Andy Staples says it’s a coach’s second recruiting class that really sets the table.
“Somebody had told me when I got the job that your first full cycle will be your best class,” Smart said. Smart didn’t say who told him that, but his former boss Nick Saban might agree based on history. Saban’s 2001 class at LSU included a huge contingent of difference-makers (Joseph Addai, Rudy Niswanger, Andrew Whitworth, Marcus Spears, Michael Clayton, Marquise Hill, Travis Daniels, Ben Wilkerson) that would help LSU win the national title in 2003. Saban’s 2008 class at Alabama might have been even better. It included a group (Julio Jones, Barrett Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron, Marcell Dareus, Mark Ingram, Damion Square, Dont’a Hightower, Terrence Cody, Robert Lester) that helped turn Alabama into the monster that continues to dominate the sport.
Urban Meyer, the other coach atop Smart in this year’s recruiting rankings, also has signed his most important classes to start year two. In 2006, Meyer stood behind a lectern in the south end zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and said this: “I’ve been fortunate to coach a bunch of guys who never had any stars by their names. I’ve got a bunch of championship rings upstairs because of those players.” But Meyer didn’t have any national championship rings at that point. He hadn’t had access to four- and five-stars at Bowling Green and Utah. The Florida job offered his first chance to recruit against the best, and Meyer proved dominant. His 2006 class in Gainesville included Tim Tebow, Percy Harvin, Brandon Spikes, Jermaine Cunningham, Riley Cooper, Brandon James and Marcus Gilbert. Some of those players—Harvin and Tebow, for example—helped put an already talented 2006 team over the top for a national title. The rest of that group formed the nucleus for the 2008 title. But like Saban, Meyer’s best second class came at his second national championship stop. His 2013 Ohio State class included Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Joey Bosa, Gareon Conley, Jalin Marshall, Billy Price and Tyquan Lewis. Some of those players played critical roles in the Buckeyes’ 2014 national title, while others emerged in the two seasons since.
Will that translate successfully to Athens? No way of knowing, of course, but Smart gives every indication that a lot of careful thought and planning went into assembling the 2017 class — and maybe beyond.
… Smart, knowing he’d have better relationships and better evaluations for his second class, purposely did not sign a full class in 2016. “We had slots open and people wanting to take them, and we didn’t jump at anybody,” he said. “We didn’t reach for anybody. We kept those spots knowing that we could use them this year more judiciously.” That also allowed the Bulldogs to begin recruiting in earnest the players who signed Wednesday.
Either luck or careful selection—and probably a mixture of both—gave Georgia a relatively drama-free ’17 class. Twelve of Georgia’s new players never took an official visit anywhere else—and not because no one else was interested. “You don’t have that much anymore in college football,” Smart said. “Those kids were committed to Georgia and committed to each other.”
That should help Smart and the Bulldogs in the ’18 cycle. While other programs tied up loose ends on the ’17 class, Georgia had turned the page to the next class. Smart also had a chance to recruit some more critically important players for the ’17 season. The decisions of tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy to return for their senior seasons will make Georgia far deeper than originally expected. “It’s probably more important, I would think, to have them than the guys coming in,” Smart said. “They can impact the game more.”
One great class does not a championship make, of course. But you’re not going to get started on the road to there without one, either. As I’ve posted before, now comes the hard part. We’ll see if the staff is up to it.
UPDATE: More second year stuff here.