Richt Discusses Bulldogs' 2014 Signing Class

Feb. 5, 2014

ATHENS, Ga. -- University of Georgia football head coach Mark Richt met with the media on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Georgia's 2014 signing day class. He offered the following comments:

Opening Statement…
"First off, I want to thank everybody for being here. I also want to thank everybody who helped us recruit this class. We have professors on campus. We have our academic advisors and all of our academic staff. I can't tell you how many weekends recruits come in on unofficial visits and there are Saturdays, Sundays and evenings where people are just ready to be on call. Of course, it's all of our recruiting staff, and then our custodians keeping the building looking beautiful. There are just so many people that get involved in making this thing work. We have a lot of students that help us. Obviously our full time coaches and graduate assistant coaches and quality control coaches - everybody is able to help us when we get on campus. We have some other people on our staff that have helped us. We have our Athletic Association members that are basically on call to help us, so it's just so many people that it takes to put together a class like this."

"We're very excited, as always, to welcome these young men to our program. We try to build our program on a lot of things. Obviously when you recruit, the first thing we have to do is watch film, watch them in person and just give them a physical evaluation - can they do the job? Can they play the position that we're going to ask them to play and play it in such a way that we can win in this league? That's number one, and when we believe that's the case, we start trying to find out what kind of a person he is. We'll ask high school coaches, academic counselors and principals - anybody we know that could possibly give us some insight into what type of person this young man is. Obviously the academics are important, as well. He's got to be in position, first of all to qualify but also to handle the academic rigors at Georgia. Georgia's a tremendous university when it comes to the education, and there's really no place to hide, so to speak. I think some places you might have a school in there where you just worry mostly about staying eligible, but at Georgia the education is phenomenal, and it's a challenge. The recruits know that coming in. We feel like we did a great job of evaluating, and we're just really thrilled about the guys that we brought in."

On the defensive coaching changes…
"Well when you have coaching changes, you lose some relationships with some of the recruits, but you gain some relationships, too. I know that one of the first things Jeremy did was to come in and start looking at every commitment that we had, and then he started looking at every recruit that was on the board. Even if a guy was committed to another school, let's look at him anyways. Let's see if there may be some interest. I know Coach (Kevin) Sherrer had a relationship with Shaquille Jones…part of that process was the relationship that Kevin had with him, and then the ability for us to really evaluate that film and make a determination if he could be a guy that can get it done for us. We feel like he can, and so we're very excited about Shaq. Those are some of the things that happened, but in the end, I think we pulled it together very well. A lot of things were very solid. A lot of the guys that were on the defensive side of the ball didn't flinch. Some of them were wondering who was going to be the next coach and all of that, but some of them didn't care who it was. They said, 'I'm coming to Georgia.' It's nice to know that we're at that type of university where guys believe that we're going to bring in great coaches and they want to be at Georgia because that's just where they want to be, period."

On wide receiver signee Isaiah McKenzie…
"Isaiah McKenzie is a guy that went to Sony Michel's school there at American Heritage, and obviously he's good friends with Sony. Coach McClendon did a beautiful job of recruiting Sony, but he kept the good relationship with Isaiah and he kind of planted a seed that you never know what may happen here towards the end, and as it turns out, we felt like we had a position to offer him and he jumped on it. We're very thankful for that. I'm sure his friendship with Sony had a lot to do with it, but also Coach McClendon's job of being diligent and laying down the groundwork for the possibility of that to happen. I just watched more film of him a little bit ago, and he's a very dynamic return man. That' what jumps out at you the most - just his ability to make people miss one, two or even three times in the same play. He has a lot of speed, quickness and swag. He really believes in himself. He's got great ball skills as a receiver, and he can play tailback receiver. He can probably play a lot of things. He's a guy that you're definitely going to want to get the ball into his hands. He'll definitely be on the top of my list to see what he can do as a return man."

On the depth at running back next season…
"We're asking these guys to come in and compete. We're asking all of them to come in and compete. There's nothing to say that a guy can't come in and be productive for us. We have 29 practices before the first game and a few scrimmages. Things happen between now and then, things happen between now and camp, things happen throughout the season, so guys just have to be in a state of readiness. We will absolutely give those guys a chance to show what they can do, and if they can be productive, we'll get them in the game."

On defensive changes as a result of coaching changes…
"It was not a big deal. I don't think it was really a big deal. Philosophically we're going to change a little bit here and there. Where our D-line coach in the past was coaching the front three, we're going to make it more of a front four situation with Coach (Tracy) Rocker. What we have been calling that Will linebacker position has really been an outside rusher. Sometimes that guy would drop, but for the most part he's rushing. He'd be in a two-point stance, but a lot of people run the same defense and put the guy in a three-point stance. It was very natural for Coach Rocker to take on that fourth guy, and it made a lot of sense for us."

On the balance between in-state and out-of-state recruiting…
"We love the state of Georgia. I came to Georgia because of the great talent base that we have, and we absolutely want to recruit this state hard. We've got to stay as far ahead of the game as possible. I've probably talked to more 2015 guys today than I did our signees today. We're working hard on that and doing the very best we can to evaluate as quickly as we can. When we give offers, we like for them to mean something. We want to offer a guy and make it mean something here. Every once in awhile we get behind if we don't do it as fast as another school, but we're also not going to go back and pull it from a kid or say, 'No, you can't commit. We just offered you to get you interested.' It's a delicate balance, and a lot of kids won't want to come to your camp unless they're offered. I can understand where they're coming from. If you come to our camp…just look at the receivers that we signed in this class - Gilbert Johnson, Rico Johnson and Shakenneth Williams. If those guys didn't come to camp, I don't know if we would have offered them. But the guys that have come to our camps and we have evaluated and offered, I don't know if we've ever missed on a guy like that. It's a lot of linemen, too, over the years. Clint Boling was there. He was a real athletic guy and undersized, but we thought he might turn into something. He was a guy we really believed in, and he's playing in the NFL today. Ben Jones was the same thing. They're guys that maybe you don't offer if they're not at your camp, or it might have taken you longer to figure it out. It's a delicate balance, but we know that there are a lot of great players in the state of Georgia, and we want to get after those guys. We're the type of school where there is interest from people outside of the state. It's one thing to go to New Jersey to get Knowshon Moreno or Dallas to go get Matthew Stafford, but a lot of our out-of-state guys are truly in our area. They're close to us - North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama - just right around that area. We feel like that's our recruiting base, but it always starts with the state of Georgia."

On opposing schools having recruiting success in the state of Georgia...
"We've had a lot of success in their states too, so they might need to be worried about that."

On his upcoming birthday…
"I'm young when it comes to head coaching. There are a lot of guys that have gone deep into their sixties and seventies, so I've got a long ways to go before that."

On his energy level…
"I'm excited, I really am. I like our staff. I like keeping continuity within, but when change does happen and then you see the outpouring and the interest that people have to be at Georgia, it fires you up. It gets you excited. I can't tell you how many people wanted to come coach for Georgia. Great people, great coaches at great places. If these defensive positions open up and nobody was really interested to jump on the boat and join the family, it'd be discouraging, but it was just a 180 from that. It was very encouraging, and I'm really thrilled with the guys that have joined our staff, and we'll have another one coming soon. We'll be fired up about that, as well."

On the last remaining coaching vacancy…
"You want to have enough guys to recruit. We had a couple of graduate assistant coaches that went out and recruited for us and did a wonderful job. Mike Macdonald, Christian Robinson and Dan Inman. When the space had vacated, those guys jumped in and did a beautiful job for us. I'm glad they got the experience, and I'm real pleased with what they did. You just want to make sure you get the right people. With Jeremy it was kind of a no-brainer, and I think we probably had to move fast if it was going to happen. There needed to be no doubt in his mind of my desire for him to be at Georgia. But then once you get your coordinator and start really talking and deciding what's most important to him, you want to make sure that you have the right fits."

"Whenever we announce who the next coach will be, we'll announce how the staff will stack up by position."

On signee Kendall Baker…
"Kendall Baker is an offensive lineman for us. He's obviously a highly-rated defensive lineman, but we feel like he can be an even better offensive lineman. We know he's talented enough to play D-line, but there's been a lot of D-linemen that have moved to the offensive side of the ball and have just jumped, as far as the comparison, to other linemen at his position. I think it's really going to be a blessing for him…When we brought it up to him and his family, they actually agreed. They thought it was a good idea that he got excited about it. It's not like we had to push it. You take a risk, but we wanted to tell him truthfully what we thought he was and what we thought he could become. When he heard what we had to say, he liked it. Sometimes people say things to get a guy at a place, and then you move him and the guy's miserable because he thinks you lied to him, so we tried to be up front and honest. We took a risk of him saying that he didn't want to do that, but he saw the benefit of it and we got him."

On quarterback signee Jacob Park…
"He's an interesting guy. He's tall and has a really strong arm. We've got to have guys that can throw the ball. That's first for us, and I always say does he have a strong enough arm and an accurate arm? Is he a good decision-maker and can he handle the pressure of the job? Those are the things that are most important for us. You can add athleticism, and that's a bonus. I'm not sure you would design an entire offense around a lot of QB runs for him and making that the mainstay, but he can do it. He's a pretty athletic guy, and he will definitely keep people honest with some of the QB runs. He can also create by making people miss. He's got some strength about him, but he'll get stronger obviously. He's got a lot of great traits, and we think he's going to be good."

On any shortages from the signing class…
"I just think that you're always going to have need across the board. We know that recruiting is very, very important to build for the future but also to hopefully have guys that will come in and compete and win jobs and win playing time and just energize the team. If you have guys that are talented, it gets everybody's attention. It just makes guys work a little bit harder. It's a very, very competitive business from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint, and you've got a bunch of hungry dogs coming into town that want to win some playing time, so they will keep everyone on their toes. I'm sure some of them will break through and make some big plays for us."

On tight end signee Hunter Atkinson…
"We are very young at the tight end position, and we only had two guys on scholarship once Artie (Lynch) left. With Ty Smith leaving, we were really short at that position, and we were kind of recruiting for one. That was the plan all along. What happens sometimes in recruiting is that if you don't necessarily hit all the targets at every single position across the board and you have some space available, then you start looking at who is the next best guy to help Georgia win. We felt like our tight end position was really a little bit scary with the depth there. If we only had three going in and just very young overall, well just one injury and then we're all of the sudden having to change our offensive system. We didn't want to have to do that, so we think Hunter will come in and give us a boost in that area."

On Atkinson and fellow tight end signee Jeb Blazevich…
"Both are great young men and very talented. Both have good hands, and I think they're both going to be very capable to learn what to do and earn some playing time. It'll be fun to watch it."

On the championship-caliber status of the team…
"We know we were very close to being a championship team a year ago. We know it's not that far from winning and losing. It's probably five or seven games where you could maybe look at one play where we could have won it or maybe lost it in some of those close games that we did win. I'd like to get to the point where there's not quite as much drama where we can take care of business and not have to come down to the wire, but we are in a great league. Not that the rankings are totally accurate in recruiting - everybody has to make decisions and all that type of thing - but the bottom line is that a lot of the teams in our league are in the top 10 or top 15 every year. There are great coaches and great support across the board. Everybody's venue that you go to has a home field advantage, so it's a war. I think these guys will help us win."

On the recruiting process in general…
"One of the guys - Keyon Brown - he was super solid. When Todd Grantham said he was leaving, within 30 minutes I was hearing from current players, recruits and media. I was at a coaches convention, so I got bombarded, but one of the things that I wanted to do was to get a hold of all of our commitments and let them know what was up. I think he (Brown) tweeted something to that effect - just a really strong statement about his commitment to Georgia and that he trusted me to hire a really great man, so I appreciated that."

On any recruiting surprises…
"Not really. A lot of things happened behind-the-scenes obviously over the last few days. A lot of evaluations were being done a little bit later than usual because of the staff changes. I wanted to know what Jeremy (Pruitt) thought and Kevin (Sherrer) thought and what Rocker thought about guys so we could finalize who we were going to give those last offers to. I thought everybody did a heck of a job, and not just them but everybody working with recruiting. We have guys helping us with video that were staying up until midnight or later. When Coach Pruitt came in, he didn't have a wife and kids to be going home to every night, so he was working almost 24 hours a day almost trying to get caught up. We really appreciate the job that all of those guys did."

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