Georgia Recruiting Reset: No. 1 on the Field, Can Bulldogs Finish on Top in Class of 2023?

ATHENS, Georgia — The Georgia soccer team hasn’t lost a game since the start of 2022, but there have been some casualties on the recruiting front: Cornerback Daniel Harris was decommitted this month, tailback Justin Haynes chose Alabama over the last summer program in which his father played Verron, and around the same time, receiver Anthony Evans caused an upset by picking Oklahoma.

But recruiting, unlike games, has iterations. Georgia hasn’t stopped recruiting any of the three players or others it may have missed out on. As wins pile up, Bulldogs coaches are essentially circling back at players they’ve lost to say, are you sure you don’t want to be a part of this?

“What would you like to be a part of? Do you want to be part of something winning, something special?” Kirby Smart said this week, speaking generally about recruitment. “And that’s what we’re selling. And it’s not for everyone, but it’s what we sell.”

Georgia currently has the second-ranked class, behind only Alabama, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The early signing period – which has been adopted as the de facto main signing period – begins on December 21st. So the next month will be a now-familiar frenetic chase: prepare for and play in the SEC Championship game, then set out to nail down dedicated recruits while you try to enlist a few new ones.

Here’s a look at where things stand on that front:

Georgia’s commitments until 2023

player position Stars national rank hometown

AJ Harris

cb

5

28

Phoenix City, Alabama.

Joel Aguero

S

5

41

Danvers, Mass.

Rayon of Wilson

ILB

4

53

Tallahassee, Fla.

Monroe Freeling

T

4

58

Mount Pleasant, SC

Troy Bowles

ILB

4

64

Tampa, Fla.

Pearce Spurlin

TE

4

92

Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.

Gabriel Harris

OLB

4

100

Bradenton, Fla.

BoHughley

T

4

102

Fairburn, Ga.

CJ Allen

ILB

4

106

Barnesville, Ga.

Tyler Williams

WR

4

139

Lakeland, Fla.

Raymond Cottrell

WR

4

146

Milton, FL.

Justin Rhett

cb

4

178

Las Vegas, Nevada

Chris Peal

cb

4

179

Charlotte, NC

Jamal Jarrett

DL

4

189

Greensboro, NC

Lawson Luckie

TE

4

196

Norcross, Ga.

KeltonSmith

G.C

4

211

Columbus, Ga.

Roderick Robinson

RB

4

243

San Diego, California

Joshua Miller

G.C

3

598

Colonial Heights, Virginia

Yazeed Haynes

WR

3

664

Lansdale, Penn.

Peyton Woodring

K

3

NO

Lafayette, La.

who stays

Georgia is in the mix for a slew of five-star players, including a trio of outside linebackers: Damon Wilson (Venice, Fla.), Samuel M’Pemba (Bradenton, Fla.) and Qua Russaw (Montgomery, Alabama). The latter is team-mates with five-star defender James Smith, another target. Tight ends coach Todd Hartley is trying to recruit another superstar in Duce Robinson (Phoenix, Arizona).

There are also the three above who escaped. Haynes may be a long shot because Alabama is Alabama. But with Evans signed in the summer, season progress could help as Oklahoma struggles and Georgia performs more than its previous reputation. Harris’ unsigning may have had a lot to do with seeing how many young cornerbacks Georgia fielded, but Will Muschamp and Fran Brown will continue to argue.

Defense attorneys Jordan Hall (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Daevin Hobbs (Concord, NC) are four-star contenders that Tray Scott plans to face.

And there might be a few others as Georgia intends to sign around 25 high school prospects. But of course that is no longer the only possibility for immediate help.

Transfer portal required

Smart has welcomed the fact that its program is the only Power 5 team not to have unsubscribed anyone from the portal this past offseason. That doesn’t mean he’ll stand pat again.

A lot will depend on what the roster looks like in early January: who’s making the move to the NFL, who’s making the move, what’s up in the recruit class?

For example, if Kenny McIntosh leaves (he’s a senior with the extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 year), Georgia would be more likely to go there. Junior Kendall Milton was also able to test the water despite his injury-plagued season. But when Georgia is able to add another recruit alongside Robinson and not lose anyone besides McIntosh, it’s not as motivated to search the portal.

In general, Georgia will follow last year’s strategy: if there’s a player the coaches like, they’ll go after him, and if they have an urgent need that can be met, they’ll try to fill it. But the way to stack great recruiting courses is to have the luxury of not having to look for transfers.

What happens at quarterback?

What we know: Stetson Bennett’s eligibility has expired, three scholarship quarterbacks will return, and Georgia has no quarterback commitments for the Class of 2023.

What we don’t know: Whether any of the three remaining quarterbacks will leave and whether Georgia will take a flyer on anyone, either through the portal or a high school recruit, is unknown. The answer to the latter probably depends on the former.

Carson Beck has been the top backup all season and appears to be the heir apparent. Gunner Stockton is just a freshman, two years separating him from Beck, so there’s no obvious rush for Stockton. Brock Vandagriff, who arrived as a five-star recruit a year after Beck, is the one to watch: Is he nervous about getting game time or willing to stay and compete with Beck? Vandagriff seems happy considering how he’s celebrating on the sidelines. But business is business and everyone wants to play.

The educated guess here, and that’s just that, is that the coaches are emphasizing that it’s an open competition in Spring, hoping to have all three there. But those offseason reps with the #1 quarterback and his receivers are valuable. So if a breakup does occur, a decision is best announced sooner rather than later, at the latest after the Spring Ball.

What about the recipient?

Remember, if you will, as Smart said after the Oregon game, Georgia’s passing in that game should encourage elite players looking to play on this type of offense. And while it doesn’t look like it, Georgia has gone further: 381 pass attempts, the third most in the SEC, though it barely made it in the latter part of some games, notably in Tennessee and Kentucky.

So does it have a noticeable impact on the recruiting trail? The hope is it influences Evans, and Georgia already likes what it has about Tyler Williams and Raymond Cottrell. But if a fast receiver enters the portal and piques Georgia’s interest, it will strike.

Bryan McClendon, in his second tenure as Georgia’s receivers coach, may still have plenty of work for him to do as opponents will point out that tight ends are bigger beneficiaries of the more pass-heavy approach. This is another case where AD Mitchell and George Pickens before him an injury doesn’t help recruiting. But McClendon has been able to sign high-profile receivers in Oregon, and it may be another cycle to see if his hiring and Georgia’s passing offense convince recruits.

(Photo by Kirby Smart: Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

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