UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 7, 2018
KIRBY SMART: Excited about today. You know, it was kind of anti-climactic with the fact that we had had most of the guys signed as mid-year guys. A lot of early enrollees, a lot of early signees, but I think one of the things that helped us today was the fact that we knocked a lot of the work out in December, and I think any time you're able to do that, you're really able to focus your attention on 2019, 2020. We had a lot of junior days and sophomore days in here on the Saturdays leading up to today, so that was a big advantage for us to get ahead. But we were able to focus a lot of our contact attention on the four or five guys we needed to target for the remainder of our class.
Obviously I'm excited about the class, and I know all you guys want to talk about the ranking. That really does not float my boat or this staff's boat. I don't think that's what's important. What's more important is the quality of kids we were able to get, both academically and athletically. That's what excites me most about them, the fact that 10 of these guys got over a 3.0 core GPA. We haven't had that in a long time. The fact that three of these guys got offered scholarships to Ivy League schools, that impresses me a lot. 25 of these 26 played multiple sports, and I think we all know the indicators of playing multiple sports. 13 of the 26 played for a state championship, so when you start looking at those things, they're winners.
They're a tight-knit group, really unselfish. Some of these kids went and watched other kids in the state championship game. Several of them went to other guys' surgeries when they had surgeries for injuries, which we had several guys have. They're a unique group. I'm excited about them.
But the chore for them is to get past this and move on, and I'm excited about what they bring to our team, but they've also got a lot of big shoes to fill of some great young men that just left our program.
With that, I'll open it up to questions.
Q. Kirby, when the early signing period was instituted, a lot of people were uncertain about it. Having gone through a cycle, do you think it's worked? Would you change anything about it next year?
KIRBY SMART: You know, that's tough. I mean, it's hard to argue with the results we were able to achieve. I think it was a blessing to be in the situation we were in, meaning we lost a week on the road recruiting because of the SEC Championship game. I would think people that didn't play in the SEC Championship game would get a huge advantage by being out that week, that close to a signing date. That was really kind of two weeks or three weeks from a signing date, and they were able to get a little bit of an advantage. We lost that, but we also gained the momentum of the exposure. So I liked that part of it.
But preparing for a College Football Playoff and having that early signing period is really challenging to focus and get the attention of the coaching staff and the support staff in the right direction. There were some challenges there for us, but I really don't think it's about us, I think it's about the student athletes, was it better for them, and I think if you asked that question, for some it may have been. I actually think what happened is it narrowed the scope of a lot of top programs onto certain guys, and it created more pressure on the remainder of the people who weren't signed, so the pressure went from being dispersed among 20 players to being on three or four players for every team, and that was tough to go through that with some of the families of the guys you finished with, because they had a big burden on them. But I think you'd have to poll those other kids out there and say, hey, was it beneficial for you. High school coaches, I think they think it was beneficial.
Q. As a follow-up to that, do you expect the majority of signees to continue to go in the early period next December and in the following years?
KIRBY SMART: I think it'll be interesting. I think to each his own. I think some kids enjoyed that. Some kids wanted to take their visits. We had these 13 to 26 that played in state championship games, they lost their ability to go on visits, especially in the state of Georgia where the state championships got extended another week due to weather. So that whole time period was really tough for a lot of kids because they lost chances to go on visits; they had to make a quick decision. I think there was a lot of pressure from -- I don't want to lower-tier programs, but there was a lot of kids we came across that said, they're telling me if I don't sign right now, I'm going to lose my scholarship. So there was no ability to go back and reevaluate or go on visits. They knew they had to sign if they wanted their spot, and that's good for those other programs. They were able to get their work done and be done and have their classes signed.
Q. Focusing on a specific player here, what did you see when recruiting Tommy Bush, a 6'5" guy, one of the taller receivers that you've been able to recruit, and being sort of out of the southeastern area? What did you see recruiting him?
KIRBY SMART: Well, I fell in love with Tommy the first time that I met him and saw him. He was coming through doing a southeastern tour, and he came with his mother and father. They were very serious about the process. They were very professional. They came and wanted to see different parts of academics. They wanted to look around, walk around campus, and we got to spend a lot of time with him. I knew right away that he was a great kid. Obviously his stature is a big thing for us. We were able to have success with Javon this year, and you're sitting there going, how do you replace those back shoulder throws, how do you replace those catches. You've got to find somebody, and here's a kid that probably was -- didn't get as many throws in high school as you'd like to have, but when he was on the camp circuit, he was on a lot of the workout circuits, he did a tremendous job. He's a 21.4, 21.3 200-meter guy that I know and have a lot of respect for track speed, and when you have that much size and that much speed, you're a pretty good football player, and he's got great academics, too. He comes from a good family.
Q. I know you were able to work on '19 and '20 classes, as well, with a lot of your guys already signed. The four guys you added today that weren't committed previously, did you feel good in the last 72 hours that you were going to get them, or was there anyone you were on pins and needles about?
KIRBY SMART: Have you looked at my face? I have not slept much lately, so I mean, it was a sleep deprivation. It was a lot of work. I want to give our staff and the support of this university academically a lot of thanks because without the support of the people on this campus, this university academically and athletically, none of this would be possible, but our coaching staff did a tremendous job. There was some time yesterday that we might have only signed one guy today, and it all changed throughout the last really 48 hours. That's kind of the thing I was talking about with the amount of pressure these kids are under at the finish line, and it's really tough on them. But excited about the guys we were able to get.
Q. Just about the six guys you did sign today, how does each of those fill a specific need you really wanted to get accomplished?
KIRBY SMART: Well, we felt like we needed a receiver, and we were going to go out and say, who's the best receiver still available and try to target those guys, and we needed that, only bringing one in, losing four next year. So one of the biggest needs we have on our board is for wide receiver after next year. So we're sitting here saying, here's two coming in, and both those guys will compete and have a chance to come in and play, but we're going to need that moving forward in the 2019 class. So that was big.
Obviously I think the corner position was a position, and DB position was one that we wanted to fill. We felt like we kind of had every box checked. Maybe the safety box was one that was missing, and we were able to fill some of those needs today, as well.
Q. It looks like y'all have signed six guys in this class over 300 pounds, five guys in last year's class over 300 pounds. Obviously they need to be able to move with that size and everything, but why was it a priority for you and your staff to go out and get guys that kind of passed that threshold?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I wouldn't say it's a priority to get them over 300 pounds, it's a priority to get really good football players. Isaiah Wynn was not a guy that was over 300 pounds when he came out, and he proved to be an excellent football player. So I think it's more about the guys we're going after, we don't target them based on weight. We do target them based on some height and some specific descriptions for each position we have. I think Sam Pittman has proved again that he does a tremendous job recruiting the offensive line, and same thing with our defensive line. We were able to get some guys we think are really big, and in our league, the best teams you play are the teams that got size and stature and able to win the line of scrimmage. We've made no bones about it that you've got to win the line of scrimmage in this conference, and that's an area we've tried to target.
Q. I know you said the ranking of the class doesn't float your boat. There are probably a lot of fans who are pretty excited about it. What does it say about the University of Georgia and this program to have a class filled with such sought-after guys?
KIRBY SMART: Well, I think it's great. I think it's great for the fan base, but I'd trade that No. 1 ranking for the last No. 1 ranking in the college football poll. That's what's important is what you do on the field, and that's what we'll be measured by as coaches, what we're able to do with this class, what they're able to do in development. That's the key ingredient is what can you do with these guys nutritionally, strength and conditioning, academically and even mentally. Mental conditioning is a big part for us. I'm a lot more concerned with that than how many stars they've got by their name.
Q. I think there's still a lot of confusion based on numbers now, recruiting numbers. Obviously you guys got a lot of guys, and you said you went into today, maybe you'd only get one. Were you sweating out numbers at the end of the day? Did you end up having to tell a couple of guys we don't have any more room, I'm sorry, that might have been holding letters of intent for you?
KIRBY SMART: No, we don't sweat numbers. I mean, we do the best we can to get the best players we can, and we do a real good job of evaluating them. We try to get every good football player we can that can make our program better, and that's our goal each and every year is to upgrade that in character, academics and on the football field.
Q. After a couple full years now, full recruiting cycles, how have you seen your pitch change and the recruiting the program as a whole? What have you seen change in the past couple years?
KIRBY SMART: You know, I don't think it ever changes when you've got a great product. I think you've got to kind of morph that. You've got to change the message. I think sometimes you've got to be able to tell them, hey, look, when we were 8-5, a lot of this signing class sat in my office and said, where's this program headed. And for us to have the timing of the momentum we had and the season we had, combined with what we thought was a tremendous class, it was a perfect storm because here you are winning at the end when all kids got to decide, which is early signing period. Boom, we do that; we go out and have one of the most visible games in all of college football this year in the Rose Bowl, and that's when a lot of kids, they are very impacted by those games. They watch those games. To watch the National Championship, there's so many kids that talked about how they viewed that game and saw that game and they were pulling for the University of Georgia. They wanted us to be successful and win, and when you've got leaders in your class like a guy like Justin Fields, it helps tremendously.
Q. What do you like about Tyson Campbell? How does he fit into your defense? And also with Otis Reese, I saw you guys listed him as a safety. Does he project to be a safety, and how do you see him fitting in?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, Tyson Campbell, what's not to love? First of all, he's an extremely high-character kid. This process took its toll on he and his family because he's a great kid. He's from a wonderful school that's supplied the University of Georgia with some really good players, from American Heritage, and he's a bright-eyed kid that enjoyed the process. He's a great track athlete, 10.4 100 meters, and I don't know if you know much about that, but that's faster than pretty much anybody we've got on our team right now, and he's big. So he's big and he's fast. He's a 20.8 200 meters. I mean, the guy can fly, and he's really competitive.
Obviously we know what the stature and the size bring, but more important than that on Tyson Campbell is his intangibles. There's some other good DB's that we're able to bring in. We're excited about our guys that were here mid-year and excited about Nadab and some other guys. We're really excited about the DB's as a whole. It's an area that we felt like we could improve our team, and we were able to do it through recruiting.
And then Otis, he brings a force. He brings some contact toughness. He brings some size and stature to the safety position that -- we've had success, both Coach Tucker and myself, coaching big guys at safety. So a lot of people list this guy at outside linebacker and inside linebacker. He's the size that the safeties should be. He could grow into something else, but his first position is going to be safety, and we expect him to excel there. He did it at a really high, competitive level in high school.
Q. I know you've talked before about how competitive it gets on the recruiting trail, and if my math is right, y'all flipped five kids that had committed to other schools to Georgia. Does that make it even a little more enjoyable from your standpoint, being able to do that? Did you have to put any extra into it to get them to flip like that?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I got that question earlier when I was doing an interview. To me, there's no great sensation in flipping a kid because I don't think it teaches kids the right thing. I think we as the coaches, and coaches in the profession understand I have tremendous respect for the guy on the other side of that flip. A lot of those guys are my friends. A lot of those guys I worked with. So it's great for the fans, and they all want to make a big deal about it.
But ultimately, it's really about the relationships we've built with that kid all along. The fan thinks that Otis Reese decided last night that he was going to go to Georgia. That wasn't the case; there was a relationship that was developed over the last year. Same thing with Quay. These are kids that -- they're torn. It's a tough decision. We make it hard. We make it hard as coaches on them. When they do the flip, I know there's somebody on the other side of that. I've been on the other side of that. So I'm not one to get into enjoyment of that. I think it's more about what's right for the kid and how is his future going to be best served by going to the University of Georgia academically so he can set himself up for success in life.
Q. Following up on Quay Walker, I would imagine that that was a long recruiting battle and everything. What do you see from him as a player at the linebacker position?
KIRBY SMART: Well, it was a long recruiting battle. It was not overnight. I mean, it was a situation where Quay has been a good player for a long time. A lot of the times these guys commit early. All you do is become the target. And rarely when a kid decommits or gets ready -- they're not going to go back to that same place they just were at. When you're sitting there with Quay, we knew all along that we were just as much in it as Alabama. We're not deterred by the fact he's committed to somebody. We did a good job. He's in a community down there that's near the University of Georgia, that's got a lot of University of Georgia fans, so we just did our job, kept being consistent with him and sending him consistent messages.
As far as a player, this guy might be the most versatile because you could say he's an outside backer, you could say he's an inside backer. He's a really good pass rusher. He brings a lot of different things to the football field, and when you see him run around the basketball court, you realize that he's got great athletic ability, and it's a position where -- let's be honest, we lost four starters, right; two guys on the edge, two guys inside in Reggie and Roquan, so it gave him an opportunity to come in here and compete at four different positions.
Q. Following up on you saying that these kids are torn, nevertheless, when they have the attention of the TV camera, it seems obvious a lot of them enjoy a little drama. What was your thought when you saw the orange hat with Quay and did you already feel good about it before that?
KIRBY SMART: I didn't see it. I never saw it. I was watching 2019 and 2020 tape at the time, so I didn't actually see it. I did get a text from my wife that she was scared to death when he did that. That's their moment in the sun, and some kids know how to handle it and some don't. To each his own. When they get here, we're going to try to teach them the correct way to handle some things, and that's their moment in the sun. That's their family's time and opportunity to be on TV and give the University of Georgia some publicity, and I'm happy for Quay and his family.
Q. It was reported today that you guys have filled those two assistant coaching jobs. Can you confirm those hirings and kind of talk about what those two guys bring to the table?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, we're excited about both the guys coming on the staff. Scott, obviously you guys know and are familiar with from being in our area. I think Scott Fountain does a tremendous job. He was probably one of the biggest assets in our program last year. Everybody has made a big deal about the turnaround in special teams. He was really responsible for coaching our coaches, and he was able to bring us, and me, some ideas to how we practice and some innovative things that he's done, changing what days we did different things, and just organizational things that I thought really helped us.
With that, we were able to move up in special teams rankings and do a lot better, and to have him back I think is phenomenal for us. I think he's proven to be a really good recruiter throughout the state of Georgia and also in Florida where he's had some success. So we're excited to get him and his family back to University of Georgia. I know the coach over at Prince Avenue is really excited because he gets his kids back, so he'll have two starters returning there.
And then Cortez, we got to visit and meet with and just thought the world of him. He carries himself in a first-class manner, the way we want to do things at University of Georgia. He's a very intellectual guy. He also played the position, and any time you play the receiver position, I think it helps you tremendously with kids. He was an overachiever as a player. Here's a guy that played on several teams, and he kept making teams. He made them through toughness, his route running, his special teams play, and those are all things we want in our wide receiver room. So we're excited about both those guys.
Q. With Cortez coming in as a wide receivers coach, what does that do to the structure of the offensive staff? What happens with James?
KIRBY SMART: That will be to be determined, so we'll determine that in the coming weeks. We've got a lot of possibilities there because a lot of guys have worked with a lot of different positions.
Q. Another off-recruiting question, with Natrez and Deangelo, how are they doing, and do you expect them to be able to contribute this season for you guys?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I think both those kids are working really hard, doing the things we've asked them to do, and to be honest we're trying to help them as much off the field as on the field right now.
Q. You talk about the two kids that were commitments coming into today, Tramell Walthour and Jordan Davis. A lot of people wondered if they didn't sign the period so Georgia must not be sure about them, but obviously you guys wanted them all the way?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, absolutely. We think Jordan is a tremendous football player. Has great size and great toughness. Same thing with Tramell. I think it's a position of need for us, so those guys are going to fill a great role for us because when you start looking at the SEC, the defensive line is what makes a difference in all these teams, and that's where we want to be. We want to have big, physical guys that can rush the passer and push the pocket, and we think both those guys give us that.
I do want to finish up with one note. I want to call out the Dawg Nation and call out all the fans because you really think about the tremendous job and give them a thanks, as we went across the country and played literally across the country and played, and we went to Notre Dame and played, played at Vanderbilt, played a lot of games where our fan base turned out and did a tremendous job of supporting, I think that really helped us with recruiting. But now G-Day is on Saturday, April 21st. As we all know, every team that gets a new head coach in the SEC, what is the mantra, what is the battle cry for their fan base to turn out and really represent their teams. We need our fan base, who has done everything we've asked them to do, to turn out April 21st at 4:00 and be out there for G-Day in what we expect to be another sellout, packed opportunity to go out and represent University of Georgia and show these kids in recruiting that it does matter and it is special here.
Thanks again. Go Dawgs.
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