Smart addresses the media following Signing Day
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Smart addresses the media following Signing Day

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – University of Georgia head coach Kirby Smart offered the following comments Wednesday afternoon during a press conference. The 2021 National Champion Georgia Bulldogs signed the third-ranked (ESPN, Rivals.com, 247Sports) recruiting class for the 2021-22 signing period.

Opening Statement….

“As everybody probably knows, there’s a limited number of spots we’ve got left in terms of recruiting, and most of our signing class was finished up in December. We did have a few guys added to the group today. I’m certainly proud of the group we’ve got. I’m excited about this recruiting class. The number one reason that I’m excited is that 19 of them are midyears. We’ve got 19 midyear enrollees who’ve been very impactful in adding depth to our roster. As they begin to work out and go through our academics, our equipment staff, our nutrition staff, our player development staff, everybody has commented about this group. How serious they are, how well-mannered they are, and how they handle their business. That’s always good to know that you’ve got the right kind of kids in your organization. Then, we added some guys today that we’re certainly excited about that I’m sure you guys will want to talk about and ask about.”

On the National Championship’s effect on recruiting…

“Have I seen a major impact on the win or the National Championship? I don’t know that you can make that tangible. I don’t know that you can kind of see that or feel that. Certainly, the time we have spent on the road, there was a lot of ‘congratulations,’ pats on the back, all those things. In terms of recruiting, I think it gets you in the conversation with maybe more national kids. We were already in the conversation with most national kids and certainly with in-state kids. It may validate some things you work towards, but I don’t think it’s going to close the deal for these kids. I really don’t think winning the National Championship moves the needle in terms of one kid’s decision or the other. It just might get you in the conversation. Kids today are obviously worried about other things outside of just winning a National Championship. Ten years ago, it was probably a bigger deal than it is today where they put their weight in other categories.”

On Darris Smith…

“Darris Smith is a kid we’re excited about. We’ve loved. He’s got a great work ethic. He’s from a rural town down there, and he’s done a wonderful job every time he’s been up here of competing, working out. He’s got a lot of growth potential. He’s long. He runs well. Kids that are that size that run well tend to do well in our system. He played a receiver at times. He’s running track right now, and he’s one of the fastest track kids in that area, so we’re certainly excited about him. He’s got a lot of development to do.”

On the work ethic and team mentality of the players…

“It’s a credit to the kids here. I don’t like acknowledging or saying that it’s breaking kids down. People call it ‘derecruitment,’ but really, it’s education. What do you value? Do you value your education? Do you value doing things the right way? What are you learning from the other players in the organization? A lot of our older players have to impart their knowledge and wisdom on these young guys, because they’re coming in, and you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you do. This group has been uniquely special. I’m not talking about talent. You can write about their talent, and you can check their accolades. Some are highly rated, and some you don’t think they’re good enough rating-wise. I don’t care. I’m going off of how they treat people. Are they on time? Do they have the self-discipline to do what they’re supposed to do and go run early because they’re a little heavy? They’ve all shown the propensity to do that, and that excites me.”

On Andrew Paul and Tray Scott’s impact on recruiting…

“Andrew Paul is a guy we found out about and discovered. Dell [McGee] did a tremendous job covering the country, looking for the best backs we could possibly bring into the University of Georgia. Anytime you go across the state of Texas, there’s a ton of really good football players – there’s really good high school football in Texas. Dell reached out to me and sent me his Hudl link. I got to watch him and I really liked him. Dell knew the kid and the family. He’s a 210 pound back, and he’s got a great demeanor about him. He loves working out in the weight room, just tremendous background checks where he’s played, and the people he’s played for have a lot of amount of respect for him. Getting to see him play, spending time around him on the actual visit, it validated that. He comes from a military background family which fits a criteria for us in terms of discipline and being made of the right things. Once we checked out all that, it became “was he good enough?”. And we loved him. We think he’s a really good football player with great academics. He won a state championship in high school. If you look at these guys who joined us today, almost every one of them won a state championship in high school which is another indicator of success and winning coming from good teams which is great value for us.”

On the pride of having NFL prospects…

“Fifteen [players drafted] is unrealistic. If it happens, then you can call me a liar. We’ve got a great group of guys coming out, and I think that’s very evident when you look at our current roster here and the guys we have training – we have some holes. Every year, you go into that team meeting, the meeting after you’re through with your season, regardless of how your season ended, and you’re looking around going, “Where is everybody at?”. There’re 19 guys in the back of the room that are filling big holes in the front of the room. That doesn’t happen over night. I’m proud of those kids who are down in there. I have to be honest with you, I’ve been swamped with things going on that I haven’t gotten to watch a lot. I always like to check in with our guys at the Senior Bowl. I like to go to the Senior Bowl, but I haven’t had that opportunity with some calendar changes we’ve been through. I’ve been reached out to by coaches and GMs that they’ve been impressed with our guys’ practice habits, demeanor, the way they carry themselves – those are all things we try to tach at Georgia. Our guys buy into that. I’m excited to see where they go, and I’m excited to see them work out here at our facility when they get the opportunity.”

On how much mystery there was coming into today…

“There wasn’t much mystery. Today was the most different signing day I’ve had. We worked with things going on here in house – our team, quality control, different positions we have to fill in terms of GAs. We’ve been dealing with and interviewing for different roles on our staff that we are trying to fill. I haven’t even stopped for signing day where most of the time that was all you did. To that, that certainly is a December movement in the world we live in. I can’t think of anything moving forward in terms of signees out of high school that are out there unless I’m missing something.”

On the impact of NIL on recruiting…

“It’s extremely tangible. We can’t set that up. A sell, at least for what I’m finding in recruiting, is it used to be you sold championships, you sold facilities, maybe development. It was a primary sell. Now, development has taken a step back, which it shouldn’t, and facilities, academics, what we can do for you in terms of life after football – those things have taken a backburner to NIL for a lot of people. Once you explain to a kid that we can’t set that up, we can’t promise that, what people are doing is they’re validating they’re NIL by showing what their current roster makes and by showing what current players are able to do. The more marketable their players, the dollar signs fall in these young kids’ and parents’ minds. I think sometimes they’re getting misled into the numbers that are already out there which becomes propaganda. Recruiting is always propaganda. It’s how you use it. The sell, when you’re selling the development of a young man from Jordan Davis, and you’re selling the look at what he became, that’s much more enjoyable to sell than to sell what he made in NIL. Number one, you can’t guarantee that. Number two, to each kid it may apply differently. Some guys are at developmental positions, and they are going to have to work very hard. I am not of the opinion that kids should be making decisions based on that. You’re probably recruiting the wrong guy if that is all they are making their decision based on. So, I think a lot of colleges are having to look inside out at who they recruit and why they recruit them. Ten percent of these kids we are all going to recruit. It’s the next group that you better be careful who you are recruiting because they are going to make up the majority of your roster.”

On Brian McClendon’s return to Georgia…

“I have a tremendous amount of respect Brian and the job he’s done. I’ve always respected him on the road recruiting. Had a lot of years at Alabama where I recruited against him in the state of Georgia. Coached him as a player here. In terms of the ways he carried himself, he’s a special team, a leader. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s worked for people on our staff and he’ worked with people on our staff. I big on ‘fit’. Does someone fit the culture we are trying to create? We don’t look at a lot of things that people on the outside world look at. I look at, can the make our staff better, can they make our players better, do they fit our culture. He checked the box, was the best fit, and wants to be here. That’s important to me and what we create at Georgia.”

On Mike Bobo’s return to Georgia…

“There is a lot of value in the experiences he’s had. He’s been a head coach. He’s been an offensive coordinator in our conference. He knows our conference. The five hour radius we recruit in, he’s extremely versed. He has a ton of relationship value. As far as his role, that’ll play out as we go along.

On Christen Miller’s recruitment…

“That’s probably the number one determining factor on a high character, high quality kid. He comes from a tremendous family. And consistency… when I’ve lost kids that I feel like we should have gotten. Probably the number factor was ‘did we recruit them with the correct consistency’? When a kid honestly tells you he’s going to another place because they recruited him more consistently, it makes it even more evident that you have to be consistent. I’ll say this, We, Tray Scott and Staff, were extremely consistent with Christen Miller and it paid off. The message didn’t change. The consistency didn’t change. He valued relationships and he saw in December, what happens when guys move all over the place. When you have a little bit on continuity in a kids eyes, and we’ve been able to have that and sustain winning success. You tend to attract people that have the same mindset that you do, and I think Christen and Tray have a lot of the same mindset. Christen Miller is a worker. He’s one of the most impressive kids in terms of leadership, that I’ve seen at this age. He willed and pushed that Cedar Grove (HS) team to success. I value that. I value that seeing the kids leaving here that we’re just in the last class. I’m excited about what he can do.”

On EJ Lightsey…

“He’s a kid we had in camp. He’s a kid we never stopped recruiting. We felt very strongly about him. He ran really well at our camp. And… We put a lot of value on camp evaluations. It’s the only thing we see with our eyes. Once the character checks out, academics check out, play tape checks out, everything goes to the camp. This guy did a great job at our camp and is not afraid to work in this day and age of speed and space play, covering people. He’s a tremendous athlete.”

On what Dillon Bell  brings to the team…

“Dillon is another one that came and worked out. He came through and he was actually here the same day Cole (Speer) was and he stood out. He was big, he was built like a running back. He has power, he has good hands, he has tremendous work ethic. He goes to an extremely academic high school  which checks a box for us in terms of being able to handle the academics here at the University of Georgia. When we saw him workout that gave us validation that what we saw on tape was accurate. HE is a tremendous young man so when start to look for size and speed on the perimeter, he has really good size, he has really good speed. That was something that fired us up.”

On having older successful players be examples for recruits, specially the defensive line…

“It helps. It will help more if those guys are successful in the NFL  or get drafted high  because I think that will give validation to Tray Scott’s development that he took some guys that might not have been the highest rated coming out but they might be the highest rated coming out of college as opposed to high school. He is a tremendous teacher. I mean Tray is a technician, he sells himself on not a lot of flash but a lot of work, developing young men into good defensive linemen but even better people. He has got a little bit of proof to validate that now with Travon Walker, Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis all coming out of that room. Those are three guys that are going to be really good NFL football players.”

On how the program has changed based on the changing world of college football…

“I think we are everchanging. I can’t say that we changed from this year to last year. I just think it is subtle. The way things are going you are going to have to continue to do that. You have to look at your roster and say, ‘we need great players right? But we need enough core players that believe in the value of the organization to out weight any blinking lights.’ Sometimes a blinking light might be a tlented player that doesn’t completely all the way buy in but you have to have enough core players so that the voice doesn’t get heard. I think we had that last year. We had a really good group of core leaders and they also happened to be really good players, that is when you get to win a national championship. But you have to be selective of going really far away from home, or how big of a portal risk is this kid, is NIL so important to him that he is not going to be as effective as a player. Because it is easy to sit here and say, ‘ What can I make NIL? How can you help me?’ Well I can help you a whole lot more if you come out of college with a degree and come out of college and get drafted. There are a lot more commas on those salaries than there are on NIL deals. You have to be able to explain that to kids and they have to understand and buy into it. A lot of kids come from a society of, ‘Now, now now. Me, me, me. Self-gratification,’ and we really need, ‘Team, team, team,’ long-term buy in, develop and be the best player when you leave. The hard part is figuring out which each kid is, ‘ Does he really buy into that or is he just providing lip service?’ That is where there are tough decisions made as a head coach and a position coach of which guys you take because you don’t really know until they get here sometimes.”

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