ATHENS — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart met with media Wednesday afternoon to talk about the Bulldogs’ signees in the 2018 class.
Smart's opening statement to the media:
“Excited about today. You know, it was kind of anti-climactic with the fact that we had had most of the guys signed as mid-year guys. A lot of early enrollees, a lot of early signees, but I think one of the things that helped us today was the fact that we knocked a lot of the work out in December, and I think any time you're able to do that, you're really able to focus your attention on 2019, 2020. We had a lot of junior days and sophomore days in here on the Saturdays leading up to today, so that was a big advantage for us to get ahead. But we were able to focus a lot of our contact attention on the four or five guys we needed to target for the remainder of our class.
Obviously, I'm excited about the class, and I know all you guys want to talk about the ranking. That really does not float my boat or this staff's boat. I don't think that's what's important. What's more important is the quality of kids we were able to get, both academically and athletically. That's what excites me most about them, the fact that 10 of these guys got over a 3.0 core GPA. We haven't had that in a long time. The fact that three of these guys got offered scholarships to Ivy League schools, that impresses me a lot. 25 of these 26 played multiple sports, and I think we all know the indicators of playing multiple sports. Thirteen of the 26 played for a state championship, so when you start looking at those things, they're winners. They're a tight-knit group, really unselfish. Some of these kids went and watched other kids in the state championship game. Several of them went to other guys' surgeries when they had surgeries for injuries, which we had several guys have. They're a unique group. I'm excited about them.
But the chore for them is to get past this and move on, and I'm excited about what they bring to our team, but they've also got a lot of big shoes to fill of some great young men that just left our program.
Smart then answered questions from the assembled media:
How did the early signing period affect (Wednesday) and how the process worked for you?
“That's tough. It's hard to argue with the results we were able to achieve. I think it was a blessing to be in the situation we were in, meaning we lost a week on the road recruiting because of the SEC Championship game. I would think people that didn't play in the SEC Championship game would get a huge advantage by being out that week, that close to a signing date. That was really kind of two weeks or three weeks from a signing date, and they were able to get a little bit of an advantage. We lost that, but we also gained the momentum of the exposure. So I liked that part of it. Preparing for a College Football Playoff and having that early signing period is really challenging to focus and get the attention of the coaching staff and the support staff in the right direction. There were some challenges there for us, but I really don't think it's about us, I think it's about the student athletes, was it better for them, and I think if you asked that question, for some it may have been. I actually think what happened is it narrowed the scope of a lot of top programs onto certain guys, and it created more pressure on the remainder of the people who weren't signed, so the pressure went from being dispersed among 20 players to being on three or four players for every team, and that was tough to go through that with some of the families of the guys you finished with, because they had a big burden on them. But I think you'd have to poll those other kids out there and say, hey, was it beneficial for you. High school coaches, I think they think it was beneficial.”
Do you expect most players to sign early every year?
“I think it'll be interesting. I think to each his own. I think some kids enjoyed that. Some kids wanted to take their visits. We had these 13 to 26 that played in state championship games, they lost their ability to go on visits, especially in the state of Georgia where the state championships got extended another week due to weather. So that whole time period was really tough for a lot of kids because they lost chances to go on visits; they had to make a quick decision. I think there was a lot of pressure from -- I don't want to lower-tier programs, but there was a lot of kids we came across that said, they're telling me if I don't sign right now, I'm going to lose my scholarship. So there was no ability to go back and reevaluate or go on visits. They knew they had to sign if they wanted their spot, and that's good for those other programs. They were able to get their work done and be done and have their classes signed.”
On wide receiver Tommy Bush …
“I fell in love with Tommy the first time that I met him and saw him. He was coming through doing a southeastern tour, and he came with his mother and father. They were very serious about the process. They were very professional. They came and wanted to see different parts of academics. They wanted to look around, walk around campus, and we got to spend a lot of time with him. I knew right away that he was a great kid. Obviously his stature is a big thing for us. We were able to have success with Javon this year, and you're sitting there going, how do you replace those back shoulder throws, how do you replace those catches. You've got to find somebody, and here's a kid that probably was -- didn't get as many throws in high school as you'd like to have, but when he was on the camp circuit, he was on a lot of the workout circuits, he did a tremendous job. He's a 21.4, 21.3 200-meter guy that I know and have a lot of respect for track speed, and when you have that much size and that much speed, you're a pretty good football player, and he's got great academics, too. He comes from a good family.”
On signing players late and if you knew you were going to get...
“Have you looked at my face? I have not slept much lately, so I mean, it was a sleep deprivation. It was a lot of work. I want to give our staff and the support of this university academically a lot of thanks because without the support of the people on this campus, this university academically and athletically, none of this would be possible, but our coaching staff did a tremendous job. There was some time yesterday that we might have only signed one guy today, and it all changed throughout the last really 48 hours. That's kind of the thing I was talking about with the amount of pressure these kids are under at the finish line, and it's really tough on them. But excited about the guys we were able to get.”
How do these six players fit into your system?
“We felt like we needed a receiver, and we were going to go out and say, who's the best receiver still available and try to target those guys, and we needed that, only bringing one in, losing four next year. So one of the biggest needs we have on our board is for wide receiver after next year. So we're sitting here saying, here's two coming in, and both those guys will compete and have a chance to come in and play, but we're going to need that moving forward in the 2019 class. So that was big. Obviously I think the corner position was a position, and DB position was one that we wanted to fill. We felt like we kind of had every box checked. Maybe the safety box was one that was missing, and we were able to fill some of those needs today, as well.”
On signing so many guys the past few years who meet the 300-pound threshold...
“I wouldn't say it's a priority to get them over 300 pounds, it's a priority to get really good football players. Isaiah Wynn was not a guy that was over 300 pounds when he came out, and he proved to be an excellent football player. So I think it's more about the guys we're going after, we don't target them based on weight. We do target them based on some height and some specific descriptions for each position we have. I think Sam Pittman has proved again that he does a tremendous job recruiting the offensive line, and same thing with our defensive line. We were able to get some guys we think are really big, and in our league, the best teams you play are the teams that got size and stature and able to win the line of scrimmage. We've made no bones about it that you've got to win the line of scrimmage in this conference, and that's an area we've tried to target.”
What does it says for the University of Georgia to have a class that is ranked No. 1 nationally?
“I think it's great. I think it's great for the fan base, but I'd trade that No. 1 ranking for the last No. 1 ranking in the college football poll. That's what's important is what you do on the field, and that's what we'll be measured by as coaches, what we're able to do with this class, what they're able to do in development. That's the key ingredient is what can you do with these guys nutritionally, strength and conditioning, academically and even mentally. Mental conditioning is a big part for us. I'm a lot more concerned with that than how many stars they've got by their name.”
Were you sweating from a numbers standpoint today?
“No, we don't sweat numbers. I mean, we do the best we can to get the best players we can, and we do a real good job of evaluating them. We try to get every good football player we can that can make our program better, and that's our goal each and every year is to upgrade that in character, academics and on the football field.”
How has recruiting has changed with this program over the last three years?
“I don't think it ever changes when you've got a great product. I think you've got to kind of morph that. You've got to change the message. I think sometimes you've got to be able to tell them, hey, look, when we were 8-5, a lot of this signing class sat in my office and said, where's this program headed. And for us to have the timing of the momentum we had and the season we had, combined with what we thought was a tremendous class, it was a perfect storm because here you are winning at the end when all kids got to decide, which is early signing period. Boom, we do that; we go out and have one of the most visible games in all of college football this year in the Rose Bowl, and that's when a lot of kids, they are very impacted by those games. They watch those games. To watch the National Championship, there's so many kids that talked about how they viewed that game and saw that game and they were pulling for the University of Georgia. They wanted us to be successful and win, and when you've got leaders in your class like a guy like Justin Fields, it helps tremendously.”
On DB Tyson Campbell and OLB Otis Reese …
“Tyson Campbell, what's not to love? First of all, he's an extremely high-character kid. This process took its toll on he and his family because he's a great kid. He's from a wonderful school that's supplied the University of Georgia with some really good players, from American Heritage, and he's a bright-eyed kid that enjoyed the process. He's a great track athlete, 10.4 100 meters, and I don't know if you know much about that, but that's faster than pretty much anybody we've got on our team right now, and he's big. So he's big and he's fast. He's a 20.8 200 meters. I mean, the guy can fly, and he's really competitive. Obviously we know what the stature and the size bring, but more important than that on Tyson Campbell is his intangibles. There's some other good DB's that we're able to bring in. We're really excited about the DB's as a whole. It's an area that we felt like we could improve our team, and we were able to do it through recruiting.
And then Otis, he brings a force. He brings some contact toughness. He brings some size and stature to the safety position that -- we've had success, both Coach Tucker and myself, coaching big guys at safety. So a lot of people list this guy at outside linebacker and inside linebacker. He's the size that the safeties should be. He could grow into something else, but his first position is going to be safety, and we expect him to excel there. He did it at a really high, competitive level in high school.”
On how competitive the recruiting trail is and if it is exciting to flip a player from one school to another …
“I got that question earlier when I was doing an interview. To me, there's no great sensation in flipping a kid because I don't think it teaches kids the right thing. I think we as the coaches, and coaches in the profession understand I have tremendous respect for the guy on the other side of that flip. A lot of those guys are my friends. A lot of those guys I worked with. So it's great for the fans, and they all want to make a big deal about it. But ultimately, it's really about the relationships we've built with that kid all along. The fan thinks that Otis Reese decided last night that he was going to go to Georgia. That wasn't the case; there was a relationship that was developed over the last year. Same thing with Quay. These are kids that -- they're torn. It's a tough decision. We make it hard. We make it hard as coaches on them. When they do the flip, I know there's somebody on the other side of that. I've been on the other side of that. So I'm not one to get into enjoyment of that. I think it's more about what's right for the kid and how is his future going to be best served by going to the University of Georgia academically so he can set himself up for success in life.”
On recruiting ILB Quay Walker …
“It was a long recruiting battle. It was not overnight. I mean, it was a situation where Quay has been a good player for a long time. A lot of the times these guys commit early. All you do is become the target. And rarely when a kid decommits or gets ready -- they're not going to go back to that same place they just were at. When you're sitting there with Quay, we knew all along that we were just as much in it as Alabama. We're not deterred by the fact he's committed to somebody. We did a good job. He's in a community down there that's near the University of Georgia, that's got a lot of University of Georgia fans, so we just did our job, kept being consistent with him and sending him consistent messages. As far as a player, this guy might be the most versatile because you could say he's an outside backer, you could say he's an inside backer. He's a really good pass rusher. He brings a lot of different things to the football field, and when you see him run around the basketball court, you realize that he's got great athletic ability, and it's a position where -- let's be honest, we lost four starters, right; two guys on the edge, two guys inside in Reggie and Roquan, so it gave him an opportunity to come in here and compete at four different positions.”
On Walker tossing a hat …
“I didn't see it. I never saw it. I was watching 2019 and 2020 tape at the time, so I didn't actually see it. I did get a text from my wife that she was scared to death when he did that. That's their moment in the sun, and some kids know how to handle it and some don't. To each his own. When they get here, we're going to try to teach them the correct way to handle some things, and that's their moment in the sun. That's their family's time and opportunity to be on TV and give the University of Georgia some publicity, and I'm happy for Quay and his family.”
On Scott Fountain and Cortez Hankton…
“We're excited about both the guys coming on the staff. Scott, obviously you guys know and are familiar with from being in our area. I think Scott Fountain does a tremendous job. He was probably one of the biggest assets in our program last year. Everybody has made a big deal about the turnaround in special teams. He was really responsible for coaching our coaches, and he was able to bring us, and me, some ideas to how we practice and some innovative things that he's done, changing what days we did different things, and just organizational things that I thought really helped us. With that, we were able to move up in special teams rankings and do a lot better, and to have him back I think is phenomenal for us. I think he's proven to be a really good recruiter throughout the state of Georgia and also in Florida where he's had some success. So we're excited to get him and his family back to University of Georgia. I know the coach over at Prince Avenue is really excited because he gets his kids back, so he'll have two starters returning there.
And then Cortez, we got to visit and meet with and just thought the world of him. He carries himself in a first-class manner, the way we want to do things at University of Georgia. He's a very intellectual guy. He also played the position, and any time you play the receiver position, I think it helps you tremendously with kids. He was an overachiever as a player. Here's a guy that played on several teams, and he kept making teams. He made them through toughness, his route running, his special teams play, and those are all things we want in our wide receiver room. So we're excited about both those guys.”
On structure of the offensive staff …
“That will be to be determined, so we'll determine that in the coming weeks. We've got a lot of possibilities there because a lot of guys have worked with a lot of different positions.”
On the status of Natrez Patrick and Deangelo Gibbs …
“I think both those kids are working really hard, doing the things we've asked them to do, and to be honest we're trying to help them as much off the field as on the field right now.”
On defensive linemen Jordan Davis and Tramel Walthour …
“Absolutely. We think Jordan is a tremendous football player. Has great size and great toughness. Same thing with Tramel. I think it's a position of need for us, so those guys are going to fill a great role for us because when you start looking at the SEC, the defensive line is what makes a difference in all these teams, and that's where we want to be. We want to have big, physical guys that can rush the passer and push the pocket, and we think both those guys give us that.