A program which is comfortable going at a slower, sometimes snail’s pace, the Bulldogs have reeled in four players in the last seven days – all with different recruiting backgrounds.
The commitments: Da’ Rick Rogers, who most thought would leave Georgia for Alabama or Florida; Brent Benedict, one of the top players in Florida located a short drive from the Gators’ campus; Michael Bennett, a wide receiver who has pulled in over 13 offers, many of which came in the last six weeks; and Demetre Baker who is considered the #22 player in Florida by Scout.com.
The diversity in the way in which each player had been recruited shows just how strong the Dawgs’ efforts have been – seemingly since they pulled in Marlon Brown, Kwame Geathers and Orson Charles all on or after Signing Day.
Georgia seemed “behind” for Rogers, but the Dawgs made up serious ground in the spring. Alabama was the first SEC school to offer him. Early whispers were that the Tide and Gators were the teams to beat. Of course, the panic button was pressed. Georgia was losing on one of the top players in the state. The Dawgs had already “lost” Tai-ler Jones to Stanford.
Rogers started the seven-day spree for the Dawgs.
Things settled down for Rogers in the spring. The Calhoun native spent that season cutting his list down to three schools. The Gators made the cut, but the Tide didn’t. Mississippi State slipped in there instead. It was both the Bulldogs and the Gators. But Georgia got Rogers on campus in early April, and the trip made a big difference for him.
“Georgia definitely moved up on my list, and I know a lot more about them now than I did before," he told Scout.com South Recruiting Analyst Chad Simmons after his visit.
That visit, and this happens a lot, was the lynchpin in Rodgers pulling the trigger for the Dawgs. Almost two months after his trip to Athens Rogers, who months ago was not pegged to be a Georgia Bulldog, pledged to be one.
The Dawgs didn’t have to come from behind to win Benedict’s heart. Instead, the steadiness of Georgia’s recruiting style really showed. All indications are that Benedict was Georgia’s gotta-have target on the offensive line. By the time Kolton Houston (perhaps a bit undervalued by the .com world and the fans because he committed so early and plays at a “football factory”) pledged to the Dawgs, Alabama seemingly won the heart of North Gwinnett’s JaWaun James.
By the time James committed to the Tide in May, the SEC rival had two offensive lineman from Georgia, and the Dawgs had only one. In fact, at that moment Alabama had as many players committed to them from Georgia than Georgia had committed total. Meanwhile, Stacy Searels, who has effectively recruited many players for the Dawgs over the last few seasons, was on the case of trying to pull Benedict.
I’d visited Benedict in early May, and it seemed clear he was forming a pretty good bond with the Georgia offensive line coach.
Benedict is arguably the most important commitment for Georgia so far.
“There is something about Georgia and Coach Searels,” he said some time after his football practice that day. That’s when I was almost certain he would be coming to Georgia. But like many recruits, particularly those who are interested in keeping things tight, Benedict wasn’t interested in being obvious about who he was going to pick in the end. He knew, like most, that Florida and Georgia both are excellent academic schools. School is something Benedict takes very seriously. In fact, his family looked nationwide for the school that best fit academics and athletics together – they settled on Bolles in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville’s proximity to Florida, probably more than any other thing, pushed the Gators near the top of his list. But you could tell that Benedict was the type of guy you commonly see in the Georgia program.
While the .com world was in a panic (perhaps rightfully so from their perspective) Searels was working the program – sticking with the recruitment of Benedict. The biggest thing was to get the massive prospect on campus one more time. That happened last week – not far from the time Rogers picked Georgia.
Soon after Benedict left we spoke about his trip to Georgia.
"The trip confirmed some things I thought. I wanted to get around some of the guys and the coaches," he said. "“When I make the decision that is going to be it,” he said. “I am not going to make a big deal about committing when I commit. I am not going to do any sort of hat trick or anything like that.”
Instead, Benedict put a Georgia hat on – took a cell phone picture and sent it to Simmons’ cell phone. It was on Dawg Post a few hours later. A huge (in more ways than one) win for the Dawgs.
Meanwhile, in a camp Dawg Post and Scout.com were shut out of thanks to the SEC by way of the NCAA, Michael Bennett was crushing it. I’m not sure if he was even on the radar of most schools when Rogers got his first offer from West Virginia last year.
Word, however, spreads faster than fire in the recruiting world. One of the hottest prospects of the last two months, Bennett snagged 13 offers between May 7 and when he committed earlier this week.
Bennett reportedly was the most noticeable skill player at the Mark Richt Camp.
The Bulldogs were reportedly in a clutter of teams on the brink of offering Bennett. Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee were all clamoring for him to camp with them in June. He visited Florida the first weekend of the month, he then showed out in Athens.
The Gators waited to offer – Georgia didn’t. He committed in no time.
Tony Ball, no slow poke on the recruiting trail, had established the relationship necessary for Bennett to pull the trigger.
Ball told Bennett: "I can’t wait for you to come up and work with me at wide receiver."
Just about the same time Bennett was wrapping up his press parade, Demetre Baker couldn’t hold back from committing mid-visit.
“They were shocked,” he told me earlier this week of the reaction from the coaching staff.
Why commit to Georgia in the middle of a visit? Apparently Baker, who had visited South Carolina, Florida and Miami earlier this month, was so impressed by the way the Dawgs prepared for his visit.
"We sat down and talked for about an hour and a half, and talked with them about school. I met with about four different people about it," he said. "Them planning everything out showed me that Georgia was about business."
Baker was impressed by Georgia's organization.
In order to take the commitment the Dawgs also would have had to have done their homework. The program has held firm that they will not take a verbal commitment from a player they think could waiver, or that they could waiver from. The commitment was surprising in terms of the time it took place, but Georgia had to have been prepared to take the commitment if they took it in the end.
The sweep of commitments was complete. What does it all mean?
Georgia has a diverse recruiting philosophy. They have the ability to wait and develop relationships with players. They can come from behind; they can fight it out; they can grab a prospect who is new on the scene.
I've been watching these guys for a while now. They do make mistakes - perhaps they can be too deliberate. Also, like every program in the country, they don't sign every player from their state (they "miss" on kids). But a lot of recruiting is the complex dance between the program and the prospect.
If Georgia doesn’t take a commitment (or get a commitment) from a player might it just be they don’t want that commitment? I used to wonder if Georgia was slow on purpose – I now know they are. The staff at Georgia is willing to "miss" or "not take" a player if they feel rushed - at least that's the way it seems. But when the scholarships start going they get gone quick.
In-state wide receivers not named Antonio Goodwin probably won’t be getting much love from the Dawgs’ staff. Georgia is going after Goodwin hard – if Tai-ler Jones wanted to be a Bulldog that time has likely come and gone. The same can probably be said for offensive linemen like David Yankey; the offer may stand, but I find it hard to think Georgia is going to grab another offensive lineman – perhaps a combo offensive/defensive lineman, but not just an offensive lineman.
The thing that is obvious about Georgia recruiting – even now more than in the past – is this: The Dawgs are slow, but when they get going it fills up quick. Georgia does not throw around a lot of frivolous offers. I can’t remember them taking a commitment from a player they knew they were going to let linger.
If you are a prospect and you want to play for Georgia (provided you have an offer) commit to the Dawgs because the train is filling up fast, and it is about to pull out of the station.