Hitting the recruiting trail – in Athens

Chip Towers, in an aside in a post he wrote today in the AJC’s Bulldog Blog, mentions that Carter Strickland is preparing an article on Georgia’s apparent change in its approach to JUCO players.

I have to admit I’m intrigued.

Anyone familiar with the program over the past few years is aware of the almost complete absence of JUCO players in the recruiting classes since Richt became head coach (Georgia signed two in Richt’s first class who were Donnan legacies and none since then). The class of 2007 will have at least four JUCO signees. What’s changed?

That’s the part of this story that I’m interested in. What we’ve been told is that Richt generally doesn’t like JUCO kids because they only have two years in the system and Richt prefers that his signees are around for four. But late this summer, Coach Garner spoke with the press and gave a different indication for the absence of JUCO signees:

It’s often too difficult to sign a JUCO player who can meet Georgia’s qualification standards, said Rodney Garner, Georgia’s recruiting coordinator.
“It’s just tough for us to find a curriculum here that we can get them into where they would meet initial eligibility,” Garner said, “where they would have enough credits to transfer.”
Georgia’s academic standards often work against many junior college recruits, and that sometimes prevents Garner from recruiting a player who could fill an immediate need.
“It’s not that easy,” said Garner, citing defensive line as one of those positions where he’d love a junior college player. “There are definitely a lot of need positions that we wish we could go out and address through the junior college route.”
Garner says he’s working with the school’s academic support staff to find a solution, if one exists, that would help such a player qualify at Georgia. After all, other schools that claim high academic standards – like Florida, he said – have been able to sign junior college kids.
“They’re supposed to be a very high academic institution, but they get some junior college kids in,” he said. “We haven’t been able to do that in a while.”

That caught my eye when it came out. Mainly because other athletic programs at the school – baseball and basketball, for example – have brought in JUCO kids during the period of Richt’s tenure. Why does the football program face academic issues that evidently other programs don’t?

Interestingly, Garner continued to work the press, and Josh Kendall wrote an article a couple of days later about the JUCO admission process. Here’s something Garner had to say to him:

“Here at the University of Georgia we just have a hard time getting junior college kids in school,” Garner said. “It’s not that easy.”In fact, Garner said, it’s tougher at Georgia than at any school in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs haven’t signed a junior college player since the Class of 2001, which included offensive lineman Kareem Marshall and defensive back Brandon Williams.

“There are definitely a lot of key positions we wish we could go out and address through the junior college route,” Garner said. “It’s just hard for us to get them in.”

Sounds like some pretty strong lobbying on his part, doesn’t it? The question was, who was he lobbying? Perhaps a little hint appears later in the article:

Jere Morehead, Georgia’s senior vice president for academic affairs and the school’s faculty athletics representative, said there is no reason it should be tougher for a junior college student to get into Georgia than into Florida, for example.

“That’s the first time I’ve heard that,” Morehead said. “Neither coach (Mark) Richt nor Rodney has discussed any issues with transfers with me. I’d certainly be glad to sit down and discuss it, but I didn’t think that was a concern. I didn’t really think we focused on taking transfers in our program. Typically, you like to grow your students from within.”

Why is an academic bureaucrat passing judgment about how a football coach should develop his athletes? Especially someone who admits that communication on an issue important to the program was lacking? There’s no real answer given in the story.

Anyway, Garner indicated in the article that he was going to press hard on the issue:

This week, Garner forwarded the transcripts of three GMC players to an academic official at Georgia in hopes of getting the go-ahead to continue recruitment, he said. In the past, Bulldogs coaches have waited until the last minute to forward transcripts of JUCO prospects hoping the players would use the time to add credits or good grades.

“We’re going to try a different route this year,” Garner said. “It’ll be interesting to see what they say.”

Those three players are defensive linemen Jarius Wynn and Corvey Irvin and offensive lineman Vince Vance. [Emphasis added.]

“We really want to recruit them, but if they say, ‘Hey, they can’t get in school here,’ we’re wasting our time and those kids’ time,” Garner said.

Evidently he was successful, as all three of these kids committed to Georgia recently. I’ll be interested in seeing if Strickland’s article lets us in on all of the recruiting Coach Garner had to do to make this work…

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