Recruiting heating up in the South

Recruiting heating up in the South

ATLANTA – Scott Kennedy has a prediction.

The Southeastern editor for Scout.com doesn't think Georgia fans will see the likes of the 2005 SEC Championship Game for a long, long time. When the Bulldogs beat LSU to win their second conference championship in four seasons, only five of their 22 offensive and defensive starters were from outside the state of Georgia.

"I don't think that's something we'll ever see again under Mark Richt," Kennedy said.

The Bulldogs are about to go national, Kennedy believes. After opening their recruiting efforts with a Georgia-centric approach, Richt's team is starting to pull in talent from across the country.

Eight of this year's 23 verbal commitments are from outside the state, and the quantity is less impressive than the quality. Those players average 3.9 stars in Scout.com's five-star rating system and include one of the best players in Texas (quarterback Matthew Stafford), Maryland (linebacker Akeem Hebron) and California (tight end Na Derris Ward).

"After you win 10 games (or more) four years in a row, you can go out and recruit nationally," Kennedy said.

The No. 8 Bulldogs (10-2) will play No. 11 West Virginia (10-1) on Monday in the Sugar Bowl. It will be Georgia's second appearance in four years in a Bowl Championship Series game, which could explain why the team is beginning to draw attention from players across the country.

"I know the BCS games get a lot more attention throughout the bowl season," Richt said. "You usually get a lot more people talking about your game."

The Bulldogs will only be able to bring in 28 new players in August but could sign as many as 31 on National Signing Day in February to guard against academic losses. Despite being close to done, the team is taking nothing for granted, said recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner.

"I don't know if it's all in the bag," he said. "The commitment is non-binding. A lot of times it just really starts the recruiting process. It becomes much more competitive. We just want to make sure we finish and hold onto the guys who are committed to us."

Georgia's current class is rated the nation's third-best by Scout.com. In order to finish strong, the Bulldogs need to sign a tailback. The team didn't sign one last year and is having a hard time convincing the nation's top runners that there isplaying time available with sophomores Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin and Danny Ware already in the program.

However, those three players will be Georgia's only scholarship tailbacks next year, and that's a very low number, Richt said.

"You go two years without signing a running back and now you've got yourself in a tougher spot," Garner said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to attract one, but we don't want to just sign a guy. That's the thing that we want to avoid, just taking a guy to take one and then you start getting overloaded at a position."

Thanks to their fast start, the Bulldogs are recruiting from "a position of strength," Kennedy said.

"They can go after the best running back in the country, and if they don't get him, they're OK," he said. "They can wait until next year."

The main target at running back is Knowshon Moreno, a New Jersey native who Scout.com considers the nation's 11th-best tailback. He's also a friend of Bulldog freshman Kade Weston, who came to Athens from New Jersey last year. Cameron Smith of Brookwood High School also could be an option.

Running back isn't the only position Georgia would like to strengthen before the end of the recruiting season, though.

"There are a couple key offensive tackles I would love to have at this point," Richt said.

Kennedy speculated that Clifton Geathers, the younger brother of former Bulldog Robert Geathers, and Butch Lewis, out of Colorado, are the Bulldogs' top offensive line targets remaining on the board. Geathers is considered a longshot to sign with Georgia despite his family connection.

"I think if they stopped right now they'd be fine,"Kennedy said. "Now it's just a matter of trying to pile up more talent."



Georgia's verbal commitments

OL Justin Anderson Ocilla, Ga.
S Quintin Banks Warner Robins, Ga.
OL Greg Billinger Lilburn, Ga.
RB Shaun Chapas Jacksonville, Fla.
DT Richardo Crawford Cerro Gordo, N.C.
OL Chris Davis Jefferson, Ga.
LB Akeem Dent Atlanta, Ga.
LB Darius Dewberry Fort Valley, Ga.
DE Demarcus Dobbs Savannah, Ga.
WR Kris Durham Calhoun, Ga.
LB Darryl Gamble Bainbridge, Ga.
OL Ben Harden Perry, Ga.
LB Akeem Hebron Wheaton, Md.
DT Michael Lemon Macon, Ga.
OL John Miller Cartersville, Ga.
CB Prince Miller Duncan, S.C.
FB Fred Munzenmaier Norcross, Ga.
OL Kevin Perez Miami, Fla.
QB Matthew Stafford Dallas, Texas
OL Kiante Tripp Atlanta, Ga.
TE NaDerris Ward Oakland, Calif.
WR Tony Wilson Daytona Beach, Fla.
DE Brandon Wood Tallapoosa, Ga.

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