Georgia hopes 2017 class can follow Bama's historic 2008 haul

Georgia fans will wake up Feb. 1 excited about every national letter of intent that will be faxed in. They will start coming in early and continue to file in throughout the day. In a perfect world, the recruits still on the fence will choose the Bulldogs and help solidify what could be landmark class in school history.

Prepare yourself Dawg fans: It’s going to feel a little like Christmas.

Just ask any Alabama fan; they can probably tell you exactly where they were on national signing day nine years ago. They might still remember the moment that an 18-year-old Julio Jones, wearing a yellow sweater over his shirt and tie, put on an Alabama hat and announced to the world that he would be signing with the Crimson Tide.

Jones was the headliner in a class that finished No. 3 nationally, according to ESPN, and would ultimately build the foundation for the dynasty that we see today. The class included five first-round draft picks, a Heisman Trophy winner in Mark Ingram and at least a dozen players who later played in the NFL. The class, which signed in 2008, played a major role in Alabama winning three of the next five national championships.

It was Nick Saban's first full recruiting class in Tuscaloosa. Back in 2011, just days after the 2010 season ended, he reflected on that group.

"It was a great class," Saban said. "There was a lot of opportunity for these guys early in their career, and they took advantage of it and made significant impact on the program immediately. This class had as much to do with what's been accomplished the past three years as any class."

What stands out from that 2008 class as much -- if not more -- than all of the accolades they received was the fact that they all signed with Alabama when Alabama was nothing more than a middling SEC team. The Tide had won seven games the season before and lost at home to Louisiana Monroe. It wasn't like today, when recruits sign with Alabama knowing they can compete for championships and that they will likely have a chance to play in the NFL.

"We really believed in Coach Saban," said Barrett Jones, a former All-SEC offensive lineman and a member of Alabama’s 2008 class. "We believed that the program could be something special. I think we just all bought into the process. I know it’s kind of cliché, but it’s true. We all heard that pitch and we were like 'Hey man, I want to be a part of that.'

"In some ways, it is more fun to build something than maintain it. That was probably the most enjoyable part of it, seeing those immediate results of being able to build that program."

Kirby Smart was at Alabama when that class signed. He was coaching the defensive backs at the time but was promoted to defensive coordinator less than a month later. He saw first-hand how important that group was to building a championship-level program and is now trying to do the same thing with what will be his first full class as the head coach at Georgia.

Like Alabama in 2007, the Bulldogs endured a somewhat disappointing 7-5 season this past fall in what was Smart's first season as head coach. Winning the bowl game helped, but home losses to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech weren't what fans envisioned when Smart was hired.

Yet all will be forgiven when this 2017 recruiting class signs next week.

Georgia's class, ranked No. 2 nationally by ESPN, currently has four five-stars, 18 players ranked in the ESPN 300 and four of the top five players in the state of Georgia. The Bulldogs can make it all five if they are able to flip South Carolina commitment Jamyest Williams between now and signing day, which is a realistic possibility after Williams visited Athens this past weekend.

Five of those ESPN 300 recruits, including five-stars DeAngelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte III, have already signed their papers and enrolled at Georgia.

That might take some of the excitement away from signing day itself, but there are still plenty of future stars who plan to sign with the Bulldogs. The biggest name left on the board is Isaiah Wilson, a five-star offensive tackle who is ranked No. 2 overall in the ESPN 300.

"I just can't wait until it's all over, and I can officially say I am a Georgia Bulldog," Wilson told ESPN.com this week. "Everything [about Georgia] was perfect. I feel at home in Athens, and I also think we can be really special with all the right pieces."

This class might not duplicate what the 2008 class did at Alabama. Three championships in five seasons is unprecedented for this day and age in college football. More than anything, Smart wants his first full recruiting class to set a foundation for years to come. He wants this class to pave the way for future success and for future recruits who want to join the fold.

"I think for any coach, his first full class is a big deal," Jones said. "You have the excitement and the momentum, and this is your time to have a really special class.

"[Smart] understands that. They've put a lot of emphasis on this [2017 class], and I'm sure they worked very hard to get it right because this first full class is kind of the foundation, that cornerstone or building block, of what they're trying to build there at Georgia."