ATHENS — A talented incoming group of Bulldogs just got better.
The Georgia football team came into National Signing Day with 18 verbal commitments for the signing class of 2014. Not only did all of those players fill out and send in their national letters of intent, but the program also managed to pick up signatures from three more recruits in the process, including receiver Isaiah McKenzie and tight end Hunter Atkinson.
The most prominent addition of the bunch, however, was Norcross defensive end Lorenzo Carter, the state’s top-ranked recruit, according to 247sports. In front of a packed auditorium, Carter announced he would be attending UGA despite holding offers from conference rivals LSU, Florida and Alabama, among others.
Call it a win for new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and head coach Mark Richt.
“(Richt) did a great job,” Carter said after making his decision. “He got the hire with Jeremy Pruitt. That defense is going to be nasty and I plan to be a part of it.”
Much was left up in the air on Georgia’s defense after former coordinator Todd Grantham abruptly resigned to take the same position at Louisville. But Pruitt, who was hired just three weeks ago, used his reputation as a secondary coach early and often, as the school picked up commitments from defensive backs Dominick Sanders (Tucker High School) and former Louisville verbal commit Shaquille Jones in the days leading up to National Signing Day.
The former Florida State defensive coordinator, however, deferred the praise to Richt and the rest of the coaching staff already in place when he arrived.
“Those are the guys doing all the work because they had to double up everything for a while,” Pruitt said. “Coach Richt had everything organized. We just kind of stuck to the plan.
“We just kind of had to start all over and had to get some things done.”
Perhaps just as important as landing Carter, the Bulldogs held onto defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard, a towering four-star prospect out of Fayetteville, N.C., who took an official visit to Miami in late January. In fact, Georgia kept most of this year’s class intact even with a complete coaching overhaul on defense — no small feat in the chaotic environment of college recruiting.
“A lot of guys on the defensive side of the ball didn’t flinch,” Richt said. “It’s nice to know we’re at the type of university where guys believe we’re going to bring in great coaches and they want to be at Georgia just because that’s where they want to be, period.”
Of course, the offensive side of Georgia’s recruiting class, one that already included five-star tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel coming into Wednesday, is nothing to discount. Landing McKenzie and Atkinson, both of whom received late offers from Georgia and jumped at the opportunity, only makes the group stronger.
A high school teammate of Michel at American Heritage (Fla.), the 5-foot-8, 175-pound McKenzie gives the Bulldogs a versatile weapon on offense and a dangerous asset on special teams.
“His friendship with Sony had a lot to do with it,” Richt said. “Very dynamic return man. That’s what jumps out the most, his ability to make people miss one, two, three times per play. A lot of speed, quickness, swag. Great ball skills as a receiver.”
As for Atkinson, Richt admitted that he and the rest of the coaching staff were not satisfied signing just one tight end, noting the youth and lack of depth at the position. Now the 6-foot-6, 250-pound West Hall product will join touted North Carolina prospect Jeb Blazevich to effectively double the number of scholarship tight ends the team has on its roster.
“We are very young at the tight end position. We only had two on scholarship once Artie (Lynch) left. With Ty (Flournoy-Smith) leaving, we were really short at that position,” Richt said. “Just one injury and all of a sudden we’re having to change our offensive system. We didn’t want to do that.”
In all, Georgia’s coaches seemed rather pleased with the makeup of the incoming class of recruits, which ranks eighth-best in the nation according to 247sports. But even on the evening when coaches should be able to rest after the culmination of an arduous month of recruiting, they claim that the process never really ends.
“We’ve got to stay as far ahead of the game as possible. I probably talked to more 2015 guys today than I did our signees,” Richt said, a subtle grin creeping across his face.
UGA recruiting class of 2014 (21 signees)
QB Jacob Park (Stratford / Goose Creek, S.C.)
RB Nick Chubb (Cedartown / Cedartown)
RB Sony Michel (American Heritage / Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
WR Isaiah McKenzie (American Heritage / Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
WR Shakenneth Williams (Rutland / Macon)
WR Gilbert Johnson (Homestead / Homestead, Fla.)
WR Rico Johnson (Georgia Prep / Swainsboro)
TE Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte Christian / Charlotte, N.C.)
TE Hunter Atkinson (West Hall / Oakwood)
OG Isaiah Wynn (Lakewood / St. Petersburg, Fla.)
OT Dyshon Sims (Lowndes / Valdosta)
OT Kendall Baker (Marist / Atlanta)
OG Jake Edwards (Heard County / Franklin)
DE Lorenzo Carter (Norcross / Norcross)
DE Keyon Brown (Hardee / Wauchula, Fla.)
DT Lamont Gaillard (Pine Forest / Fayetteville, N.C.)
LB Detric Dukes (Tucker / Atlanta)
DB Malkom Parrish (Brooks County / Quitman)
DB Shattle Fenteng (Hutchinson C.C. / Loganville)
DB Shaquille Jones (Merritt Island / Palm Bay, Fla.)
ATH Dominick Sanders (Tucker / Tucker)