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NATIONAL SIGNING DAY: Bulldogs snag Top 5 class

Lowndes High School outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, center, sits with sister Ashley, right, following the announcement of intentions to attend and play football at Georgia during a national signing day ceremony Wednesday in Valdosta. Harvey-Clemons signed the scholarship paperwork, as did Georgia coach Mark Richt, but Harvey-Clemons' legal guardian, his grandfather, did not, meaning his committment still is not official.

Lowndes High School outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons, center, sits with sister Ashley, right, following the announcement of intentions to attend and play football at Georgia during a national signing day ceremony Wednesday in Valdosta. Harvey-Clemons signed the scholarship paperwork, as did Georgia coach Mark Richt, but Harvey-Clemons' legal guardian, his grandfather, did not, meaning his committment still is not official.

ATHENS — The day started so well for Georgia. Then it just got downright weird.

Top prospect Josh Harvey-Clemons revealed he was signing with the Bulldogs, turning a solid recruiting class into one that figured to be ranked among the nation’s best.

Then the drama began.

As Wednesday dragged on, Georgia nervously waited for Harvey-Clemons to send in his signing papers, prompting speculation that his family wanted him to play elsewhere. The linebacker from Lowndes High School was heavily recruited by Florida and Florida State, which are both much closer to his South Georgia hometown than Athens.

By the time coach Mark Richt and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner held an early afternoon news conference — nearly four hours after Harvey-Clemons made his nationally televised announcement — there was still no word on whether he was actually

following through on his decision to sign with the Bulldogs, who still were ranked as having the No. 5 class in the nation by ESPN and No. 10 by Scout.com, even without Harvey-Clemons’ confirmation.

“We can’t talk about anybody if we don’t have a fax,” Garner said. “We don’t anticipate any hang-ups. We’ve just got to get the fax. That’s it.”

Richt was equally tightlipped.

“I’m not going to comment on any of that,” he said.

Earlier, in a television interview shortly after Harvey-Clemons made his announcement, Richt was downright giddy about apparently landing a player rated by most recruiting services as the state’s top prospect — and perhaps the best outside linebacker in the nation.

“I was watching on TV and learning like everyone else,” Richt told ESPN. “I’m so excited. He’s a great kid and just a tremendous player.”

But reportedly after Harvey-Clemons made the announcement, it was realized that his grandfather, Woodrow Clemons —who is also Harvey-Clemons’ legal guardian — did not sign the scholarship paper work from Georgia, which would’ve made it official. Harvey-Clemons then left his signing ceremony and calls and messages left for him have not been returned, leaving his commitment up in the air.

While Harvey-Clemons was on hold, Georgia did announce the signing of 18 players, including North Carolina running back Keith Marshall — UGA’s only five-star recruit — offensive lineman John Theus from Florida and two of the state’s top prospects, linebacker Jordan Jenkins of Hamilton and 315-pound defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor of Millen.

Richt called it a versatile class that will help the Bulldogs build on a comeback year. After going 6-7 in 2010 and losing the first two games last season, leading to speculation about the coach’s future, Georgia won 10 straight to claim a spot in the SEC Championship game.

“Going into last season, there was a little bit of noise,” Richt said. “People were waiting to see how things were going to go. It hurt us a little bit on the front end (of recruiting). But once we had the season we had — doing something we had not done since the early ’80s, winning 10 in a row, and returning a lot of players — maybe some of those guys in wait-and-see mode now feel very comfortable where Georgia is and where coach Richt and his staff are.

“We have tremendous momentum now, even going into next year’s class.”

But first, there was the matter of Harvey-Clemons, who had the potential to turn a Top 20 recruiting class into one that would likely be ranked among the best five.

All signs pointed to the Bulldogs when Harvey-Clemons, during a news conference at his high school, had his sister pull off her sweatshirt to reveal a red Georgia T-shirt. The player then put on a red cap with the trademark “G” and gushed about how he wanted to play in Athens.

“I knew when I went there, that’s where I wanted to go,” Harvey-Clemons said. “It felt like home. It seemed like they want to win and compete for championships.”

He developed a special bond with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

“It seems like he’s put a lot of players in the NFL,” Harvey-Clemons said. “That’s where I want to get.”

While the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder figures to make his mark on defense, Richt said in his initial TV interview that Harvey-Clemons could also get some work on Georgia’s offense. He starred on both sides of the line at Lowndes.

“Quite frankly, he’s a heck of a wide receiver, too,” Richt said. “We may need to use his talents inside the 20-yard line. He has such great leaping ability and strong hands.”

Only if he sends in his paperwork, of course.

The Bulldogs signed two running backs from North Carolina, landing Todd Gurley along with Marshall. Both will push Isaiah Crowell, last year’s top signee, for playing time.

Crowell had a solid season on the field but ran into disciplinary issues, including a failed drug test that resulted in a one-game suspension. Richt said there should be enough carries for everyone.

“There aren’t many running backs anymore thinking, ‘I’ve got to be the only guy,’ ” Richt said. “To carry 25 or 30 times in our league, it’s just not healthy for you, it’s just not good for you. You want guys to share the load, to keep you healthy, to keep you fresh. I think they are all special backs. I’m excited about it.”

Georgia’s recruiting class broke down like this: a quarterback, two running backs, a fullback, a receiver, a tight end, three offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, four linebackers, a punter, a kicker, and one player listed as an athlete who will likely play cornerback.

Richt and his staff hoped to end up with one more signee. All they could do was wait.

“It happens,” Garner said. “It’s the nature of the business now. You just have to adapt and adjust with this culture.”


GEORGIA'S 2012 SIGNEES:

John Atkins, dt, 6-4, 300, Thomson (Ga.) HS

Collin Barber, p, 6-2, 191, Cartersville (Ga.) HS

Faton Bauta, qb, 6-3, 225, Dwyer HS, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Mark Beard, ol, 6-4, 290, Coffeyville (Kan.) CC, Adamsville, Ala.

Josh Dawson, lb, 6-4, 225, Tucker (Ga.) HS

Sheldon Dawson, ath, 5-11, 180, Ridgeway HS, Memphis, Tenn.

James DeLoach, lb, 6-3, 260, Jenkins Co. HS, Millen, Ga.

Leonard Floyd, lb, 6-4, 215, Dodge County HS, Eastman, Ga.

Todd Gurley, rb, 6-1, 195, Tarboro (N.C.) HS

Quayvon Hicks, rb, 6-2, 245, Pierce Co. HS, Blackshear, Ga.

Jordan Jenkins, lb, 6-3, 245, Harris Co. HS, Hamilton, Ga.

Keith Marshall, rb, 5-11, 190, Millbrook HS, Raleigh, N.C.

Marshall Morgan, pk, 6-3, 195, American Heritage HS, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Greg Pyke, ol, 6-6, 315, Boys’ Latin HS, Baltimore, Md.

Ty Flournoy-Smith, te, 6-3, 228, Colquitt Co. HS, Moultrie, Ga.

Jonathan Taylor, dl, 6-4, 315, Jenkins County HS, Millen, Ga.

John Theus, ol, 6-6, 292, Bolles HS, Jacksonville, Fla.

Blake Tibbs, wr, 6-2, 185, Martin Luther King Jr. HS, Lithonia, Ga.