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Kirby Smart discusses early signing period

UGA Football: Signing Day
Photo: Steffenie Burns/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart met with media Wednesday afternoon to talk about the Bulldogs’ early signees in the class of 2018.

Smart offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“Well, kind of a confused state for me because I am used to coming in here to talk about practice. We just got through with practice. To be honest, my mind is on practice. My mind is on Oklahoma, but with this unique experience it has been an interesting day to say the least with Signing Day going on. A lot of great kids choosing to come to Georgia. I am most excited — No. 1 stat about this class to me so far that is not done is that 10 of the 17 went to a state championship game. So, 10 of the 17 signees were in a state championship game. Six of the 17 won a state championship game. I think that is just remarkable. Nine guys of the 17 had over a 3.0 core GPA, which was a major emphasis for us in this class. Three of these guys had offers from Ivy League schools, so we are really excited about this class. I think everybody would take about the offensive lineman initially, and that group is really special, but I think we addressed a lot of areas with the defensive players we lost. The senior leadership with 25 sacks between Lorenzo (Carter) and (Davin) Bellamy. With that going out, we have to find some guys to go in and help and we are excited about the guys who have decided to join us. Overall, excited about the class thus far. There are still some areas we need to address and hopefully we will be able to do that in either the next few days or in January.”

On if this takes some recruiting off his plate going into January and February now … 

“It is still on your plate because there are still spots left, and I think you are always recruiting. We are going to be trying to recruit the rest of the spots. There’s going to be some really, really probably intense battles come January because the guys that are left are targeted by all the top programs, so there’s going to be some guys out there that we are still going to go after. It is not like you can say ‘ok, relax, we are done,’ because that is not the case. We have work to do in recruiting and we have time to do it. The focus obviously for us is the College Football Playoff and it will shift back to recruiting once that ends.”

On players committing early and influencing others to sign with them … 

“Every good college coach tries to use the momentum and use the alpha dog, the leader, to go out and get guys and bring them with them. I did not think we had that as much this year as we had last year. I thought Richard (LeCounte) was unique in some of the things he did and did a good job. Jake (Fromm) did a good job. Justin (Fields) and Kearis (Jackson) were great. They were both awesome, but they didn’t overstep themselves. I think they let kids make their own decisions. I think the University sold itself. I obviously think that our momentum on the field — because there were numerous kids that , when we recruited them in the summer, they said ‘Coach, I really want to come to Georgia. I just want to know that we are going to play for championships and that it is going to be special.’ The year that we had kind of created some momentum and tidal wave effect to bring in some extra guys.”

On how this class has developed from the spring until now … 

“I heard that everywhere I went and spoke and everybody you talked to there was all that concern. We were never concerned. I said repeatedly to people where I spoke that don’t worry about that. We are working on us. We are working internally on our organization and our development of our team. If you take care of your team, if you take care of what is inside your house, then things outside your house will do well. And we played well. You say ‘How do did we get from that point to this point?’ We played well. I think people saw the success we had and they saw a lot of the games we played and they want to be part of that winning program.”

On how these last classes have shaped the offensive line … 

“I think it was one of you guys on the front row that pointed out that first class we did not really address the offensive line. We got pinned and I think Solomon (Kindley) and maybe Chris Barnes — you know we did not hit on all those guys that we really needed to and I think Sam (Pittman) took that to heart and I think Coach Pittman is one of the best recruiters in the country. He proved that by putting what was a really good offensive line group together last year and followed it up with another very complete, diverse group for this year.”

On what kind of quarterback he is getting in Justin Fields … 

“Exciting. I think everybody knows what he has been able to do. I have seen a lot of quarterbacks in my time. I thought the best evaluation of quarterbacks is when they go out to the Elite 11, they go to The oOpening — I know it is t-shirt and shorts — but you are around some real alpha dogs when you are out there and he was one of the alpha dogs of the alpha dogs. He took over The Opening, he won a lot of games, he made throws and he did it all while keeping a calm, cool presence that is kind of unmatched. He is never real high, he is never real low. He is really exciting. He can win the game with his feet, but he can win the game with his arm and he is not afraid of competition. He has been very adamant that he wants to come in here and compete and he knows we are going to give him an opportunity to do that.”

On his thoughts about Sam Pittman’s “Yes Sir” tweets…

“The fact that he got those five linemen doesn’t creep me out at all. He can “yes sir” all he wants and I will be saying “yes sir” too.  He does a great job of getting those kids to buy into the fact that he’s going to lead them, he’s going to be tough on them, he’s going to be honest with them.  You can’t promise every guy playing time. Those kids that are coming in understand that they have to come in and work for it. What drew each of them to Georgia was Sam Pittman and the fact that he does it different.  He does it old school.  He develops relationships.  He sat right here in these seats and asked them what Instagram was and what Twitter was.  He doesn’t care about that. He writes them hand-written letters. He does it the old fashioned way and he forms relationships.  There’s something to be said for that in today’s day and age of technology.”

On 93K-Day and the impact on recruiting…

“I think the momentum kicked off with the 93K-Day.  That really helped us in last year’s class.  I don’t think it had a major effect with this year’s class.  It’s almost like the 93K kind of ear-marked the last class as a big momentum. This class was marked by the fact that we played well. We were ranked No. 1 early in the season there for a while and played well at the finish to beat a really good Auburn team and I think people were really affected by that. With all of that, we all as Georgia fans and Dawg Nation need to understand that those, I don’t know if there are expectations or what they are for the kids, have to be tempered.  Because last year’s class was anointed and this and that and that. Some of the kids have been successful. D’Andre Swift is a great example, Andrew Thomas. Some of them have worked really hard to get better.  Regardless of what they’re rated, regardless of how many stars they have, they’re ours.  It’s our job to develop them on and off the field.  We’re excited about this group, but I’m not ready to call this the greatest class ever or anything like that because it doesn’t matter. So many people want to win the recruiting war.  I really care nothing about that.  I care so much more about how they behave and how they learn and how they grow when they get here.  We have to grow these guys when they get here and we have to get them better.”

On the expectations of the signees that enroll early…

“The expectation is to come out and compete. I think three of those linemen will be here mid-year and there is going to be some great competition.  If you think about it there are guys that started early in the year, like Solomon Kindley, that ended up not starting and other guys that started this year who are going to have some really talented people coming in behind them and compete with them.  Those mid-year guys come in here full throttle with the expectation of coming in and competing.  Think about what’s transpired for us— Jacob Eason and Isaac Nauta coming in mid-year and they start.  Jake Fromm was a commit mid-year and ends up starting.  D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas didn’t. Each one of those guys will be at an advantage a little bit because they’ve been able to practice and get used to our system, which will help us next year.

On which signees will be early enrollees…

“I’m not sure right off hand exactly because each one of them has to go through the admission process; I think we can have anywhere from eight to 10 mid-year guys.”

On Zamir White’s injury recovery…

“Zamir is a mid-year. He’s going to be rehabbing his knee.  We don’t expect him out there for the spring but he’ll be recovering and getting well.  It’s good that he’ll be here to get that done with us. He’s going to be here in the spring working out, doing what he can do, but I have no idea if he’ll be ready to go by the fall.”

On Zamir White as a running back and Zamir off the field … 

“[Zamir] is a great kid from a great family. His mom made a home-cooked meal for me and I didn’t think I could leave the house after eating it because I wanted to camp out and stay as long as I could. He’s quiet. I would put him more in the Nick Chubb mode of talking. He’s not volunteering information; you’re going to have to pull it out of him. He loves the game and loves to compete. … All he wants to do is compete and win and run the rock. He’s been a joy to recruit.”

“When you hire really good coaches and you give them the power to go out and do what they’ve got to do, and you give them ability to do it, they’ve done a great job recruiting this class. This is not like I’ve had all to do with it. I have to give the position coaches a lot of credit as they’ve done a good job building relationships with these kids.”

On Devonte Wyatt being able to join the team after a season at junior college … 

“I think it’s the best thing for him. He comes from a situation where he played at Towers High and he was going to take some development to be able to play. When he comes in with a couple senior offensive and defensive lineman, he gets to watch tape and see them play. He did a really good job preparing and taking some college classes. He’s a lot more mature having been out on his own and it gives him a better chance at success here. Today was his first day in pads [at practice], obviously he can’t play for us right now but I’m excited about him.”

On Assistant Coach Sam Pittman’s ability to form relationships outside the state of Georgia with offensive linemen … 

“He’s a great recruiter and he’s got ties across the board and he can go wherever he needs to go. It’s a credit to the fact so many people get locked in on two or three guys early and that’s all they recruit. He went out and combed the country for the best guys. He had a relationship with Cade [Mays] long before anything changed and Cade decided to open things up. That relationship and honesty he had early gave him a lead when Cade decided to look around.”

On recruiting a Justin Fields-caliber athlete despite having a freshman already in that role … 

“You never know. Why did we recruit Jake Fromm when we have Jacob Eason? Because you never know.  I think back, ‘aren’t we glad we did.’ It’s a position that only one guy is on the field at a time unless you run a very unique offense so those guys are different. They’re only so many guys like Justin Fields. He is a talented young man and so is Jake Fromm. I bet Justin Fields makes Jake Fromm better and Jake Fromm makes Justin Fields better and Jacob Eason makes both those guys better. When you start looking at the dynamic that competition breeds success, you’ve sold this program on competition. Those guys are going to make each other better. … [Justin] was being offered by Ivy League schools and he chose to go to Georgia. That says a lot about not just about our program, but our school. … We’ve got a top-15 public institution with a business school that is second-to-none in the country and not a lot of people can sell that so when you have that opportunity you have to go after the best.”

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