'We should be one of the leaders': How Kirby Smart has owned the Peach State in recruiting
This is the third of three articles looking at recruiting data and trends since Kirby Smart became head coach of Georgia football. The research was gathered using 247Sports.com recruiting numbers.
The end of the 2016 UGA-Tennessee game went down in Volunteer lore and was a play that Georgia football faithful want wiped from their memories.
UT quarterback Josh Dobbs
launched a Hail Mary pass from his own 47-yard line to the end zone, where then-sophomore receiver Jauan Jennings hauled in the pass amidst a pack of Bulldogs. The touchdown gave the Volunteers a 34-31 win, handing first-year UGA coach Kirby Smart
his second of an eventual five losses in his inaugural season leading the Bulldogs.
But that play, the one that was catapulted by Dobbs, might have been the catalyst for a five-year-long recruiting plan for Smart and the UGA coaching staff.
“The guy has improved immensely as a quarterback,” Smart said prior to the game of Dobbs. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. One of the best leaders, I know.’’
Georgia fans were familiar with the former four-star prospect from Alpharetta, Georgia. He was the No. 10 recruit from the Peach State in the class of 2013 and he seemingly played his best games against UGA. And yet, there was never a UGA offer sent Dobbs’ way.
In the Smart era, that might not have happened. It hasn’t happened since, actually.
Since Smart took over as head coach in Athens, he’s made it a point to keep the best high school players from Georgia in Georgia.
Beginning with the 2017 recruiting class, UGA has had at least one of the Top 5 players in Georgia sign with the Bulldogs. Several times they have multiple Top 5 players sign, highlighted by 2018’s class which featured four of the top five players from Georgia.
Where players from the Top 50 in the state of Georgia have committed since 2017.
Each year 247Sports Composite ranks the top players nationally with different ratings from 70 to 100. The higher the number, the better the recruit. So Trevor Lawrence
, the consensus five-star quarterback from Cartersville who committed to Clemson over Georgia received a grade of 99.999 which is the highest a player can get. Each player behind him in the 2018 recruiting class received a slightly lower grade all the way to the lowest-rated three-star recruit.
Of the Top 50 recruits in Georgia every year from 2017-2021, which totals 250 prospects, UGA has signed a nation-leading 47 of them.
Keeping players at the state school began almost immediately, with UGA signing 17 of the Top 50 players in Georgia in the 2017 recruiting class.
How does that compare with other Georgia schools?
Georgia Tech has signed just 14 Top 50 players from Georgia since 2017, Georgia Southern signed one in 2018 and Georgia State hasn’t signed any of the Top 50 players since 2017.
Perhaps as expected, Smart has dominated the Peach State. There’s a reason UGA has gone 3-1 against Georgia Tech under Smart, including winning the last three.
The most recent recruiting class in 2021 had the No. 1, 2 and 4-best players in Georgia head to Athens, and 2020 had the No. 3 and No. 5, with No. 1 overall Arik Gilbert
transferring to UGA after one year at LSU. 2018 and 2017 had seven of the Top 10 players sign with UGA.
Auburn and Clemson have had some success in recruiting Georgia since 2017, with 25 Top 50 Peach State recruits signing with Auburn and 23 with Clemson.
Tennessee (13), South Carolina (12) and Alabama and Florida State (11 each) round out the schools that have benefitted the most from Georgia having some of the top high school prospects in the country.
Of all of Smart’s UGA signees, 48.76% (59/121) have come from Georgia. These players aren’t all from one school or even one of the several Georgia powerhouse high schools. 48 different Georgia high schools make up the 59 Georgia recruits. Only six schools have had multiple players sign with UGA: Pace Academy (3), Cedar Grove (2), Hapeville Charter (2), Houston County (2), Liberty County (2) and Newton (2).
“I always think that we should be one of the leaders of Georgia,” Smart said after the December 2020 early signing day. “I know that a lot of people have reached out to me and said, ‘Georgia’s success in the last four to five years is starting to take its toll.’ These kids grow up seeing Georgia in the top five, top six in the country most of their high school, even middle school lives.”
McClain Baxley is a recruiting reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mcclainbaxley.