Perhaps anticipating this year’s signing class would get some heat for not being as highly lauded as some in the past, Richt began an afternoon news conference by asking the seven members already on campus to line up at the front of a conference room. The group, all linemen, four on offense and three on defense, collectively weigh 2,075 pounds.
“Look at these guys, get a good picture of them,” Richt said. “That’s what jacks me up more than anything, and we’ve got more coming. Some people say, ‘Where’s the beef?’ Here’s the beef right here.”
Georgia signed 16 high school players Wednesday to go along with the Substantial Seven, giving them 23 in the Class of 2007. The day’s only drama was a swap of four-star offensive linemen.
The end result left Georgia with Jeffersonville’s Chris Little, who entered the day committed to Notre Dame, and without Columbus’ Antwane Greenlee, who had been verbally committed to Georgia for five months but signed with Florida State.
Richt was addressing approximately 150 fans at the Athletic Association’s Butts-Mehre Building when Little, who committed to both Florida State and the Fighting Irish before signing with Georgia, made his choice.
“We thought it could happen but didn’t know if it was going to happen or not,” Richt said. “We didn’t really know for sure until it happened.”
Little, who is considered the twelfth-best offensive lineman in the country by Scout.com, said the chance to be close to home and play for first-year UGA offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who recruited Little while at LSU, made him change his mind.
“That really just told me Georgia was the place to be,” he said.
Richt declined to comment on Greenlee’s surprise decision. Greenlee is considered the No. 16 offensive lineman in the nation by Scout.com.
“I changed my mind about two days ago,” Greenlee said. “It was very hard. It’s a lot of pressure. Both teams stayed in touch throughout the whole recruiting process. I just felt Florida State was the best fit.”
Georgia’s class was in danger of dropping out of the nation’s top 20 after Greenlee’s defection, but the addition of Little resulted in a No. 17 finish, according to Scout.com.
The highest-profile players in the class are Norcross running back Caleb King, who is ranked the fourth-best back in the country by Scout.com; Columbia, Mo., product Aron White, who will start out at wide receiver for the Bulldogs; Tifton wide receiver Israel Troupe, who is considered the top wide receiver in the state according Scout.com, and Little, who was a member of the 2007 U.S. Army All-America team.
“I’m very excited about the class,” Richt said. “I know people say that all the time, but I know that we have addressed a lot of our needs. We’ve got future starters in this class. We’ve got futures All-SEC players here, and we’ve more than likely got future All-Americans. That’s how I feel about this group.”
Of the state’s top ten players as ranked by Scout.com, Georgia signed just three. According to the experts, this class is the least impressive Richt has signed since 2001, his first year at the school.
“We don’t want to lose any of the players we target in state, but the reality is everybody across this nation is targeting our state,” he said. “Our goal is to keep as many within our borders as we can, but that doesn’t always happen.”
Georgia has ranked sixth or better each of the last three years, but Richt isn’t worried about what the experts outside his office think.
“We don’t care as much about them stars,” he said. “We think we know what we’re looking for and what we need. I couldn’t tell you right now who’s a four-star, five-star or three-star.”
Even Scout.com national recruiting editor Jamie Newberg acknowledged recruiting rankings don’t have any impact on how much these players will help the Bulldogs down the road.
“It’s not about where they finish in the rankings, it’s how did they fill their needs, and Georgia needed to sign linemen,” he said. “It’s not sexy, but the game is still won and lost in the trenches.”
In all, Georgia signed 12 linemen – eight on offense and four on defense. And the Bulldogs specifically targeted bigger linemen than they have signed in the past.
“You better believe it,” Richt said. “We’ve got to get some bigger men. We absolutely wanted to get some big men in here who could hold up physically and could move well enough to win.”
Not including Little’s signing-day switch, Georgia received only one verbal commitment after Dec. 10.
“I think having those guys commit early is a sign of us being organized and targeting the right people and getting after it,” Richt said. “I just like the fact that we knew we wanted them, and they knew they wanted us. I think it’s a sign we’ve done a pretty good job of getting our ducks in a row and getting the job done.”
However, Georgia’s slow close, coupled with the losses of in-state stars such as Allen Bailey (Miami), Eric Berry (Tennessee) and Cam Heyward (Ohio State), led some fans to grumble about this class.
Now, thanks to Richt, they have a place to vent their frustrations.