ATHENS, Ga. – In recruiting, it's not about how you start but how you close, and the Bulldogs certainly did the latter on National Signing Day.
Georgia entered the day of reckoning with verbal pledges from 18 different players and wound up with 21 signees when all was said and done, including commitments from three new recruits. The class ranks as the eighth-best in the country, according to 247Sports, and appears strong from top to bottom.
How did everything shake out?
Biggest commitment: Lorenzo Carter
Carter was without a doubt UGA's biggest question mark coming into Wednesday. The five-star defensive end out of Norcross High School, listed as either the best or second-best prospect in the state by most major recruiting sites, had narrowed his list of potential suitors down to LSU, Alabama, Florida and Georgia.
Despite making it a point to visit Athens on the weekend before the signing deadline, many were truly unsure of Carter's landing spot after defensive coordinator Todd Grantham departed for Louisville. The subsequent hiring of Jeremy Pruitt as coordinator had those same skeptics hopeful that the talented recruiter could land the big fish, but the lack of a named linebackers coach again raised questions.
In the end, the Bulldogs still got their man – and not in spite of the coaching changes, but because of them.
"[Head coach Mark Richt] did a great job. He got the hire with Jeremy Pruitt. That defense is going to be nasty and I plan to be a part of it.” Carter said on ESPNU.
Carter's speed and instincts when it comes to rushing the passer, along with his potential to grow in that role at the college level, should make him an invaluable addition for Georgia, especially after it lost the battle for defensive end Andrew Williams to Auburn. Simply put, it was huge.
"I think in the end, we pulled it together very well,” Richt said.
Instant impacts: Isaiah McKenzie, Jeb Blazevich
As far as UGA's defensive newcomers are concerned, most of them will not be pressed into action next season since all but one of last year's starters (Garrison Smith) will return to the team in 2014. On offense, however, two incoming recruits stand out.
McKenzie, nicknamed "The Human Joystick," has some killer moves on the field. Though listed at just 5-foot-8 and 175, he possesses game-breaking speed as a ball-carrier and has the ability to break ankles in space. The receiver owns a nice set of hands, as well.
But it will be the rising freshman's skills as a return man that could allow him to see the field early and often. Georgia was downright woeful on punt and kickoff returns in 2013, and McKenzie comes into the fold having averaged over 30 yards per punt return and 47 yards per kickoff return as a senior.
“His number one job’s going to be that kickoff returner, punt returner for us," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "It could be the difference in one ball game. Field position is so crucial it sometimes doesn’t matter how effective you are on offense. It’s hard to go 80 yards on anybody no matter who you are."
Blazevich, a four-star tight end out of Charlotte, N.C., should also see the field sooner rather than later, though this has more to do with UGA's lack of depth at the position than anything else. The Bulldogs had just two scholarship tight ends on the entire roster before Wednesday: Jay Rome and redshirt freshman Jordan Davis. Rome, though talented, has always had difficulty staying healthy, and Davis is far from a proven player.
Fellow signee Hunter Atkinson would also be a candidate for early playing time, but Blazevich is the more polished player and should have the inside track. Of course, we can never rule out a walk-on surprising coaches in camp, either.
“We are very young at the tight end position,” Richt said, explaining the team's rationale behind signing two tight ends. “We felt like our tight end position was a little bit scary with the depth there. Very young overall. Just one injury and all of a sudden we’re having to change our offensive system. We didn’t want to do that.”
Making the grade
It's hard not to respect what the Bulldogs were able to accomplish on National Signing Day.
They made the big splash with Carter, picked up a couple of surprise signings from two under-the-radar, sleeper-candidate recruits in McKenzie and Atkinson and kept all of their original verbal commitments locked in to play at UGA.
The class has strength at just about every position, as well. Jacob Park brings an intriguing athleticism that UGA quarterback recruits don't always possess. Lamont Gaillard (6-foot-2, 320 pounds) appears to fit the role of "towering nose tackle" perfectly, what with his size and giant bulldog tattoos. And Nick Chubb and Sony Michel represent two of the best ball-carriers in the nation, keeping the "Tailback U" tradition alive in Athens.
“You can never have enough play-makers," Bobo said. "You better have a guy that can get it to the seam, take it to the house. We’ve got more guys with the ability to do that, and it’s going to create competition. It’s going to be good for all of them. It’s going to be good for Todd Gurley.”
All in all, there is hardly much to criticize. The loss of safety Kendall Gant was disappointing, but eligibility (read: academics) had more to do with that than anything else. The Bulldogs landed top in-state talent and lured some regional stars into the peach state, as well. This year's Signing Day haul was the type fans had been clamoring for, and they got it.
“We felt like we did a great job evaluating and we’re just real thrilled about the guys we brought in,” Richt said.
UGA recruiting class of 2014 (21 signees)
- QB Jacob Park (Stratford / Goose Creek, S.C.)
- RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown / Cedartown, Ga.)
- RB Sony Michel (American Heritage / Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
- WR Isaiah McKenzie (American Heritage / Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
- WR Shakenneth Williams (Rutland / Macon, Ga.)
- WR Gilbert Johnson (Homestead / Homestead, Fla.)
- WR Rico Johnson (Georgia Prep / Swainsboro, Ga.)
- TE Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte Christian / Charlotte, N.C.)
- TE Hunter Atkinson (West Hall / Oakwood, Ga.)
- OG Isaiah Wynn (Lakewood / St. Petersburg, Fla.)
- OT Dyshon Sims (Lowndes / Valdosta, Ga.)
- OT Kendall Baker (Marist / Atlanta, Ga.)
- OG Jake Edwards (Heard County / Franklin, Ga.)
- DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross / Norcross, Ga)
- DE Keyon Brown (Hardee / Wauchula, Fla.)
- DT Lamont Gaillard (Pine Forest / Fayetteville, N.C.)
- LB Detric Dukes (Tucker / Atlanta)
- DB Malkom Parrish (Brooks County / Quitman, Ga.)
- DB Shattle Fenteng (Hutchinson C.C. / Loganville, Ga.)
- DB Shaquille Jones (Merritt Island / Palm Bay, Fla.)
- ATH Dominick Sanders (Tucker / Tucker, Ga.)