Kirby Smart discusses 2021 signing class
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Kirby Smart discusses 2021 signing class

Kirby Smart
Photo: Walt Beazley

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart discussed the early signing day for the 2021 class on Wednesday.

Smart and the Bulldogs signed a total of 20 recruits on the early signing day. The class is currently ranked 3rd by Rivals.com and 4th by 247Sports.com.

Below is a transcript of the discussion that was provided by UGA.

Head coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement…

“I’ll just open with [that] everybody got the release, and we’re not going to be able to play a game this weekend. I think that’s tough, but welcome to 2020. It’s unfortunate for our seniors who really wanted to play, and those guys were excited to get one more game in Sanford Stadium. They wanted to finish off at home with their families, and I know that better than anybody how important that last game is in Sanford Stadium. It’s a crushing blow to not be able to get that game for them, but they understand it, and they’ve moved on now. Today is about our signing day class. I want to stay focused on these guys, because this is their one chance to get in the limelight. After a very unique recruiting process and a lot of extensive work in our organization, from our recruiting staff to our academic staff, all our support staff; a lot of people did a lot of hard work. Rhonda Kilpatrick [and] Christina Harris do a tremendous job of helping get these guys enrolled. This will be the largest mid-year class I think that we’ve ever signed here at Georgia. We expect anywhere from 14, 15 to 16 in the next couple days. It’ll be somewhere around that number as guys finish up their requirements to possibly enroll early, and when you’re talking about 20 signees and possibly 16 enrolling early, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that. Maybe someone else has done it in the country, and it’s certainly the new trend. I think it will continue to be that way. I think COVID probably caused some of that, as well. But it’s a very well-rounded class. It’s a closer to home class, which is probably directed by COVID and more kids wanting to stay closer to home, and that’s important to us. We always say, ‘Take care of the state first.’ I’ve sat up here on one of these [signing] days before where that wasn’t the case, and it wasn’t that we didn’t feature our home area, but it certainly made it more convenient to take care of guys, because they wanted to be near their families and have their families be able to come watch them play. That’s been a big added factor during the pandemic, so I’m excited about the class. I’ll talk about the class as much as you guys want to, but I do want to try to keep it to the signing stuff.”

On key position groups that were met in members of this year’s signing class…

“Yeah. What am I supposed to say, right? One of you sent something out this morning. ‘You met all your needs today, so you’re happy? You’re good?’ Everybody is happy, right? That’s what you’re supposed to say, but I don’t think you ever meet all your needs, because you don’t actually know what all your needs are as well as I’ll know what my needs are come January, maybe 15th or [January] 16th. You may have a greater need in an area that you don’t know that you have a greater need in terms of whether it’s a junior early-out or it’s a transfer. That’s the timeline, you know what I mean? We get the groceries because we know what we need. Right now, that’s just kind of where we’re at and what we have to deal with. I’m very pleased with the class. Certainly, you always like to have a balanced class positionally. You’re trying to basically sign a team, and you want to get a good player here, a good player here, a good player here, and sometimes your numbers are different, and sometimes your numbers are based on best available. I’m going to guess we do as much numbers crunching on that as anybody in the country. We don’t just take people to take people. We have targets, and we have needs for every roster spot on our team. We try to fill a certain type player, and I feel like we were able to do that across the board.” you like me to say?”

On whether he is pleased with the defensive back and cornerback signees…

“I’m pleased with what we got, and I’m excited about the guys we get to coach in that position. We got some guys coming in that I feel great about, and I think the guys we got early were really good players, really high-character players when you look across the board. I think the guys we finished late with are really great players. A lot of really good football teams wanted those guys to join their team. With not having camp, that’s one of those positions that’s harder to evaluate, and we were very pleased that we got to see guys’ workout footage. Guys sent us tape over the summer, and it made the decision so much clearer and easier to really target the guys you wanted and go out there and get those guys.”

On what it says about Georgia’s program about signing 5-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff…

“Quarterbacks want to play at Georgia. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they enjoy playing at Georgia. Criticism is going to be there in everything we do, but the opportunity to play at the University of Georgia and be a quarterback—I can just start naming all the quarterbacks who have played here who been really good, and who those kids look up to and idolize, a No. 1 overall pick [Matthew Stafford]. Those kids want the opportunity to do that. They want the opportunity to win championships, and you putting yourself in the conversation about being able to win championships is always going to put you at the forefront of every quarterback’s in the country list. When they start talking about where [they] want to go, they want to go win a championships; at least that’s what the best quarterbacks want to do, and Brock [Vandagriff] never shied away from that. He wanted an opportunity to play close to home. He wanted the opportunity to play near his family. His dad is a coach right here in town. His mom is a teacher. He’s got sisters who are really good athletes. He wants to be able to play in front of them, so I’m excited about what he can do. He’s been a leader  for his program. They’re still in the playoffs. He’s been productive, and we’re excited to see what he can bring to the University of Georgia.”

On whether he and his staff accomplished everything they wanted in terms of offensive linemen with this signing group, particularly Amarius Mims and Micah Morris…

“Yeah, you know, that was an area that was, I would say, heavy-loaded last year, if you look at the sheer numbers. I don’t know if you can ever have a year that is not heavy-loaded. This might be, [and] I don’t know this for facts, [so] don’t quote me on it, but it could be our smallest number of signees at that position, maybe besides the very first year. I don’t know. Four is the bare minimum to me, because you are trying to sign an offensive line class with every year because with the numbers, attrition, the transfer rules—If you have five every year and you have four signing classes, you’re supposed to be four deep—well, nobody is deep at the offensive line position. We have seen that this year with teams that can’t play us because of injuries on the offensive line or COVID[-19] on the offensive line. That’s a depth position that we always target. It’s a developmental position. I say it every year, ‘Offensive lineman, it’s really hard to come in and play.’ I am really excited about this group. They are athletic. They have great size. They are really bright, good kids. Jared Wilson was one of the guys that we targeted early on—size, width, hand-size, athleticism—really good target and works really hard. He comes from a really athletic background family. He’s a great kid. All of those guys, I can’t say enough about each one of them. Matt Luke is excited to get those guys in and start coaching them.”

On Georgia’s ability to land top targets in the state of Georgia and what made that possible…

“I don’t know. Like I said, I thought the pandemic was the number one factor that helped in-state recruiting. Their inability to go on all of these trips might have played, maybe that’s one guy, I don’t know. The quarterback being from our state, that probably played a little bit of factor. I don’t know. 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. That plays a factor in it. Georgia has a great place to go to school academically. I always think that we should be one of the leaders of Georgia. There’s different years where different things happen for strange reasons, but we are very pleased with how we did in the state this year.”

On Brock Vandagriff’s ability to run and what sets him apart from other athletes…

“He’s a really good athlete. He’s tough. He’s a competitor. He grew up playing the game. [He’s] not afraid to take a hit, to deliver a blow. One of the first stories I heard about him when I got here was how he covered kickoffs maybe in the eighth or nineth grade and wasn’t afraid to hit people. When you look at a quarterback nowadays, that’s one of the things you have to say and that’s the new deal when you look across the NFL. The arm angle, the ability to have mobility to escape—the game has changed. The athletes upfront are explosive, fast, pass-rushers. They come in attack mode. They play pass first, not run first. When you look at the success maybe Kyler Murray has had, or guys in the NFL, you right away say, ‘The athleticism is the overriding factor.’ You want to have someone that can do those things, but they have to have the ability to process all of the information, to put you in the right situation to make plays, to change plays, to do a lot of things. We think he is a good athlete, and he’s shown that over his career. He’s a little dinged up right now. He’s dealing with some injuries, but you get those things when you run and you get out of the pocket a lot. That’s one of those things that you have to be able to protect him, but he’s got to be able to make good decisions on where to slide.”

On whether the February signing period is there to fill in any gaps or depth issues that may be present within the team…

“Yeah, as far as if we expect anything today—I don’t know what you guys have. We have what we expect to have, but I don’t know what’s been posted. I know Claude [Felton] mentioned to me that there’s a couple missing right before we started, but we have what we expected to have today. We are good with where we are. As far as February, yeah I think wiggle room, it’s like a catch-22 because if I have a lot of wiggle room there’s nobody to put in the wiggle room. Okay? If I have too many available there’s not enough available players to supply the demand that you necessarily have available so you don’t want a lot of that. We are going to know more about our team mid-January than we know now. I want to have the ability to fix, to try to find solutions for holes or depth issues. We think we are in a position to do that.”

On whether he foresees a trend of more in-state players…

“Yeah, I don’t know Charles [Odom], that’s a hard one to answer. I want the best football players. I want high-character people that care about the team and love UGA. If that’s a kid 15 minutes away or 15 hours away, I am very comfortable with that. I just think that what we have learned through COVID is the character—what’s the right word? Self-motivation, self-starters are much more critical to have because you can’t have your hand on these kids 24/7 in the organization. Now you might say, ‘That’s not a moving fact. I could have told you that before COVID.’ But, I do think it’s a more critical factor than ever before because it’s much easier now in our society to give up, quit, move on, and not like it tough. When things are even, I’m picking the one that likes it tough. I’m picking the—it doesn’t matter where he’s from. If it’s the trend to say more closer to home? No, the trend is to say, ‘I want the guys that are fully committed to the process of doing hard work and developing and going to school and getting their education.’ That is what I am excited about.”

On linebackers Smael Monden and Xavian Sorey and what roles they will play/the needs they met…

“We’re really excited about those two guys and I think their versatility is their greatest factor. Both of them have really dealt with injuries throughout this year and that’s something you always have to take into consideration. No different than the NFL does with our players. You do your injury research, you check into them, you see where they are and both of those guys were on our radars as juniors but neither one of them got to have the senior year they wanted because of injuries. You take that into account. We know as well as anybody, what those injuries are. Ron [Courson] and the medical staff feel great about those guys bouncing back. In a lot of ways, it can be a blessing in disguise. Maybe not for their high school coach, but it can be a blessing in disguise for us because we’re getting kids that maybe aren’t even as developed as they’re going to be when they get here. If you’re asking me where they’re going to start at, I’m not even going to answer that question right now because that’s not the most important thing. The beauty is both of those guys will be here mid-year, which is a really key element to success in our defense. Getting guys to be here and get that exposure and go through spring practice.”

On what the team did on signing day considering there was no game to prep for…

“I’ll be honest, I really didn’t do anything with signing day today in terms of that. I spent today with our guys, our roster, meeting with those young men as we discovered and found out that we weren’t going to be able to get a game, my focus turned to our guys and our roster and spending time with them. Our coaches have done a good job speaking to the guys and getting their paperwork in. We spent predominantly most of the day on 2022 prospects and our team.”

On the recruitment of Xavian Sorey…

“He’s a kid that we recruited for a long time. A lot of teams in the country did. He’s extremely athletic, talented but raw. He’s a developmental player, meaning we think he’s got size, we think he’s got speed, athleticism. He played at a really small school, which I am very familiar with and grew up near down there. I got to watch him play a basketball game, one of the few guys I got to watch basketball and just thought he was a really good athlete on the basketball court, dunking, very talented and he’s really a good kid. He made the decision to go to IMG for his senior year, which I think, put him in a position to be more successful in college because he got exposed to other players like him, where he had not seen that in his home town. That kind of gave him an awaking, thinking, woah there are a lot of players like me, these guys are pretty good. He’s going to grow and get better, he’s going to have to be patient and really understand the defense and grow as a player, but I think he’s willing to do that. He’s committed to the relationships he has here. He’s got a lot of relationships with a lot of coaches that are going to push him to excel and it’s just not going to happen overnight. He’s a guy that we just really worked on the entire time. Our staff, Coach [Glenn] Schumann, Coach [Scott] Cochran, Coach [Dan] Lanning worked really hard with Xavian.”

On whether there were any players who signed that Smart and his staff were not able to meet face-to-face…

“The answer to that question is really tough because I can’t think back to all of them. I would think that every one of these kids had been to a game, or been to a camp or been here at some point in time. I know that someone like Adonai Mitchell, he was here as a sophomore in camp, so he was really, really young. We had experienced camp with him but at that time he was young. We liked him but we didn’t get to see him after that for a while. Looking down the list, I would say yeah, we’ve seen every one of these guys face-to-face at some point.” 

On whether Florida securing the East signals a shift in or balance of power in the SEC and if something like that can play into recruiting…

“I think everybody will have their own opinion on it, but I think it has to do with not playing well in a game. I don’t think it has to do with a balance of power. I will say that a lot of football boils down to the line of scrimmage and I still think that we have really good line of scrimmages. Obviously that game, we didn’t play well enough and they out competed us and out played us. I’m very comfortable with where we are in terms of the team and program. So much of a game falls, and I hate to say it, falls on the quarterback position. At the quarterback position, they make a decision every play and they’ve got a really good quarterback. They have a guy who has played for a long time. We caught him on a younger year the year before that, we caught Felipe [Franks] one of his younger years before that and we’ve had Jake Fromm prior to that. So, we had a lot of experience at that position but I’m not pointing or blaming anything, I’m just comfortable where we are. I think the SEC East will always be competitive and it’s one of those things that we know we have to win that to get to the big show.”

On what changed in the relationships he built with the players over zoom this year compared to previous years…

“Not much has changed because I knew them before zoom. I had a relationship with most of these guys. I had seen them in camp, play basketball or whatever the context was. The zoom part was what we were forced to do. After zoom, it became FaceTime and phone calls, which is what it is every year. The biggest dynamic was not going into their homes, and they didn’t get to come to games. That’s the part where you really get to know them; the recruiting staff spends three to four hours with them at a game, and I get to go to their homes. That way you know their sister, brother, grandma, aunt, uncle or whoever makes them tick. That’s the hardest part to me. There’s not as much attachment and long term, three years from now, there could be more transferring because there’s not that relationship. There isn’t a grandparent telling them to stick it out and work. They may not have that relationship because no one ever came in the home.”

On the type of players he and his staff are looking for in 2022…

“We’re looking for a complete class, I want good football players. I want good people with high character and a balanced class. A balanced class is quota at every position, if anything I’m looking for someone who can change the game for us. Someone who can be a dynamic playmaker, not another offensive lineman— I’m looking for the best available player. I would love to get another defensive back [and] another defensive lineman. I always want to get two pillars. I’m talking about a guy who won’t give up the point and can make a run or make it hard to run against. Those are always hard to find in defensive linemen, which is who we love to have. You’re not going to find those in January because they’re gone, but there’s a different market available when people decide to leave or transfer. It can go both ways; it could happen to us, and we could benefit from it.”

On the story behind the barbershop video UGA Football posted last week and whether he would feel comfortable with Sorey cutting his hair…

“That video is us highlighting the features of our new facility and that’s what the purpose was. We have a lot of features coming out on it, it’s something we’re proud of and is one of our selling points. Our $80 million facility is right outside my window, and every time I talk to people, they can see it. In terms of Sorey cutting my hair, I could care less about my hair, so he can have at it.”

On the 15 to 16 mid-years Smart mentioned and what will impact that number in regards to the decisions of the junior and senior classes to stay or leave…

“It’s going to be tight for us. We have a certain amount that we know and feel good about. We also have the unknown, and that will get us to where we need to in terms of numbers. I can’t get particular with that, but you give kids opportunities to make their decisions. It’s definitely taxing on numbers, in and out.”

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