MACON — Kirby Smart was in mid-summer form even though he was making his first speaking appearance of the offseason on Monday.
Smart made his usual Houdini-like entrance, appearing seemingly out of nowhere and showing up on the stage here at the Rumford Center on the grounds The Methodist Home For Children just minutes before the event started. It was the 2017 Jamboree of the Macon Touchdown Club and Smart was the keynote speaker. Not coincidentally, 2017 UGA signee Malik Herring of Mary Persons was honored as the club’s player of the year and several of the most sought-after recruits for the Class of 2018 were also in attendance.
Among the Super Seven rising seniors recognized by the club Monday night were Emory Jones of Heard County, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and an Ohio State commitment; Houston County’s Deontray Hill, one of the top linemen in the South; and two key receivers for the next year’s class, Marquez Ezzard of Stockbridge and Kearis Jackson of Peach County.
As NCAA contact rules dictate, Smart was able to talk all he wanted to Herring, who has already signed his national letter-of-intent with the Bulldogs. And the two individuals did spend a lot of time visiting before the program started. Herring, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end 4-star prospect, received the Elmo A. Richardson player of the year trophy.
Smart took the opportunity to rib one of the masters of ceremony. TD Club executive director Lloyd Perkins mispronounced Herring’s first name during an introduction.
“It’s muh-LEEK,” Smart said, emphasizing the correct annunciation. “That’s all right, Malik. You will have more opportunities to let this Gator know what your name is.”
“I did notice there are a few less people here than last year,” said Smart, coming off an 8-5 year in his first season as the Bulldogs’ head coach “They were standing in the back last time I was here. We have to win more games next year to bring them back.”
But Smart did have a message. It was mainly geared toward the recruits, but also to fans seemingly as a way to explain his need for high levels of control in all things the Bulldogs do. He shared an anecdote about a UPS business executive who saved his company a massive amount of money in fuel and time costs by planning routes to include almost exclusively right turns.
“In doing that, he saved 28 million miles off their trucks,” Smart said. “He saved 3 million gallons of fuel and $600 million dollars just by making right turns and making things work faster. So you think about it, a little bit goes a long way. The difference in being good and being great is just that much (holding his forefinger and thumb less than an inch apart).”
He also used the .25 differential in pro golfers’ stroke average from being able to keep their tour cards and become millionaires or not be able to remain in the game.
It was a familiar message for young Mr. Herring. And he believes in it.
“Oh, yeah, I heard all that through the whole recruiting process,” said Herring, who had 89 tackles and a 10 sacks as a senior last fall. “And I believed what he said about Jake (Fromm) and being a leader, too. Jake, he’s a very vocal guy.”
Smart complimented the early-enrollee quarterback from Houston County for the leadership he has exhibited even in his short stint on campus. This time last year, Fromm was being honor as the TD Club’s player of the year when Kirby visited.
“Hopefully y’all will ask me back again next year,” Smart quipped.
After his nearly 30-minute address, Smart stayed around about another half hour posing for pictures and signing memorabilia for fans and the players’ parents. He left out of a back exit with a staffer for the 20-minute flight back to Athens via the university’s plane.