Jaylen Heyward, No. 40 prospect in 2024, commits to Georgia

Less than a week after winning a second straight national championship, Kirby Smart's chops on the recruiting trail for Georgia haven't let up.

Four-star junior safety Jaylen Heyward is the latest to come on board after committing on Friday.

Heyward, from Rockledge High School (Florida), is No. 40 in the 2024 ESPN 300 and the cycle's second-best safety. He's the third-highest prospect and seventh 2024 ESPN 300 member to announce for the Bulldogs.

He also considered Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Colorado.

"Georgia's always been a top program in the nation," he told ESPN. "Every single year, they've been a top contender. I feel like I'm a top guy that needs to be in a top program. On top of that, I have a good relationship with [co-defensive coordinator] Coach [Will] Muschamp and Coach Smart and [defensive backs] coach Fran Brown. Kirby was actually a DB coach [previously at Valdosta State, LSU and Alabama]. I'll be under him the majority of the time."

After Monday night's 65-7 victory over TCU in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Georgia is the first program to repeat in the CFP era and first to go back-to-back since Alabama in 2011 and 2012.

Heyward becomes the second top-three safety from the 2024 class to pledge to join Smart and the two-time defending national champions in six days. St. John Bosco's (California) Peyton Woodyard committed on Saturday at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Heyward recorded 44 tackles with 8 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions for Rockledge in 2022. In a two-year stretch for the Raiders, he has made 72 tackles, broken up 24 passes, intercepted three passes (returned two for touchdowns) and has surrendered just one touchdown in 25 games.

"I'm always going to give my best shot every game," he said. "I'm giving them 100 percent, no matter what, no matter what the situation is. They're going to get a straight dog out of me. That's why I'm committed to the Dawgs."

The additions of Heyward and Woodyard continues a trend that Smart has clearly established -- ensuring high-level defensive recruits keep coming into the fold.

Since 2019, Georgia has signed 20 players on defense that ESPN had ranked within the top three at their respective positions.

Georgia's 2023 class, which sits second overall following the early signing period, includes six defensive players meeting that criteria -- three linebackers, two defensive linemen and one safety.

Its 2024 class now features three defensive players -- outside linebacker Demarcus Riddick (No. 38 overall, No. 3 OLB), Heyward and Woodyard (No. 43 overall, No. 3 S) -- inside the top three at their spots on the field.

"The entire coaching staff holds one another accountable," Heyward's father, Demetrice Thomas, told ESPN. "It's clear that everyone has the same agenda. Georgia didn't sign any players from the transfer portal in 2022. It's evident that they are recruiting quality. They're developing student-athletes. Also, they are not making promises they can't keep. If Jaylen puts in the work, he'll step on campus as a boy and leave as a man."