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Kirby Smart discusses National Signing Day

Kirby Smart
Photo: John Paul Van Wert

ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart met with media members on Wednesday to discuss the Bulldogs’ 2017 signing class. He offered the following comments:

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement…

“I’ll open with a pretty uneventful day – an exciting uneventful day, if there is such a thing. To bring these new guys into the program is really exciting for us as a staff. I don’t think people realize how much goes into each kid. If you counted the man-hours, the phone calls, the text messages, the Saturdays and Sundays that people spend away from their families up here, I think it’s pretty incredible the amount of time that goes into each one of these guys we were able to bring into our program. We’re really excited.

First, I think the credit goes to our team. Our juniors that decided to stay built a lot of momentum for us in recruiting. I think any time you’ve got players that decide to stay who have an opportunity to go to the NFL, it speaks volumes for their character and what they want to do for the University of Georgia, but it also helps in recruiting because at the end of the day, good players recruit good players. When your good players stay at your university, they help recruit the student-athletes that are coming to your place.

Our president, our administration was great. They spent countless hours visiting with our prospects when they were on campus. Our academic staff, they have to be on call because they never know when somebody is going to come over. For all of the academic staff and all of the members of our university administration who have spent hours convincing these young men that this is the place for you to further your education means a ton to us. From the training room, the coaches’ wives, our staff works relentlessly at this event called recruiting. To get these new young men coming into our program, we’re excited.

We think we attacked a lot of areas of concern for us. I think it’s a good group. I think we did not deviate very far from our size criteria. When you look at certain positions you want to get certain sized guys. We were able to do that. We were able to hit some areas, especially on the offensive line, the defensive secondary, that we had some guys leave that we needed to replace. All in all, it was a good class. Where we didn’t succeed probably last year on the offensive front, we were able to succeed this year with a full recruiting cycle. In this day and age, you’ve got to do it again next year. We’ve already started on that, and we spent a lot of time in January targeting younger guys so that we can get ahead. We’re excited. I really am excited about the guys we’ve got coming. I’m really excited about the guys we’ve got here. Just to think about the six young men that are already here and to see them work out each day, it fires me up. I’m fired up about this team because there’s a lot of good football players and good character kids in it.”

On signees at corner…

“Length. We had to get length. Any time you can get a 10.4 (second), 10.5 (second) 100-meter (dash) guy, plus 6-foot-plus, 6-2, 6-3 in some cases, good physicality, good strength. I think bulk is a big part of being a good DB nowadays. You’re tackling Nick Chubb and Sony Michel pretty much every week in the SEC. So when you’ve got 180 pound guys, it’s tough if you don’t hit that 200-pound mark. We think we attacked that area. We think we were very successful at getting some longer guys. Will they be ready to play next year? I sure hope so. That’s what they’re hoping too. They want to come in here and compete. We needed to get longer and bigger to be able to match up some guys. We hope those guys are able to do it, the three guys you mentioned.”

On having a full year to recruit…

“It’s a tremendous help. Obviously, you have a longer amount of time to spend with them. I don’t think people know how deep we were into this class last year at this time. I remember being at the national championship game, and during the time I got to recruit, I was on the phone with these guys. The target was we were going to go after these guys and get a really good class with the full cycle. We knew it would be a tough adjustment last year to come in. We were able to save some guys last year, but we also didn’t try to reach anybody at the end last year and reach out and throw out some things and save our scholarships for this year. It paid off this year. We had a very good year in the state, which helped. It was especially a good year on the offensive line in the state. That part helps. The relationships you build always help. Having that full year gets a few more visits, a few more weekends, so you get a better relationship with people if they decide to come to your place.”

On the offensive line signees…

“I think it’s exciting any time you get a group like that. I’m certainly very impressed with the stature of those guys. They’ve got to do a good job of controlling that between now and arrival here. Only one of them is here right now, so those guys can’t get too big. They’ve got to do a good job getting in shape. They’ve got to learn quickly. We’ve got to do a good job developing those guys. We’ve got to take the guys we’ve got here and continue to get them better. We had several guys that had pretty good size last year that redshirted that we’re hoping develop in the spring as well. We’re excited about those offensive line guys. What I really like about them is for the most part, four or five of them only took one visit. They knew where they wanted to go. They were coming to the University of Georgia, and they wanted to come together. I think a lot of that credit goes to Coach (Sam) Pittman and the work he did forming a relationship with each one of those guys.”

On the size of the class and scholarship situation on the team…

“You never really know. With things going on as they are in college football, nowadays, you have guys that are graduates that may transfer. You’re always worried about guys coming and going. We’ll be fine with 85 (scholarship players).”

On recruiting tactics and social media…

“I know, the kids we recruit, I know from official visits you can walk by a table and every kid will have his phone out, checking social media, using Snapchat, Facebook Live. It changes faster than I know what’s going on. I can’t wait for my kids to get that age so they can explain it to me because I can’t follow all of the stuff going on, it happens so quick. Last year, with Tyler Simmons I was streaming live on whatever it was called. I didn’t even know what it was. Nowadays, you never know what the next step is. I think staying on the cutting edge of recruiting is important. The kids like it. They enjoy it. If you’re going to communicate with them you’ve got to be able to share in that same environment. We’ll do everything we can as a recruiting department to stay cutting edge and stay involved in those.”

On the height of the wide receiver signees…

“Ideally, you’d like to have a tall, fast guy. Everybody wants a tall, fast guy. You want a big, physical guy. We probably didn’t get the Isaiah McKenzie type, the guy that can do those versatile things. That’s probably an area we’ll have to address some kind of way – develop a guy on the team, find new ways to use some of our good players with the ball in their hands. For the most part we got big wide receivers. That’s what we want. We want physical guys. To improve our stature, that helps. You need both. When you have 10, 11, 12 scholarships, you want guys that can do both and have a little ‘wiggle’ along with those big guys.”

On balancing remaining scholarships with the risk of commitment ‘flips’…

“It’s really a challenge, I’ll be honest with you. When you talk about being a head coach and the differences, that’s probably the biggest difference in the recruiting part of the job. It’s tough. A lot of people wanted to come to the University of Georgia. We had a lot of momentum. We had a good class going. I had to put the reigns on reaching some of those guys because I think they thought they could recruit everybody in the country. We’ve got a limited number of spots and those guys were pretty aggressive. Those are tough decisions. You always look back. We do a quality control of each coach on our staff, they look at every player and rank every player, and whether we get them or not, four years from now we come back and look at those. We say ‘okay, who did we miss on? Why did we miss on them? Who was right? Maybe that guy is a better evaluator.’ Those are tough decisions that come down to the last two or three spots, and the timing of them is really hard. You spend a lot of long hours the last two or three nights, sometimes even talking to coaches at other schools just trying to share information about each other and where kids are going, even though we’re competing, so you’ve got better information to make the right decision. I don’t think people really know how deep that goes, as to making those final two, three decisions.”

On the number of defensive linemen in the class…

“Would I like to have had more? Yes. Was I pleased with what we had last year? Yes. But ultimately there’s a limit for what you can have. There’s a target area for what you can have at each position. We’re kind of on our target area in that position. I don’t think you ever turn down a good defensive lineman. They’re just hard to come by, and it’s really hard to get those guys. The top five, six in the country, they’re always the most competitive guys to get because that’s the hardest position to find. We did try to target more athletic, faster, ‘twitch’ guys. We think Devonte Wyatt is that way. He can run, he’s got some quickness. Malik (Herring) is that way. He can run, he’s got some quickness. We hope some guys we signed last year can grow into those guys, some of the smaller guys. Some of the guys in this class might end up growing into that. I don’t ever think you can sign enough defensive linemen. It almost turned out this year like the defensive line is like the offensive line last year, where you wished you could’ve gotten that one more guy, or an extra guy, but we’re certainly pretty tapped out as far as our numbers.”

On changes as a head coach this year in recruiting…

“I think just quality control of official visits. Managing things more efficiently, making sure that we’re applying to the customer all the time. I always relate it to Chick Fil A. If there’s a long line there, what do they do? They come out and take your order. We don’t want long lines. We want to avoid that. We want good customer service. We’re always trying to find a way to do it better than the other guy. We listen is the number one thing we do. We talk to parents. We find out what they liked about other visits. We also do a lot of things in house, from who’s watching tape, who all is going to be able to evaluate kids and make the right decisions. Forecasting your roster a year ahead is really hard nowadays because kids transfer more often than they ever have, they graduate and move more than they ever have, and they can also come out for the (NFL) draft. What your team looks like, snapshot now and snapshot next year, can change pretty quickly.”

On lessons learned from recruiting at Alabama…

“The first lesson is really good players play really good. When you get really good players, which we don’t really know for sure until they’ve been there, and (the first class on a full cycle at Alabama) may have been one of the most productive classes I’ve been around, top to bottom, but as far as wiping the slate clean, I can’t say to that effect. I think that each year has a history and life of its own. You recruit each year independent of the other. The challenges are different each year. Just like next year, it’ll be a challenge recruiting offensive linemen. Why? Because we just signed six. It’s very important that you do a good job explaining your needs and they do a good job of understanding there’s more to it than just a depth chart. This university is a pretty special place to me. You can get a really good education here and you can get coached by some really good people.”

On Georgia’s defensive outlook for 2017 and if it could lead to position changes…

“I wouldn’t consider that right now because we’ve got to get better on defense, first and foremost. Just because people are coming back doesn’t mean you can’t improve. We certainly think (this year’s signees) can make us better. We don’t have everybody back. We lost an MVP (Maurice Smith), a really quality player in our nickel who played 75-percent of our snaps. So somebody’s going to have to replace him. That’s a unique challenge that we lost not only him, but we lost his backup. When you lose two people at that same position that’s a very critical position, we’ll have to find somebody ready to fit that role.”

On potential position change or use on offense for Mecole Hardman…

“That’s been talked about. The problem we have right now is we have a deficient team at corner. Mecole Hardman is a corner. We’ve got four guys for the spring. It’s not a situation where we’re going to be able to throw guys out there at corner and move them around. He was developing nicely at corner and we want him to continue to do that. But we’ve got to find ways to get Mecole the ball or use him more on defense because he’s certainly a skilled athlete.”

On the last few days of bringing the class together and the difference in length of DBs compared to when Smart played at UGA…

“I definitely wouldn’t sign here (as a player). I wouldn’t sign me ever, let’s get that out of the way (laughing). I do think longer DBs are the trend. Foot quickness becomes a problem with length. Can he move quick enough to cover quick, fast, receivers. So many of the wide receivers we faced, and we struggled with, have length. When you play against length, you want a guy with length. Uniquely, we were able to get some guys that we thought had good length to help in this class. I think that’s a trend across the country. I really like DBs that can play multiple positions. They can be corners, they can be nickels, they can move inside, they can play safety. A lot of the good players I’ve been around, that’s what they can do. That’s a big part of it.

I’d say (the last few days were) normal, but normal chaos. It’s always chaos around that time because there’s a lot of moving parts. People are doing this, that, you’re relying on somebody else’s information. You find out a lot about the people surrounding these kids in the last 24, 48 hours. They’re getting pulled in a lot of directions. When everything goes silent, everything goes quiet, you find out who’s in your corner and who’s not right there at the end.”

On the state of Georgia’s program compared to where he wants it to be…

“Number one to me has always been about recruiting and development, recruiting and development. To develop the players you’ve got to have good facilities to do that, but you also have to have good players to develop. Getting these young men, that’s what today’s about, giving them recognition they chose to come to the University of Georgia. It’s a big part and it’s a big step. I do believe in getting good players in here. I think this group is a good group. It’s a competitive group. It’s a loyal group. Twelve guys took one official visit. Twelve guys won a state championship. I think you could speak volumes to the group as a whole, not just a number by their name or a number by the class. That’s important to you guys. That’s not as important to me, the ranking, as it is what kind of kids these young men are.”

On running back signee D’Andre Swift…

“A great competitor, a great kid, a guy that loves the University of Georgia. To be on the end of the phone with him when he found out that Nick (Chubb) and Sony (Michel) were staying, unfazed. ‘That’s awesome, coach. I get to learn from two of the best.’ How many kids in America would say that today? He was unfazed by it. He really believes he’s going to come in and contribute and help. Certainly a lot of return yards missing off this team, we hope he’s able to help with that. We know he can flex out and play in the slot. He’s got a little bit of Sony in him. He’s got a little bit of Nick in him. I think that’s a good mixture. The most important thing is he comes from a wonderful family and he is a fierce competitor. I look forward to having him on our team.”

On keeping top recruits in state…

“I think the opportunity that the young men in this state have to come to the University of Georgia, play for the state university, I think Thomas Davis has said it best, many times – why go anywhere else? You’ve got a chance to play for your state university, get a great education, one of the best educations in the country, and come here and do it at a special place that the people in your town root for most of the time. We provide that opportunity. Not every kid will stay. We recognize that. It’s not really about that to me, as much as it is getting the right guys in the state, not just getting the top guys in the state. We’ve got to get the right guys that we need. We’ve got to be able to go outside the state when we need guys that the state doesn’t provide. But this state is very fertile. It’s number one in supplying roster spots for the SEC teams. When it comes to the two-deep in the SEC, more kids are from the state of Georgia than anywhere. When you go to the ACC, two-deep rosters in the ACC, it’s second. This state is an extremely fertile state. We all know that. It’s more about the selection process for us and making sure we get the right kids and the right kind of kids.”

On Jake Fromm and his recruitment…

“The first time I heard about Jake Fromm, I think it may have been early on in Alabama. It was when they won the (Little League) World Series down there (in Warner Robbins), they played in the (Little League) World Series and he was on the baseball team. Everybody was talking about him then, talking about that team. I remember as a ninth grader, he was throwing there, everybody was talking about him, talking about the talent he had. Of course at that time I had no idea how things would transpire. I started getting a really good relationship with him, his mom, his dad, his whole family when I was at Alabama. They came over for visits and I was able to spend a lot of time with them. When I got this job, he was an immediate target. I knew the kid wanted to play at Georgia. I knew that was his life-long passion, very similar to myself. He grew up in Georgia and wanted to play at Georgia. I knew that with time and relationships we’d be able to get him to join us. We’re very fortunate that he did that. I’m excited about the competition because it’s going to push Jacob (Eason). It already is. This kid, he gets off the plane from the Army All-American game and he wants every receiver’s cell phone number and he wants to go throw with them. If they’re not out there throwing, he wants to ask them why they’re not. That’s the best thing for Jacob right now.”

On Isaiah Wilson’s size…

“Certainly capable of competing. I don’t want to call out one guy of the whole class, but this guy is talented. I’ve been very fortunate to be around some good offensive tackles. Cam Robinson played for us as a freshman. Andre Smith played over at Alabama before I got there as a freshman. There’s certainly been some talented guys. He has the right mental makeup, he has the right demeanor. He does have to take care of his body and make sure he doesn’t get his weight out of control. I can’t actually tell you what he weighs right now, because I don’t know. There’s been definitely different numbers out there reported. We’ll see what he comes in at. It’s important that he comes in at a manageable weight. The good thing now in college football, you get 60 days before they come in for camp that you can monitor that. He’s a talented young man and he’s got a great family. He’s got a great personality. He’s fun to talk to every time.”

On having so many recruits only require one visit before committing…

“I don’t know statistically because I never kept up with it, not being a head coach. I don’t know if that happened every year when I was at Alabama, I never kept the stats on it. You could make the case that ‘oh, they only went one place because you’re the only one that wanted them.’ I certainly don’t think that’s the case. I think a lot of these kids, they knew what they wanted to do. A lot of them were really close to us, so they didn’t have to go other places, they could just stop by here and do what they wanted to on the weekend. It was always important to keep those guys as a tight-knit group. They put a lot of pressure on each other to not go places. Sometimes peer pressure gets to them more than any. We’re obviously thankful to get that group that didn’t go anywhere.

It helped a lot because we knew and we trusted that the relationship we developed allowed us to go other places and go see other guys. That’s always the key to getting a good class is how fast can you get started on the next class? Meanwhile, while we were recruiting this class we were able to see some 2018 and 2019 guys out there.”

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