ATHENS — Brandon Sudge already knew he was in for a special weekend late last week, but he couldn’t have dreamed just how special it would be until he received a note from Buford football coach Jess Simpson in the middle of his literature class this past Friday.
The note said simply, “Go to the fieldhouse.”
Sudge, a football manager at Buford High the last four years and a contributing writer for the recruiting website sicemdawgs.com since last fall, had already been on the receiving end of a waterfall of wishes the last couple of weeks. So he couldn’t imagine what could be on the other end of this unexpected summons. But he would find out as soon as he passed through the doorway of Coach Simpson’s office.
There, waiting to greet him in person, was Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, hey!'” Sudge said during a telephone interview on Sunday. “I asked him, ‘You just took time out of your busy day to visit me of all people?’ He said, ‘yes, sir. I’m Kirby Smart and it’s nice to meet you.’ And he just starts talking about what’s going to happen Friday night.”
What happened Friday night was truly dream come true for a lifelong Georgia fan, and especially for a self-confessed recruitnik such as Sudge.
Not only was Sudge invited to join Smart and recruit Javon Wims for dinner on Friday night, as Wims had so generously arranged previously (more on that later). He was coming to Athens as a full-fledged official visitor in his own right. Sudge was going to receive the whole prospective student-athlete treatment, 5-star style.
So this past Friday, Sudge arrived in Athens as one of eight official visitors entertained by UGA and the Bulldogs’ football program. He was right there alongside star-studded prospects E.J. Price, Michail Carter, Jaleel Laguins, Jaquwan Nelson, Marshall Long and Wims.
And Sudge, who is confined to a wheelchair most of the time, was treated no differently than his football-playing colleagues. He was greeted by all of the assistant coaches at the opening reception. He was chatted up by Smart and posed for pictures as they watched a highlight video from the middle of the field at Sanford Stadium. He sat with personal favorite Sony Michel and midyear enrollee Riley Ridley along with Wims and his family during the official-visitors dinner at Five Bar. And Smart took him aside to introduce him to Lorenzo Carter, Isaiah McKenzie and Trent Thompson.
“It was just a great night to be able to interact with all the players and coaches and stuff,” Sudge said. “I went in thinking I’d just be kind of sitting back and watching, which would have been awesome anyway. But to be involved in all the action was just really, really cool.”
This was no small undertaking. Smart and UGA had to contact the NCAA to get Sudge certified as an official recruit. But Smart, ever the recruiter, also had an ulterior motive.
He briefed Sudge at the Friday meeting at Buford.
“I need you to be in the ‘recruiting seat,’ which I guess is a figurative term,” Sudge said. “He said, ‘I need you to talk to all these guys and help me get them signed to Georgia. These are all top targets.'”
Smart started to go over who were the seven prospects scheduled to come when Sudge interrupted him by rattling off the names.
“I’m not sure he was expecting me to name them off like that,” Sudge said with a laugh. “He says, ‘yes, sir, good job!’ And we just planned out the rest of the night.”
While Smart gets credit for getting Sudge into this party, Wims, a 4-star wide receiver commitment from Raymond, Miss., is responsible for the invitation.
Wims had met Sudge through the young man’s work as a recruiting reporter for sicemdawgs.com several weeks back. And then, about two weeks ago, Wims found himself inspired by a video that Sudge had posted on social media.
Sudge, who has dealt with cerebral palsy since birth, was able to walk extensively under his own power for the first time in his life.
“It was the first time walking that length of distance in my life,” Sudge shared. “Javon kept saying how inspiring that was to him and that he would like for me to go to dinner with him and Coach Smart when he came on his official visit.”
True to his word, Wims set the wheels in motion. Wims shared that video with Smart, and Sudge’s story has been gaining speed ever since. His weekend experience has been chronicled by virtually every recruiting site that covers UGA.
“This just shows the character of people like Javon and Coach Smart,” Sudge said from his home Sunday. “When you’re going on an official visit like this and you’re trying to make a decision four or five (days) before national signing day, you’re in a stressful situation. However, Javon chose to reach out to me, and then he made sure I was having a good time and that was really special. That shows me that Coach Smart is getting the best guys he can, guys that show character and class.”
Sudge did not spend the rest of the weekend on campus like the rest of the official visitors. In all, he spent about four hours in Athens before returning back home. But he saw enough to know he’d like to spend the next four or five years in Athens.
To date, he has not earned his acceptance into UGA. But it remains his dream to serve as a manager for the football team while studying sports journalism at Georgia’s prestigious Grady College.
“I kind of hinted that to Coach Smart a couple of times” said Sudge, chucking. “So hopefully he can put a good word in and I can make some more connections at the University. I’m really, really hoping to get in. That’s been my dream school my whole life and their journalism department is top notch, so I think it’s where I can pursue my career the best.
In the meantime, he is already accepted to Kennesaw State and will begin there and transfer in if he must.
Regardless, Wims and Smart have a lifelong fan in Brandon Sudge.
“I feel like Coach Smart is going to be a guy who’s going to lead this program to great things for years to come,” Sudge said. “And it was great for Javon to have this outreach and care for others. That’s something you don’t see from a lot of senior athletes trying to figure out their college destinations. That impressed me.”