published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Georgia's class half full

Georgia head coach Mark Richt, left, greets Reggie Wilkerson and family Wednesday after a national signing day news conference in Athens, Ga.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt, left, greets Reggie Wilkerson and family Wednesday after a national signing day news conference in Athens, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs signed the biggest class of the Mark Richt era Wednesday, as 32 players joined the two-time defending SEC East champions.

Should all 32 meet their academic requirements, nearly 40 percent of Georgia’s roster for the season opener at Clemson will consist of newcomers. In other words, some folks may have to develop in a hurry.

“This is one of those classes where we’re going to need some type of a boost,” Richt said of his 13th crop of signees. “I would say they’re going to be an awful lot of guys who are going to be playing. When it’s not quite half the team in this class, there are going to be a bunch of them who will have to play and come through for us.”

Georgia’s previous high of 31 signees under Richt occurred in 2002, which was a class led by offensive tackle Max Jean-Gilles and defensive tackle Kedric Golston. The Bulldogs also have 13 early enrollees, more than doubling the previous high of six in 2006. As of Wednesday evening, Georgia’s commitments were ranked 10th nationally by ESPN and Scout.com and 12th by Rivals.com.

“The key to this class was getting the 13 early enrollees,” Scout.com analyst Jamie Newberg said. “If they don’t get all those guys, they’re not signing more than 30. That was the key for Georgia, and they’ve done a great job identifying those kids and getting them in school. I think it’s a good, balanced group.”

The Bulldogs lost 12 defensive players from this past season who made multiple starts, so it was no surprise that 18 signees are projected for that side of the ball. Georgia signed four defensive linemen, six linebackers, five safeties and three cornerbacks.

This year’s class will be remembered for its size and for those who didn’t choose to join. All four of Rivals.com’s five-star Peach State prospects went elsewhere, with Loganville defensive end Robert Nkemdiche signing with Ole Miss, Alpharetta defensive end Carl Lawson and Vienna defensive tackle Montravius Adams picking Auburn, and Ridgeland High safety Vonn Bell signing with Ohio State.

The Bulldogs also lost out on top offensive tackle prospect Laremy Tunsil of Lake City, Fla., who signed with Ole Miss.

“There are no disappointments right now,” Richt said. “Once signing day hits, we’re going to be excited about everybody we signed, which I am and I know our staff is.”

Safety Tray Matthews of Newnan, an early enrollee, was the only Rivals.com top-10 Peach State prospect to sign with the Bulldogs. That breaks the previous low of two — tailback Caleb King and receiver Israel Troupe — set in 2007, when Fairburn safety Eric Berry (Tennessee), Atlanta quarterback Cam Newton (Florida), Darien defensive end Allen Bailey (Miami) and Marietta running back Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech) were among those who got away.

“We’ve won 22 games the last two years, and that’s the most important thing,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I’d much rather have the guys here midyear working than have a one-time splash on signing day.”

Grantham is scheduled to interview today for the defensive coordinator vacancy with the New Orleans Saints, according to multiple reports. Asked Wednesday whether he told recruits he would coach them later this year, Grantham said, “I told guys that I fully expect to be here and that I would like to be here.”

For the first time since 1997, Rodney Garner was not Georgia’s recruiting coordinator on signing day. Garner left in December for Auburn, his alma mater, and helped the Tigers land a respected class headed by Lawson and Adams.

“That may have affected us a little bit on the defensive side of the ball and some of the targets, to be honest,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I was personally recruiting guys on the offensive side, and Rodney wasn’t involved with any of those guys. So as far as our side of the ball, it had no effect.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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