UPDATE:According to esteemed colleague Michael Carvell, Georgia received Josh Harvey-Clemons’ signed letter of intent Thursday morning.
Athens – Forget, if only for a moment, national signing day. As an indicator of which way Georgia is headed, Todd Grantham pointed to incumbent players who remain, not incidentally, incumbent.
“We had nine guys on defense who could have left for the NFL,” said Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator, “and all nine would have gotten drafted somewhere. But all nine guys chose to stay. We’ve been talking about having a dream, having a vision, but to see these guys buy into that and help recruit new guys, that has really ignited our program.”
After the 6-7 record of 2010, after the 0-2 start of 2011, it was possible to wonder if the Bulldogs under Mark Richt had become a ghost ship. On signing day 2012, Georgia again bears the look of a shining ocean liner with the wind at its back. Things got good again for this program in the final 10 games of the 2011 regular season, and Georgia with momentum can never be dismissed.
Even if it did lose to the four best teams it played last season. Even if it did blow its bowl game. Even if it didn’t get every single recruit it wanted. Quibble all you want, but Georgia in 2012 resembles the Georgia of 2002. And the very nice haul of this signing day, even if it wasn’t quite so dazzling as last year’s Dream Team, showed a program primed to move from strength to strength.
Said Richt: “We just have tremendous momentum now. We’re even working into next year’s class.”
This recruiting class — whether or not it ultimately includes Josh Harvey-Clemons, the Lowndes linebacker who committed to Georgia early Wednesday on ESPN, but hadn’t yet faxed a signed letter of intent as of late afternoon — was never going to be as mood-altering as the Dream Team. That was the absolute right group at the moment of greatest need. Assemblage of the Dream Team enabled Georgia fans to believe again, and the resulting SEC East title offered affirmation: Their beloved Bulldogs had not been rendered an afterthought.
But the Class of 2012, which ESPN had ranked fifth-best nationally before Harvey-Clemons announced anything, is important in that Georgia loaded up where loading was necessary. It got two very good running backs — Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley — as insurance/impetus behind Isaiah Crowell. It got a linchpin offensive lineman in John Theus. It got a kicker. And it stockpiled bodies along the defensive front, which is what the SEC teams that also became national champions have done.
“To win the SEC, you’ve got to be dominant in the front seven,” Grantham said. “We addressed that.”
There are players who come billed as difference-makers, but the biggest difference in Georgia is Grantham. He built a top-five-in-the-nation defense in Year 2 here, and his enthusiasm for the task has made him the new Erk Russell. (For the uninitiated, Russell was Vince Dooley’s firebrand defensive coordinator.) With due deference to Crowell and Theus, the transforming recruit for Richt was Grantham, who said Wednesday:
“The way we’ve been able to change the attitude and the mental toughness, that excites me. We think we’re going to be able to have a dominating defense.”
Thirteen months ago, we asked if Georgia could manage even a winning season. At issue today: Can Georgia win not just the East but the whole darn SEC? The 2011 signing class helped change the dynamics. The 2012 bunch — with or without one linebacker from Lowndes — should serve to consolidate gains. From strength to strength: That’s again the Georgia way.
By Mark Bradley