish where it started, with a consensus national ranking of No. 3. That matches the best class that Richt’s staff assembled in 2006.
And this one was heavy on offensive linemen. Six of them signed in all, and at least two of those could be starting next fall. A safe bet might be junior college transfer D’Marcus Hayes at left tackle and freshman signee Isaiah Wilson at right tackle. UGA lists Wilson as 6-foot-7, 373 pounds on their official roster.
“I am very pleased with the size of that group,” Smart said during the streaming podcast. “Some of them have actually got to be careful, because they can get too big. That’s something they’re going to be motivated hard to work on and prove that. For them to come in and be successful they’ve got to move. (But) when you play the kind of style of ball that we want to play you’ve got to have some guys like that.”
So folks like Matt Brinson of Millen, his brothers Steve and Danny, and their mid-Georgia friends Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Martin, said they got what they came for. They arose at 5 a.m. and met in Thomson to make the two-hour journey to their Shangri-La.
“It’s just kind of like a football holiday in the middle of winter,” said Brinson, who said he first made the trip in 1996 but has been following recruiting intently since 1983. “You can take a day off of work and spend the day with friends doing something you love.”