Editor's note: During the countdown to national signing day on Wednesday, DawgNation will talk with a former Georgia football player each day about his memories of the recruiting process.
Today's former Bulldog is Russ Tanner. He hails from Wrightsville, Ga., hometown to the legendary Hershel Walker, and he is the only player besides Walker to have his jersey retired at Johnson County High School. He was part of Mark Richt's first recruiting class at Georgia, and he went on to help the Bulldogs win two SEC Championships, ending a 20-year drought. Playing center for the Bulldogs, Tanner was twice named to the Rimington Award Watch List as a nominee to be named the nation's best center.
Tanner is now married with two children. He lives in Watkinsville, Ga., and works as a loan officer. He is "excellent-looking and has a body that is coveted by professional athletes." Or so he says.
Here are the highlights from DawgNation beat writer Radi Nabulsi's conversation with Tanner:
RN: Looking back, what was the recruiting process like for you?
RT: It was really crazy for me. I was from Wrightsville, a small, single-A school. It wasn't like it is these days, where everything is so Internet driven. So it was a really big deal for me and my family to start seeing all these coaches from these big–time schools showing up in little bitty Wrightsville, Ga.
RN: How far along in the process did you commit to Georgia?
RT: It was probably two weeks before signing day. I had taken all of my visits. David Pollack and I took most of our visits together. We had gone to Georgia Tech, Clemson, UGA and Florida. We went to those together, then he committed about a week before I did, and he started calling me and getting on me about it. So that next week I called Coach [Mark] Richt and told him I wanted to be a Dawg.
RN: What did Mark Richt do to convince you to commit to Georgia? Did anyone try to "hard sell" you?
RT: It was interesting because Coach Richt had just gotten hired in December, after UGA let Jim Donnan go, right in the peak of recruiting season. It was really up in flux as to what was going to happen. So when Richt got in, those guys really hit the trail hard and heavy. They had to just to try to make up ground. I remember he came for the in-home, sat down with me and my family and said what he was about, what he wanted to do and what he wanted to build. It wasn't really a hard sell, but he believed in what he was saying -- you could tell he wasn't full of bull, so to speak.
RN: What happened on some of your official visits that either helped a school recruit you or hurt a school recruiting you?
RT: I went to Notre Dame and it is hard to go to that campus and not be impressed. But it was just too far away from home. Indiana is a long way from Wrightsville. From there I went to Georgia Tech, and there was no way I was going to Tech. I could not stand Atlanta, and the thought of living down there on North Avenue made my skin crawl a little bit. I knew I wasn't going Tech very quickly after I got there. It had nothing to do with the coaches. Clemson, well Clemson never felt like it was where I needed to be. I think in my bones I was bred to play SEC football, and Clemson was not that.
RN: What sort of negative recruiting did you hear?
RT: There were people that would whisper about Georgia, about how there wasn't a coach at the time. They would say, "Well, we have been here for five years," or "I have been coaching at this school for four years. They just hired some new guy who has never been a head coach; I just think you need to make sure you look at all of your options." They never came right out and said that Mark Richt didn't know anything about being a coach. It was more like, "Hey, we have stability, they don't have stability, where do you want to be?"
RN: How did your college experience compare to what you expected when you were a high school prospect?
RT: I don't really know what I was expecting, but it was such a big shock to me. I was so used to being one of the better athletes, one of the bigger kids who could pretty much do whatever I wanted to do athletically. But then I got up here. I use the analogy -- it is like going from being a big fish in a swimming pool to being a minnow in the ocean. Nobody cares, especially if you are a freshman. Now you are on a team where everybody was all-state or All-American. The initial transition was hard, the transition into college life, the transition into a much higher level of football, plus school and trying to have a social life.