A couple of familiar faces were on the other side of a video call last winter for Lawrence Cager.
The wide receiver had just gone on the college football free agent market as a graduate transfer and Georgia coach Kirby Smart and new offensive coordinator James Coley reached out to him via FaceTime.
Cager decided to move on from Miami where Coley ran the offense in his freshman season in 2015. Cager was heavily involved with Alabama in the recruiting process when Smart was defensive coordinator there.
“I used to sit in Coach Kirby’s office every time I went to Alabama,” Cager said. “I had a great relationship with Kirby.”
Cager was a recruit again and this time the match was about a perfect fit.
“He’s 22 now compared to when he was 17 making those decisions,” said sister Chezia Cager. “He’s been through this process before. He knew what to ask, he knew what to expect and of course after four years as a student-athlete, he understood the industry and knew what to look for and how to look for it with relationships, academics and on the field. ...All the pillars aligned and for him it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Georgia was desperate for an experienced wideout after heavy departures at the position. Cager wanted to be a Bulldog out of Calvert Hall in Towson, Md., but didn’t pull the trigger early enough on an offer.
“Now having a good season here at the school I wanted to come to from the jump is incredible,” Cager said. “That’s really all I can ask for.”
Cager is a big reason why No. 6 Georgia’s season still has important games left to play in the month of November and perhaps beyond including Saturday at 7 p.m. at home against Missouri.
The season looked wobbly after a double overtime home loss to South Carolina in which Cager left injured and a win over Kentucky played in a drenching rain didn’t create much more confidence.
Cager, sidelined with a rib injury and already dealing with a shoulder injury, returned with his best game in college.
“He was determined from the start,” Smart said. “He was on the side running...he was wearing Kevlar pads. He did everything he could.”
It paid off in the 24-17 win over Florida, Cager hauled in a career high seven catches for 132 yards and a 52-yard touchdown catch. Five of his receptions went for first downs.
“Cager, he makes this offense better,” quarterback Jake Fromm said afterwards. “He helps the game of everybody around here. Really smart, a real high IQ football player.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Cager has been Georgia’s top receiver in the last three games he’s finished.
He tops the Bulldogs with 26 catches for 377 yards and four touchdowns. In six less games, Cager’s already surpassed the 21 catches for 374 yards he had in his final and most productive season at Miami. Those last three were under former Georgia coach Mark Richt before he retired.
Cager didn’t arrive until the summer but quickly went to work with Fromm.
“I threw him a lot of balls,” Fromm said. “He’s really easy to throw to, He’s a big target. He’s really smooth. He’s a guy you can read really easy.”
Smart said he didn’t know what to expect from Cager before the season.
“I’d be lying if I said I did,” he said. “I knew the size, he matches up well with Jake, things he does well are things he does well. It wasn’t like he had an unbelievable camp.”
When Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley declared for the NFL draft after their junior seasons, the Bulldogs could sell a golden opportunity to recruits.
Then when top returning receiver Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman was dismissed from the team in June, the Bulldogs were left with just 13 catches last season among returning wide receivers. One of those departures was Jayson Stanley, whose commitment Cager said left no room for the four-star prospect and the No. 7 player in Maryland out of high school.
This time Cager, who overcame a torn ACL in his second year at Miami, filled the Bulldogs’ need.
“Having him in there it’s like a blessing,” Smart said on his radio show last week. “It’s like replacing Riley, Mecole or JJ all in one guy. That leadership is important in that room.”
Cager grew up in west Baltimore in what he described as a “tough area, but I had some loving parents, a loving family.”
His pursuit of a graduate degree in sports management is in keeping with advanced degrees earned by his parents, Lawrence Jr. and Mendele, both government workers, and his sister who works in the private sector.
“His Saturdays since he was in middle schools he spent in one or another SAT prep class so he would have an SAT prep class Saturday mornings and would go on to whatever practices or games were on Saturday,” said Chezia, who is 14 years older than her brother. “With our parents, first and foremost your grades had to be up to par before any extracurriculars could take place.”
His “support system,” as he called it, included coaches of the many sports that Cager played growing up.
Besides football, he played baseball where he was a switch-hitting outfielder as well as basketball and track.
“Really, by the grace of God, I’m here right now,” he said.
Cager’s parents go to all of Lawrence’s games, home and away.
Chezia gets to some and watched the Florida win from back home. His former teammates at Miami, who took down Florida State that same day, couldn’t help but notice Cager’s big day.
“I talk to a lot of those guys every day,” he said of a group chat on his phone. “I talked to them right after the game to let them know it’s still good to beat FSU (Florida State). That was a great win. They congratulated me as well.”
Cager’s name was nowhere to be found on a list of 20 notable transfers in one preseason magazine, even though he led Miami with six touchdown catches last season.
“Of course, I know what type of player I am,” Cager said. “I really don’t care about outside stuff as long as my team knows what I can do.”
They certainly have come to know in the two plus months of games Cager has worn the red and black.
It all led to a postgame hug between Smart and Cager in a victorious locker room Saturday in Jacksonville.
Cager wants to help Georgia experience more of those memories in the weeks ahead.
“My Dad always told me you get satisfied, you get complacent,” Cager said. “We’re still hungry.”