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Thursday, January 24, 2013
Georgia Class of 2009 review

By David Ching

ATHENS, Ga. -- In reviewing Georgia’s seven recruiting classes since 2006 -- when ESPN entered the recruiting game -- last week, we opined that the Bulldogs’ 2009 haul was the best of the bunch. As the various member sites from Recruiting Nation collectively review their schools’ 2009 classes today, let’s take a closer look at what made that group so special.

For starters, Georgia’s coaching staff enjoyed a high success rate with the 21 signees that year, with 20 actually enrolling -- minus ESPN 150 linebacker Dexter Moody, who was released from his scholarship shortly after signing day -- and 14 becoming valuable contributors at some point in their careers.

Oddly enough, several of the players who haven’t managed to play a meaningful role or who left the program were among the highest-rated members in the class. In addition to Moody, Zach Mettenberger (No. 123 overall and No. 9 quarterback, now starting at LSU) was dismissed, Washaun Ealey (No. 66 overall and No. 8 running back) left for Jacksonville State before the 2011 season after getting on the coaching staff’s bad side, and Austin Long (No. 46 overall and No. 5 offensive tackle) contended with a lengthy string of health issues that essentially kept him off the field until 2012.

That’s four of the eight ESPN 150 selections who signed with the Bulldogs that year.

But there were far more hits than misses for Georgia in 2009, starting with quarterback Aaron Murray, who at No. 13 overall was ESPN’s highest-rated Georgia signee that year.

Murray fought off Mettenberger and Logan Gray to earn the starting job before the 2010 season and has held it ever since. Although he presided over a bumpy rookie season that saw the Bulldogs finish 6-7 and post their first losing record under Mark Richt, Murray since has helped his team win back-to-back SEC East titles and put himself in position to rewrite the SEC record book in 2013.

He is 19 touchdown passes, 1,437 passing yards, 199 completions and 383 pass attempts from the SEC career records in each category. After going 249-for-386 for 3,893 yards and 3,893 yards as a junior, those numbers should be well within his reach in the fall.

Perhaps a reasonable criticism of the class is that it lacked star power to an extent. Murray obviously is one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks, but otherwise only safety Shawn Williams -- who led the team in tackles in 2011 and was second in 2012 -- and tight end Orson Charles -- who entered the 2012 NFL draft to be picked by the Cincinnati Bengals after an All-America junior season -- enjoyed legitimate stardom.

It’s worth mentioning here that Georgia initially missed out on two-time All-American Jarvis Jones in 2009, as he signed with USC and played half a season there before a devastating neck injury caused Trojans team doctors to medically disqualify him.

Georgia’s medical staff checked him out, however, and ruled that he could compete safely for the Bulldogs -- and UGA fans are no doubt glad they did. After sitting out the 2010 season under NCAA transfer rules, Jones enjoyed two of the most dominant seasons by an individual defender in program history, totaling 28 sacks, 44 tackles for a loss, nine forced fumbles and 88 quarterback hurries between 2011-12. He entered the NFL draft pool earlier this month and could become one of the first players selected in April.

While those players were the standouts from the group, the strength of the 2009 class is its depth for the most part. Ten of the 13 remaining signees from 2009 started at least five games in 2012, when the Bulldogs nearly upset Alabama in the SEC championship game to claim a spot against Notre Dame in the BCS title game.

Guards Chris Burnette -- a second-team All-SEC pick in 2012 according to the league’s coaches -- and Dallas Lee were mainstays on the offensive line. Marlon Brown -- the No. 24 overall prospect in 2009 whose career was riddled with injuries -- was among the team’s top receivers when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Ole Miss. Tight end Arthur Lynch started 13 games and was fourth on the team with 431 receiving yards. Nose guard Kwame Geathers played a key role at nose guard and entered the draft after the season. And cornerback Branden Smith, linebacker Michael Gilliard, receiver Rantavious Wooten, Long and linebacker Chase Vasser all contributed in some capacity.

The good news for Georgia fans is that the 2009 class’ legacy is not complete. They already have helped right the ship after three seasons of declining results by winning 21 games and two division titles over the last two seasons. Seven of them will remain when the Bulldogs enter the 2013 season as a probable top-10 team.

Murray’s return was the one that garnered the most attention, but Burnette, Lee, Lynch, Long, Wooten and Vasser also will be back to help him lead the team as fifth-year seniors. Class members already have broken records, won all-conference and All-America honors, played for two SEC titles and helped Georgia reclaim a spot among the nation’s elite. In their final season as Bulldogs, they still hold out hope that they also can achieve their ultimate team goals: SEC and BCS championships.