Talk about changing times in recruiting.
Georgia, traditionally one of the more conservative programs around when it comes to football recruiting, actually sent out a press release early Wednesday evening to call attention to its in-state recruiting efforts this week. This is unusual on several levels — I guarantee you UGA’s compliance office ran over that release with a fine-tooth comb — but chiefly because you usually can’t get a peep out of the Bulldogs regarding their recruiting.
Yet there it was in my e-mail’s inbox at 5:43 p.m. Wednesday. Subject line: “Georgia Football Coaches Busy Recruiting The State.”
In the release, head coach Mark Richt outlines the Bulldogs’ plans to canvass the state during the next few weeks. “By the end of next week, our assistant coaches will have been to more than 350 schools in the state of Georgia,” Richt said. “Our coaches are really pounding the state of Georgia. The focus of our staff is to make sure we recruit the state of Georgia first.”
Richt also goes on to sell the athletic and academic merits of UGA and the ongoing $40 million expansion project of the Butts-Mehre football complex.
Monday represented Georgia’s first full week of the NCAA’s designated spring “evaluation period” and the Bulldogs began it in uncharacteristic fashion. They sent out seven assistant coaches — the maximum number allowed on the road at any one time — all together in one bunch and, starting in South Georgia, they went from school to school to school, hitting the ones with the highest-profile prospects first. They did the same thing throughout North Georgia and the rest of the state on Tuesday and Wednesday, and apparently they intend to carry it on until the four-week period ends.
Not coincidentally, the Class of 2011 represents one of the best of all time in the state of Georgia, which traditionally produces upward of about 150 Division 1 prospects per year. Players like Valdosta tight end Jay Rome, Wilcox County quarterback Nick Marshall, Carver-Columbus running back Isaiah Crowell, Thomas County Central defensive end Ray Drew, Dalton offensive tackle Watts Dantzler, Grady cornerback Damian Swann and Tucker linebacker James Vaughters are among the tops in the nation at their particular position.
Georgia coaches know this, of course, and have been hard-selling a “Dream Team” theme to those prospects and others. The theory is, get all these Georgia kids to stay home and the Bulldogs will be in the hunt for championships.
Says Richt: “As we all know, recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and our state is a hotbed for talent. It’s our job to do everything we can to show these young men the academic and athletic merits of the University of Georgia. I know if we get the best players in our state to come to the University of Georgia, we will win championships. When we do go out of state, it’s always been our philosophy to only sign great players who are great people.”
Georgia’s actions are a reflection of the times in recruiting. The Bulldogs’ “canvass the state” strategy closely mirrors the one employed the last two year’s by Auburn under coach Gene Chizik. Last year and this one, Chizik had seven of his assistant coaches — head coaches are not allowed on the road in the spring — pile into a white limousine decorated with Auburn regalia and parade around the state and occasionally into Georgia, making sure to make a scene and draw attention to their presence. Lane Kiffin used a similar strategy during the fall evaluation period, renting a helicopter and choppering into metro Atlanta high school stadiums where prospects were playing, usually right about the time the national anthem was playing.
Never minding that it is not in the spirit of the NCAA rules regarding evaluations, the Bulldogs have always displayed a “we’re-better-than-that” attitude to such “look-at-me” tactics. And as far as I can tell they’re still not riding around in any limos wearing logoed bowling shirts.
But the fact is that Auburn signed a Top 5 class this past February and Tennessee also finished ahead of Georgia, which finished out of the Top 10 in recruiting rankings for the first time in a long while. It appears the Bulldogs are taking measures to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
As college football and recruiting fans, I’d say enjoy the show while it lasts. If I were to guess, I wouldn’t imagine the NCAA will let these shenanigans go on much longer. After all, this “evaluation period” is by definition provided as an opportunity for coaches “to assess prospective student-athlete’s athletic abilities and academic qualifications” and it forbids any direct interaction with said prospect other than a polite greeting.
At the current rate high school coaches will be shooting t-shirt cannons into high school cafeterias before it’s over.
For your edification, here is UGA’s press release in its entirety:
Spring practice might be over, but Georgia’s football coaches are still hard at work.
The Georgia coaches are on the road recruiting prospects during the NCAA’s designated evaluation period. The coaches began their work earlier this week and will continue recruiting throughout the month of May.
“By the end of next week, our assistant coaches will have been to more than 350 schools in the state of Georgia,” Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt said. “Our coaches are really pounding the state of Georgia. The focus of our staff is to make sure we recruit the state of Georgia first.”
Coaches may use one evaluation session to assess a prospective student-athlete’s athletics ability and another evaluation session to assess his academic qualifications.
“As we all know, recruiting is the lifeblood of any program and our state is a hotbed for talent,” Richt said. “It’s our job to do everything we can to show these young men the academic and athletic merits of the University of Georgia. I know if we get the best players in our state to come to the University of Georgia, we will win championships. When we do go out of state, it’s always been our philosophy to only sign great players who are great people.”
The eventual signees among the prospective student-athletes being evaluated by Georgia’s coaches now will be the first freshman class to benefit from the ongoing $40 million expansion of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. The expansion, targeted for completion in January 2011, will include a 12,000-square-feet strength and conditioning area, an 8,500-square-feet training room, new coaches offices and a multipurpose room with a turf field that can be used for drills, walkthroughs and receptions.
“We are committed to providing the academic and athletic resources necessary for our football program to be among the very best in the country,” Richt said. “Our coaches are equally committed to winning championships on the field and to helping our players become the leaders of tomorrow. That is our message as we are on te road recruiting.”