Georgia Football: In-State High School Players Indicate Change Coming

Jan 2, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs mascot Uga stands on the field in the second quarter during a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs mascot Uga stands on the field in the second quarter during a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports /

Last night, the Georgia football program received a commitment from a 15 year old high school student. That commitment, among others, points to a coming program change.

It really does seem silly. The idea of grown men obsessing over where a high school kid says he’s going to play college football. It’s even more absurd when that kid isn’t even a Junior yet. But reality is that the University of Georgia Football program received a commitment last night from one such student and it portends a changing wind.

Jadon Haselwood, currently a Sophomore at Cedar Grove High School (just southeast of Atlanta), released a slick video announcing his decision to attend the University of Georgia and play football. Yes, it does seem early. No, this doesn’t happen often. Yes, there is a long time until he enrolls. Yes, he could change his mind.

Leaving aside, for a moment, the conversation regarding the state of college athletics, and how that leads a kid to commit to such a big decision that early in life, there is something else to discuss here. Simply, the “Kirby Smart” effect in Athens.

The 2016 football season for UGA did not go as planned. Anytime that team loses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech in football, and in the same year, something is askew. Folks have wondered aloud about the milquetoast result coming from such a high-powered roster. What was the problem? Had to be coaching, most say.

More from ATL All Day

That answer will come this fall. If Georgia struggles to win games “it should win” in 2017, that muffled wondering will turn into open grumbling. The coaches have to show that they have improved. They have to show they can coach together. They have to show that they can coach a team together.

That brings us back to Haselwood. One area of improvement that is already indisputable is recruitment of players. As much as Georgians know sweet tea, Coca-Cola, cotton, boiled peanuts, and pecan pie, they also know that, if UGA ever “sealed the border”, and kept the state’s best high school recruits, they’d win. They would win championships.

Coach Mark Richt was about as good a coach as you could hope for: Respectful, generous, kind, and a winner. The problem is that he couldn’t win the “big games”. Many attribute that to the fact the he lost most of the best players who grew up in Georgia to other universities. Many of those universities used “Georgia boys” to beat the state school.

Coach Smart and company, however, have already started flexing home-grown muscle. The 2017 recruiting class was full of in-state talent. It was also ranked 3rd nationally. The 2018 class will offer some talent to Athens, but many are going out-of-state. A very Richt-like class, if you will. Yet, 2019 seems special and different.

By most industry accounts, the 2019 class will have 18-20 kids who will rank in the top 300 nationally. That’s top 300 out of all the high school football players in the country. Do you know how many kids play football? A bunch.

Of those student-athletes, many are suggesting Georgia could get as many as 12-15 of them. Basic calculations, based on today’s metrics, would give UGA the #1 recruiting class in the nation for that year. That would be something new for the Dawgs in the modern era.

So, yes, it is silly for grown men to obsess over high school football players and their college decisions. But time doesn’t stand still. In the blink of an eye, these “kids” will be heading to college and taking that school’s fortunes with them.

Many of these young men, folks like Nolan Smith, Owen Pappoe, Jashawn Sheffield, Dominick Blaylock, Keiondre Jones, and Haselwood, will all be household names in a few short years.

That said, something is brewing and stewing in Athens. If UGA is lucky enough to keep a majority of the in-state high school football players of 2019, it will be special. If Georgia wins a National Championship in the near future, we could look to the 2019 class as the fulcrum and catalyst.

If Kirby Smart and his coaches can convince those young men to play football together for the state school, they will already have done something that nobody in UGA history has done: Close the border.

Next: Atlanta Braves: Looking for Fourth Outfielder

If they close the border, they will win championships. If they win championships, they will win a place in Georgia lore forever. Then again, 2019 is a long way away. Where will you be? Jadon Haselwood knows where he’ll be, and he’s just 15 years old.