ORLANDO – Because of what happened with Isaiah Crowell, there is a tendency to think Georgia’s recruiting class of 2011 – better known as the “Dream Team” – was anything but dreamy.
Crowell, the No. 1-rated running back in the nation coming out of high school, was the crown jewel of that class. But after earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors, Crowell was unable to make it to a second season with Georgia. He was dismissed this past summer after his arrest on felony weapons charges.
But there were a lot of other elite prospects who signed in that 2011 class, which was rated among the top five in the nation of that year, and most remain prominent members of the 2012 team. Together they’ve helped the Bulldogs win 21 games and two SEC Eastern Division championship the past two seasons.
“We’re still here; we’re still standing strong,” said Malcolm Mitchell, a wide receiver from Valdosta who has 1,237 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns since becoming a Bulldog. “A lot of us came in and did play early. A lot of us are playing now. A lot of us will be leaving next year as just juniors. I still believe that our recruiting class will be big, and we did make a difference in some areas.”
They’ve definitely won a lot of games. They’ll be going for win No. 22 against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday. That would be the same number of games the 1980 and ’81 Georgia teams won. Only the 2002-03 Bulldogs won more games (24) in a two-year stretch.
But they have come up short – so far anyway — of what was the stated goal that signing class. The concept of coming to Athens together was to win a national championship. The Bulldogs were five yards shy of a chance to play for one with their 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship.
“I still feel like we had a great class,” said tight end Jay Rome, who redshirted that first year but is playing as a regular now. “Even though we’re missing a few that came in with us, we still have a lot of people that are out there making plays on both sides of the ball that are making plays for this team. There are other guys that haven’t been able to show all that they can do yet, like Justin Scott-Wesley, who I think is going to be an outstanding player. I really think we’re strong class and we’re going to be the new leaders of this football team.”
Georgia coaches were the ones who came up with the “Dream Team” theme. The crop of elite football prospects in the state was particularly strong in 2011. Georgia’s coaches, armed with iPads featuring pictures of all the best recruits in a montage, pitched them to come come together and be part of the Dream Team.
“We had fun with that,” Richt said with a laugh.
The Bulldogs signed a full class of 26 players. Joining Crowell, Mitchell and Rome were top-rated prospects such as Chris Conley, Watts Dantzler, Ray Drew, John Jenkins, Christian LeMay, Nick Marshall, Damian Swann and Xzavier Ward.
“We kind of started that off saying, ‘hey we’re from Georgia; let’s go to Georgia; let’s build something special here,” Rome recalls. “I think has trickled down from our class to the next classes coming up. With all us getting together and coming in, it kind of inspired the next year’s class to do the same thing and keep up the tradition.”
Not all of them panned out and there was attrition. Like Crowell, Marshall, Chris Sanders and Sanford Seay were also dismissed for disciplinary infractions. And Lonnie Outlaw and Kent Turene never qualified.
But there were also some unexpected gems. Center David Andrews and linebacker Amarlo Herrera were relatively unsung compared to some of their more ballyhooed classmates but have become starters and captains on their respective units.
“A lot of guys have done well,” Richt said. “There were certainly some that fell by the wayside, which is pretty typical of just about any class you sign. You hope that everybody makes it from start to finish. But every year (new players come in) I always tell them, ‘look around; odds are not everybody is going to be here at the end.’ It’d be nice for everybody to be there but it usually doesn’t happen that way.”
But it worked out well for more than a few in that group. And, overall, it definitely worked out well for the Bulldogs.
‘I will always be honored to be a part of the Dream Team recruiting year,” said Mitchell, who has also played defense and special teams for Georgia. “Our class has already had some great success and I think there is much more to come. It was a special group and i think it helped build a strong foundation for Georgia in the future.”
2011 ‘DREAM TEAM’
David Andrews, OL, Norcross — Starter on offensive line
Sterling Bailey, DE Gainesville — Redshirted and still awaiting opportunities
Devin Bowman, DB, Rossville — Backup player will battle for starting job next season
Chris Conley, WR, Dallas — Regular in wide receiver rotation
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Columbus — Dismissed and transferred to Alabama State
Watts Dantzler, OL, Dalton — Backup on offensive line
Zach DeBell, OL, Tarpon Springs, Fla. — Backup on offensive line
Ray Drew, DE, Thomasville — Top backup at defensive end
Quintavious Harrow, DB, Columbus — Quit team
Amarlo Herrera, LB, College Park — Starter at inside linebacker
John Jenkins, DT Meriden, Conn. — All-star noseguard but ineligible for bowl
Christian LeMay, QB, Matthews, N.C. — Third-string quarterback
Hunter Long, OL, Eads, Tenn. — Backup on offensive line
Nick Marshall, ATH, Rochelle — Dismissed and starring as JUCO quarterback
Chris Mayes, DT, Griffin — Did not qualify by re-signed from JUCO this month
Malcolm Mitchell, DB/WR, Valdosta — Star wide receiver
Corey Moore, DB Griffin — Backup defensive back
Jay Rome, TE, Valdosta — No. 2 tight end after redshirt season
Chris Sanders, DB, Tucker — Dismissed and out of football
Justin Scott-Wesley, WR, Camilla — Still developing in backup role
Sanford Seay, WR Leesburg — Dismissed
Damian Swann DB Atlanta — Starting cornerback
Nathan Theus, OL, Jacksonville — Backup snapper
Kent Turene, LB, Lauderdale Lakes — Did not qualify
Xzavier Ward, OL, Moultrie — Backup on offensive line
Ramik Wilson, LB Tampa — Backup linebacker