ATHENS, Ga. -- With nine 2016 commitments, including five in the ESPN Junior 300, the University of Georgia is off to a great start in this recruiting cycle. While six of the nine commits come from the Bulldogs’ home state, they found their most important 2016 commit in Washington.
Jacob Eason, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound pocket passer from Lake Steven, Washington, is ranked No. 4 in the ESPN Junior 300 and is the top-ranked pocket passer. Eason committed to Georgia last July and has remained strong in his pledge despite the Bulldogs losing offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who recuited Eason, but has since taken over as Colorado State’s head coach.
Spring has just begun and already 14 of the 25 ESPN Junior 300 quarterbacks are already committed to a school. With top quarterbacks always in high demand, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said landing a top-level player at a vital position early on in the process is crucial.
"I think it’s important,” Richt said. “Quarterbacks are leaders by position. If you are a quarterback you are already a leader. But sometimes your leadership can begin as your class is being put together and [quarterbacks] usually tend to make decisions a little earlier than others and then start to try to recruit their class. I think over the years it’s been important to get a quarterback early.”
Even though Eason is still a junior in high school, he has embraced his role as a leader and a top recruiter for Georgia’s 2016 signing class.
"Committing early to UGA for me was a blessing,” Eason said. "Not only can I try and get all of the best guys to play ball with the Bulldogs in college but also I can start building relationships with guys my age who I might be going to school with in the future. The leadership role kind of comes natural at the quarterback position.
"Committing early allowed me to take the leadership role earlier than normal and get a head start on getting to know players while I’m not even on campus. If you play QB you are expected to be the leader. It’s a great spot to be in and I am doing my best to fill that role. At the same time, I am making some friends and enjoying the process.”
Despite being 2,800 miles away from Athens, Eason understands the importance of helping recruit players from the state of Georgia. After all, over one-tenth (31) of the ESPN Junior 300, is made up of players from Georgia. Obviously, Georgia won’t be able to take them all, but targeting the right in-state players is critical for future success.
“We know we have a tremendous talent base in this state and if we get the best ones, we are going to be in really good shape,” Richt said "We also know that there are more than we are allowed to take so we are not going to be able to get them all. We have to do a good job of targeting the right guys and getting after them.”
One of Georgia’s top overall targets, athlete Mecole Hardman, said some of the Georgia coaches have tried to sell him on the opportunity to play for the home-state team.
"I hear it all the time from Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt and Coach Richt,” said Hardman, who has a top three of Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn. “They say, 'Hey, it’s your home state -- come play for your home team.’ Georgia, in my opinion has the best talent in the nation as I see it. They try to sell us on getting everybody together in Georgia to come play for Georgia. We definitely hear that stuff a lot.”
Another top Georgia target, defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson Jr., said he doesn’t necessarily hear Georgia coaches talking about playing for the home-state team, but he does, however, talk about it openly with other recruits.
“As players we talk about playing with each other sometimes, like through group chats and at camps,” Jackson said. "We stay in contact with each other and talk about schools that we like and school that are recruiting us the hardest and just talk about the process. I don’t think UGA rolls out the red carpet for us just because we are in-state, though.”
But like the recruiting of Eason, getting the best players for Georgia is Richt’s priority.
"I think if you show these young men where they fit in and they get excited about it and of course there’s plenty of TV to get kids excited about your school and just playing in the Southeastern Conference in general is an attraction to a lot of great players," he said. "A lot of times, it still comes down to the relationship that the player has with his recruiting coach and position coach. If it times up, you have a good chance at these guys.”