Before he took a trip to Athens this past weekend, Geno Smith said he never thought much about what number jersey he might wear in college.
Then the Bulldogs took them into their newly constructed locker room, put him in a home red No. 4 red jersey, then took him over to a display of former All-American and Nagurski Award winner Champ Bailey. The Denver Broncos’ All-Pro cornerback just so happened to wear that same No. 4 while he was in Athens.
“At first, I wasn’t really thinking about wearing the same number I have in high school,” said Smith, who wears the number 4 at St. Pius. “But after putting that jersey on and seeing it, I like it. I’ll definitely try to wear 4 wherever I go now.”
Smith’s profile pic on his Facebook page now features him wearing the Georgia No. 4 jersey and posing with his mother in front of the Champ Bailey display.
Smith, a 6-foot, 165-pound athlete, is considered among the top few prospects in the state of Georgia for the 2012 class. I picked him No. 2 in my Tentative Top 10. More than 10 months before the signing period begins, he already has 27 scholarship offers. And more are coming in every week.
Smith said his plan is to narrow that ever-growing number down to a top 10 or 12 by the beginning of summer and hopefully a top five by the start of his senior season.
But after his visit to UGA, he said you can go ahead and pencil in the Bulldogs among the finalists.
“After that visit Saturday, I feel like they’ll definitely make my first 10,” Smith said. “They made a very good impression.”
It’s not like Smith hadn’t been there before. In fact, Saturday was his fourth recruiting trip to Georgia. But it was his first for a junior day, which means he could take his time, be shown around and spend some quality time with the coaches.
“I definitely learned more this time,” said Smith, who had been to UGA for two camps and a football game last year. “I learned a lot more about the academics, about the defense they run. I had a lot more one-on-one time with coaches so I had a chance to build some relationships, too. It was a good visit.”
Smith said he got to spend extended time with head coach Mark Richt and with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who he previously had not known very well. “He’s a very cool guy,” Smith said of Grantham. “We hit it off. We had a good conversattion. We just talked about football and some other things. It was nice to just sit down and talk to him.”
What Smith gleaned most from the entire experience was how much he is wanted in Athens.
“They said I’m the No. 1 cornerback on their board,” Smith said. “They can see me playing the boundary corner, blitzing the quarterback and they can see me playing in the slot, catching passes and making plays on offense. They just see me as very versatile.”
Smith is a two-way player, kind of like another guy that used to wear the No. 4 at Georgia. Bailey once played more than 100 plays in a single game for the Bulldogs plauying both sides of the ball. He played extensively at slotback and made the middle screen a homerun play for former coach Jim Donnan.
Nevertheless, recruiting is far from a done deal for Smith. Athens was just one of two stops on the weekend. The other was to Auburn.
Smith’s offers are from all over and he plans to get around to get a first-hand look at as many as possible. He has said he likes Alabama and Tennessee a lot. And he has family in Miami, which he plans to visit during spring break (smart kid).
And even if he plans to stay in state, the Bulldogs will look to be in a major battle with Georgia Tech. Smith also likes the Yellow Jackets a lot and has been on that campus as much or more than the one in Athens.
“I’m in contact with Coach [Joe] Speed all the time,” Smith said of the Jackets’ linebackers coach. “Of all the coaches I’ve gotten to know, me and him have the strongest relationship. I’ve been to Tech a lot. Not recently but I’ve been there plenty of times.”
There’s plenty of time left before Smith’s recruiting story plays out. He has already accepted an invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio but he has no plans to make an announcement there or to even have his mind made up by then.
More than likely his will be a national signing day decision or maybe shortly before that.
“I kind of just want to do it at my school or as some kind of little event, Smith said. “I always grew up watching guys do it like that and I just think that’s what I want to do. Plus, I want to make the best decision possible, so I’m not in a hurry.”
So it looks like this marathon race is just getting started.
By Chip Towers, The College Recruiting Blog