Believe it or not, but I’ve never been one to get all wrapped up in the college football recruiting wars, at least not since Lewis Grizzard reported that Herschel Walker was going to forgo college football and take a job at Clyde’s Filling Station in Wrightsville.
There are too many variables involving 18-year-old student-athletes (don’t snicker; some are students) to get your blood pressure all riled up over some kid who can do everything with a football except autograph it. Besides, I coached high school football — offensive line, primarily — for about a quarter of a century. I once coached a player who got letters from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and 25 other schools. I had to read every one of them to him. He went to Auburn.
I know that there are a lot of things that can happen between signing day and the National Championship game. Sometimes players just don’t work out. Sometimes a player will have a poor attitude or a poor work ethic, or both. Sometimes they will have a career-ending injury before walking onto the playing field. Sometimes they just don’t develop as expected or can’t handle the academic load. Sometimes they get caught using drugs and are dismissed from the team.
Sometimes they get kicked out for stealing from teammates — and wind up playing at Auburn.
So I prefer to take the wait-and-see approach when it comes to high school superstars who deign to “ink a pact” — worst sports cliché ever — with my Alma Mater.
Having said all of that, I found myself in Athens Tuesday night. My lovely wife Lisa and I were treated to a magnificent production called Million Dollar Quartet, about a jam session at Sun Studio that Sam Phillips arranged for Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis himself. But that’s another story for another day. Since we were already in town and since National Signing Day was just a few hours away, we decided to stay in town overnight and take in the scene at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
Actually, Lisa told me she would agree to stay overnight and go shopping the next day with our youngest daughter, Jenna, while I took in the scene at Butts-Mehre. The four hours I spent there were four of the most expensive hours I have spent in a while.
I arrived at the Dawg Mahal at a quarter past eight and there were already several dozen — what did Jan Kemp call them? — pot-bellied alumni — gathered around the television sets that were positioned at one end of the exhibit hall. When I took my place in front of one of the sets there was one more of us.
Chuck Dowdle was holding court, listing the names and statistics of the soon-to-be Bulldogs that had already faxed their signed scholarships to UGA Ground Zero. I was just glad to learn that someone besides me still uses a facsimile machine at least once a year. Honesty compels me to admit that I began to get excited when Chuck rolled some tape — another overused sports cliché — on some of the new recruits. When Big Dawg Mike Wilson walked into the room I actually checked my calendar to see how many days were left until we play Clemson. The number was 206.
Before I knew it I was hooked. When the word came in that we had flipped Shaq Jones from Louisville I was barking with the best of them, and when I learned that Isaiah McKenzie was following Sony Michel from Plantation, Fla., to the Classic City, I was ready to book my reservations to the NCAA playoffs.
I was completely enthralled by the time Mark Richt and the other coaches came out to address their subjects — I mean, fans.
Coach Richt was as relaxed as I have ever seen him, and it was obvious that he was pleased with the way things had been going. He fielded a few questions — including one from a 10-year-old kid who wanted to know if he were hiring a special teams coach — and deflected a few questions to Mike Bobo, Jeremy Pruitt and some of the other coaches. I even asked a question myself.
I asked about the prospects for the offensive line next year. Like I said, I coached offensive line in high school for a quarter-century. Apparently Coach Richt found the question funny. I got that notion when he laughed out loud and mockingly referred the question to O-line coach, Will Friend. It kind of hurt my feelings, to tell you the truth.
Coach Friend said he thought the offensive line would be good. Coach Richt laughed at him, too. I’m not sure if Coach Friend’s feelings were hurt or not.
I had left the house when the long-awaited news came across the wire that 5-star defensive lineman Lorenzo Carter was headed to Athens, but my opinion about the recruiting hoopla had been changed entirely. I had a great day at Butts-Mehre and plan to return next year. Meanwhile, I have 12 whole months to think up a better question to ask.