Georgia Bulldogs: Isaiah Crowell

Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the last decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 2: The 2011 class initially dubbed as “The Dream Team,” which immediately helped the Bulldogs rebound from the only losing season in Mark Richt's tenure, a 6-7 mark in 2010, and could further cement a winning legacy in the next two seasons.

The stars: Tailback Isaiah Crowell was initially the crown jewel in this class, and he won SEC Freshman of the Year honors in 2011 before getting dismissed from the team the following summer after an arrest. Several players in this class have flashed star potential including receivers Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley, linebackers Ramik Wilson (who led the SEC in tackles in 2013) and Amarlo Herrera (who was third) and defensive lineman John Jenkins, who earned All-SEC honors and became an NFL draft pick by the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRay Drew started to play up to his potential last season.
The contributors: One of the class headliners, defensive end Ray Drew, finally started making an impact last fall and has one more season to live up to his five-star billing as a recruit. Tight end Jay Rome will be a redshirt junior this fall and should become the starter now that Arthur Lynch has moved on to the NFL. Cornerback Damian Swann and center David Andrews have also developed into valuable starters, while Sterling Bailey, Corey Moore and Watts Dantzler seem like the next most-likely players from the 2011 class to break through.

The letdowns: This class' legacy could have been ridiculous, but it will always be remembered for the numerous departures within its first year. Crowell's exit drew the most attention, but an arrest-related dismissal cost Georgia possible starting defensive backs Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders. Marshall, of course, developed into a star quarterback at Auburn last fall after spending the 2012 season at a Kansas junior college. In all, six players from this class -- most recently, quarterback Christian LeMay -- have transferred or been kicked off the team.

The results: Let's see what happens this fall. Mitchell, Herrera, Jenkins and Crowell were all important players as the 2011 Bulldogs won 10 straight games and claimed the program's first SEC East title since 2005. That group (minus Crowell) and several other Dream Teamers helped Georgia take another step forward in 2012. And it wouldn't be a surprise to see a number of them earn All-SEC honors this fall if Georgia bounces back from a disappointing 2013. Despite the numerous early exits, the Dream Team's legacy is already positive on the whole, but the group can still further solidify its spot in UGA history if it wins big in 2014.
Georgia announced the dismissal of Josh Harvey-Clemons on Tuesday with a two-sentence press release.

[+] EnlargeHarvey-Clemons
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesJosh Harvey-Clemons let a big opportunity get away after being dismissed from Georgia.
No “We wish him well” quote from Mark Richt. No olive branch for a player who was one of the Bulldogs' most-coveted signees in a strong 2012 recruiting class.

This was goodbye and good riddance, which is a genuine shame.

Nobody is happy to see a player's refusal to follow the rules result in his unceremonious exit from a program. This is somebody's life, and now it's in turmoil after rumors swirled for a couple of weeks about his status on the team. As in the case of another recent five-star Bulldog who departed Athens too early -- tailback Isaiah Crowell, the SEC’s 2011Freshman of the Year whose arrest led to his dismissal before the next season -- this feels particularly galling when that player seems to be wasting such promise.

This kind of reaction wasn't limited to fans and media members after Georgia's announcement. Take what 2013 senior tight end Arthur Lynch tweeted in response to the news: “Just to be clear, those who decide not to do it the RIGHT way do not deserve to don the Red & Black. It is a privilege, not a right.”

Harvey-Clemons is far from the first Georgia player to run afoul of the program's substance policy -- assuming such a violation was the last straw here, as in the previous suspensions involving the rising junior safety -- and he won't be the last. The program's strict rules regarding drug and alcohol issues mean that Richt consistently deals with suspensions related to substance problems.

Whatever the reason for Harvey-Clemons' departure, it is clear that Richt has had enough. He certainly wouldn't kick one his most talented players off the team, when the Bulldogs' shaky defense could certainly use all the help it can get, unless Harvey-Clemons left him no other option.

Harvey-Clemons will almost certainly land somewhere else -- he's too talented for this to be the end of his career -- but he will carry this label from now on. Whenever someone searches for his name on Google. At his next college stop. Whenever NFL teams evaluate his readiness to become a reliable professional.

He clearly wasn't a reliable college player, getting himself suspended at least twice before Tuesday's announcement. And that lack of reliability leaves Georgia in a lurch at one of its thinnest positions. The Bulldogs struggled at safety a season ago and now players like Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry, Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore face even more pressure to perform after a veteran who started 11 games last season has unexpectedly left the team.

Perhaps this is for the best in the long term, since Harvey-Clemons' absences and injuries to other safeties created continuity issues that impacted Georgia's secondary for much of last season. Perhaps starting fresh and knowing who will be available allows new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt to better prepare his defensive backs this fall.

For now, though, this feels like a sad day -- one where someone who could have become a Georgia great instead became another castoff because he couldn't get his act together. It's a difficult lesson for Harvey-Clemons to learn just two days before his 20th birthday, but here's hoping that Richt's actions on Tuesday caused his message to finally resonate and that Harvey-Clemons takes better advantage of his second chance than he did with the opportunity he just squandered.

Dream Team's bond faces unusual test

November, 14, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. – The members of Georgia's 2011 “Dream Team” recruiting class still maintain a close bond, even if circumstances have taken some members of the class to other places.

That bond between players will face an unusual test on Saturday when former Dream Teamer Nick Marshall – now Auburn's starting quarterback after Bulldogs coach Mark Richt dismissed him, Sanford Seay and Chris Sanders following the 2011 season after getting caught stealing from teammates – will stand on the opposite sideline from his former classmates.

[+] EnlargeJay Rome
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsJay Rome (87) and Malcolm Mitchell (26), who were member of Georgia's Class of 2011 Dream Team, have had plenty to celebrate through the years.
“Weird I wouldn't say is the right word for it. It's going to be different going against one of the guys that you did come in with and actually roomed with when we first got here,” said defensive end Ray Drew, who roomed with Marshall, Seay, Jay Rome, Malcolm Mitchell and Sterling Bailey at Georgia's Reed Hall when the class first arrived on campus.

Georgia was coming off a disappointing 6-7 season when the Dream Team signed with the Bulldogs, and the group was never shy in expressing its intention of helping the program get back on track. They had the nation's top tailback and No. 4 overall prospect in Isaiah Crowell, another five-star talent in Drew, the No. 1 tight end in Rome and a large group including Mitchell, John Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera, Chris Conley and Damian Swann who would contribute soon after becoming Bulldogs.

There was a level of self-assurance within the group that was somewhat unusual for a group of freshmen.

“Coming in I do believe the guys did have some confidence about themselves – that this was going to be the class that did some big things,” Drew recalled. “And there's still that possibility. We still can. That swagger you're talking about, I can see that being there. It was. You can't deny it.”

Truth be told, they've already been part of some big things. Crowell was named the SEC's Freshman of the Year in his lone season on campus – he was dismissed in the summer of 2012 after a weapons possession arrest and is now starring at Alabama State – and the Bulldogs won their first SEC East championship since 2005.

They played in a second straight SEC championship game at the end of last season and fell only a few yards short of playing for a BCS title – with multiple Dream Team members playing key roles on a team that would finish fifth nationally.

“I think we've actually got a good resume being here,” said Swann, now in his second season as a starting cornerback. “We beat Auburn twice, we beat Florida three times, we've been to the SEC championship two times since I've been here. We're 1-1 in a bowl game. I think with the resume that my class has put together, I think it's actually one to look at, and I think we're continuing to improve it and make it better.”

That they are. Linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC with 92 tackles, with Herrera's 79 stops ranking fourth. Drew is sixth in the league with six sack. Wideouts Mitchell, Conley and Justin Scott-Wesley have all flashed star potential, although injuries have struck all three players this season. Center David Andrews, also a second-year starter, is one of the leaders of the Bulldogs' offensive line.

And junior college transfer Jenkins is already in the NFL – the New Orleans Saints picked him in the third round of this year's draft – after solidifying the middle of the Bulldogs' defensive line in 2011 and 2012.

“We've done some pretty good things,” said defensive end Bailey, who has started eight times this season in his first significant dose of playing time. “You had some players from the Dream Team come in and make an impact and then you had some players behind some great players who are playing in the NFL right now and got experience and now being in the third year, we're putting all that experience to work.”

The Georgia journey ended early for several members of the class. Marshall, Seay and Sanders were all dismissed together and Crowell followed them out the door a few months later. Safety Quintavious Harrow left shortly after his former Carver-Columbus teammate and close friend Crowell.

In all, seven members of the 26-man signing class are either gone or never enrolled at Georgia at all (linebacker Kent Turene). But the remaining Dream Teamers still maintain a close bond, Drew said.

“There's a tightness between us,” he said. “I think even though we're tight as a team, I think there's just one more stitch or two between us that pulls us close. Whenever you see one person, you're always going to see someone else from the same class right there with them just tagging along.”

The bulk of the class should remain intact for at least one more season, with several more Dream Teamers who redshirted still carrying two seasons of eligibility after 2013. That time, they said, is what will determine whether they meet the high expectations that accompanied their arrival.

“We're still in the process,” Wilson said. “A lot of us are just now starting to play, so it's in the process of something becoming great.

“We all had high expectations of playing early and turning this program around. As soon as we stepped on this campus, we went to the SEC championship from that 6-7 year. So all we had was nothing but success here, 10-win seasons, since I've been here. So we're just trying to keep that going.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Aside from tailback Isaiah Crowell, no player in Georgia’s heralded 2011 recruiting class arrived with more hype than defensive end Ray Drew. And yet the rising junior struggled to make much of an impact in his first two seasons as a Bulldog.

But after working his way into the defensive line rotation late last season and acquitting himself well -- including an eight-tackle game against Georgia Tech, a single-game total that tied for second among Georgia’s defensive linemen last season -- Drew entered this spring with a newfound confidence that he can perform at the college level.

“The more you play, the more comfortable you get,” Drew said. “And then after I had my game against Georgia Tech where I think I had about eight or nine tackles there, I guess it kind of just freed me and it was kind of like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ ”

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Georgia No. 1 player recap 

February, 18, 2013
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Josh Harvey-ClemonsRadi Nabulsi/ESPNJosh Harvey-Clemons was the second straight top player in the state of Georgia to sign with the Bulldogs when he chose UGA over Florida, among others, on national signing day in 2012.
ATHENS, Ga. -- If history tells us anything, it’s that Josh Harvey-Clemons and Robert Nkemdiche had better avoid trouble at all costs. It’s a dangerous proposition to be ESPN’s top-ranked player in the state of Georgia.

Harvey-Clemons, a rising sophomore at Georgia, was the No. 1 player in the state a year ago. Nkemdiche was not just the top player in Georgia, but the top player in the entire country when he signed with Ole Miss earlier this month. But while it’s certainly prestigious to rank as the top player in a state that is known to be one of the nation’s most fertile football recruiting territories, it has not been the indicator of instant success that one might expect.

In tracking the careers of the state’s top 10 prospects each year since 2006, it became clear that it takes more than a lofty prospect ranking to achieve college success. The uneven career paths for Georgia’s previous top prospects attest to that fact.

Let’s review:

2006

Marcus Ball, Florida State: Ball (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) seemed to be on pace for stardom in the first few games of his freshman year before going down with a season-ending knee injury. He played sparingly in 2007 before leaving the program in 2008 following multiple suspensions and an academic fraud scandal that also ensnared several of his fellow FSU student-athletes. Ball transferred to a junior college and spent his last two college seasons at Memphis. He played last season for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

Parody surprises, amuses Matthews

February, 12, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Although they haven’t even played in a G-Day game yet, Georgia early enrollees Tray Matthews and Ryne Rankin have already received the same treatment as some of their better-known coaches and teammates.

Much like coaches Mark Richt, Mike Bobo and Todd Grantham and players like Aaron Murray or Isaiah Crowell, the two freshman football players have been parodied online in fake Twitter accounts that exaggerate some of their personality traits. In some cases, the parody accounts actually have more Twitter followers than the person they are mocking.

“I didn’t even know until one of my friends said, ‘Man, you know you’ve got a fake Twitter?’ It was like, ‘Oh man, you’re going big-time on us already,’ ” said Matthews, who guessed that a friend from his hometown, Newnan, Ga., or a new teammate was the wise guy behind his now-inactive online alter ego, @NotTrayMatthews.

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Last two classes made instant impact 

February, 5, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s coaching staff proved in the last two seasons that it is more than willing to play a newcomer in order to address glaring needs. And as they prepare to put the finishing touches on their 2013 signing class, the coaches can only hope that the newest Bulldogs can be as effective as their predecessors from that last two years at addressing Georgia’s depth concerns.

Mark Richt’s critics might once have had a point when they observed that his coaching staff gave veterans too much of a benefit of the doubt when it came to playing them over talented young players. The last two seasons have neutralized those criticisms, as it’s hard to imagine Georgia having won the last two SEC East titles without extensive contributions from brand new Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley #3 and Keith Marshall
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesFreshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns in the 2012 season.
Think back to 2011, when John Jenkins’ emergence at nose guard was one of the leading factors in Georgia’s defensive resurgence that carried the Bulldogs to their first division title since 2005. Or how tailback Isaiah Crowell led the team with 850 rushing yards en route to SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Or how Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley both made their share of big plays at receiver, as did Amarlo Herrera at linebacker.

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Mitchell, Rome helped spark UGA surge

February, 4, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s football program seemed to be on the ropes with two weeks remaining until signing day 2011. Three seasons of declining results, capped by the program’s first losing record under Mark Richt in 2010, left the Bulldogs in an uncertain position.

But when Malcolm Mitchell and Jay Rome elected to join the Bulldogs’ “Dream Team” recruiting class on Jan. 20, 2011, an impressive finishing push for Richt’s coaching staff leading up to signing day was launched. That was a big step toward the on-field resurgence that allowed the Bulldogs to win back-to-back SEC East titles over the last two years.

Another strong signing class followed the “Dream Team” in 2012 and played a role in the Bulldogs’ division championship. And as Richt’s staff attempts to reel in a final batch of blue-chip prospects before national signing day on Wednesday, we can review the successes of the past two seasons and point to that mid-January day -- 13 days before signing day 2011 -- that Valdosta (Ga.) teammates Mitchell and Rome publicly committed to the Bulldogs as the jumping-off point for Richt’s staff to restock their roster with a flood of talent.

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By the numbers: UGA classes since 2006 

January, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s last seven recruiting classes and what they managed to accomplish in college and beyond:

2006
ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4

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Bulldogs plan to remain among elite 

January, 11, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- As Mark Richt turns the page from one season to the next, Georgia’s coach insists that his expectations will not change this fall.

The Bulldogs lose 12 key defensive players from a team that finished fifth in the final Associated Press poll and fourth in the USA Today Coaches Poll -- the third-best finish for a Richt-coached Georgia team in both polls -- but Richt said he still expects his team to rank among the national elite.

“We plan on being that. We hope to be that. We’ve got to earn that,” Richt said Thursday afternoon on his season-wrapup teleconference.

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UGA midseason report card: RBs 

October, 9, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps the biggest feel-good story in Georgia’s first six games was the performance by the Bulldogs’ new 1-2 punch at tailback from freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Even after a disappointing night for Georgia’s offense last Saturday against South Carolina, Gurley (81 carries for 575 yards, nine TDs) and Marshall (64-465, 5 TDs) still sit fourth and 10th, respectively, among the SEC’s rushing leaders. Considering that the position was one of Georgia’s greatest uncertainties last season and one of its biggest question marks entering the fall, that’s a heck of a place to be.

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ATHENS, Ga. -- There are few examples in Aaron Murray’s tenure as Georgia’s starting quarterback of his mistakes playing a leading role in a Bulldogs loss.

One such example comes from last season’s 45-42 defeat at the hands of South Carolina, when Murray had an interception returned for a touchdown, a fumble returned for a touchdown and did not successfully complete a handoff with tailback Isaiah Crowell, resulting in a fumble that Gamecocks cornerback Stephon Gilmore returned to near the UGA goal line, setting up yet another touchdown.

While Murray’s miscues certainly were not the only ones by a Georgia player that afternoon, the quarterback still cringes as he reviews the plays he’d love to take back; plays that contributed to the Bulldogs losing an eminently winnable game.

“When you go back to watch the film, as preparation, as aid, it’s still painful to watch,” Murray said. “I don’t like to watch it too much.”

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Sloppy win like last season's sloppy loss 

October, 1, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt tried to put things in perspective after his Georgia team barely hung on for a sloppy 51-44 win against Tennessee on Saturday.

It was an ugly game in a lot of ways for the Bulldogs, but Richt was ecstatic to leave Sanford Stadium with a win -- a particularly timely sentiment for those who remember Georgia’s 2011 game against its next opponent, South Carolina.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Dale Zanine/US PresswireGeorgia coach Mark Richt expects this weekend's game at South Carolina to be tight.
“I was just talking to [defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham, and we’ve been around long enough to know that we need to be thankful and glad that we won the game and not gripe and moan about points and yards and all that kind of stuff, because it doesn’t matter,” Richt said after Tennessee gained 478 yards in 85 plays against the Bulldogs. “What matters is winning and playing big when you’ve got to play big. And we did that [Saturday], so I was happy.”

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Random thoughts from UGA-Vandy 

September, 23, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Emptying the notebook with some late-night thoughts and observations from Georgia’s 48-3 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday night.

* It’s amazing to see the strides Aaron Murray has made as Georgia’s quarterback. Rarely does he force a throw. He has such a great grasp of the offense, which Mark Richt said is a product of a relentless work ethic.

“All of our guys work hard in preparing, but Murray, he does take it to another level in how he prepares for the game and because of that we have a high cover level to let him check out of any play that doesn’t look good,” Richt said. “He checks from a run to a run or a run to a pass at times, he’ll change the protection at the line of scrimmage, he’ll change a pass play from time to time. We rarely run bad plays because he studies so well and he has certain keys that he can kind of anticipate what’s happening and just get us out of bad situations.”

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Instant analysis: Georgia 56, FAU 20

September, 15, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Although Florida Atlantic (1-2) kept things close for most of the first half, No. 7 Georgia (3-0) efficiently pulled away for a 56-20 win to achieve a 3-0 start for the first time since 2008.


It was over when: A six-touchdown favorite, Georgia led just 28-14 at halftime but scored two quick touchdowns in the third quarter -- on a 36-yard Arthur Lynch catch and a 38-yard Todd Gurley run -- to end any thought of an FAU upset.

Game ball goes to: Gurley and Keith Marshall. The two freshmen both rushed for more than 100 yards, marking the first time since last year’s Auburn game (Isaiah Crowell and Carlton Thomas) that two Bulldog backs both broke the 100-yard barrier and the first time since 2004 against Vanderbilt (Danny Ware and Thomas Brown) that two freshmen accomplished the feat. Marshall finished with 10 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown, and Gurley ran 10 times for 111 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: 713. Without injured All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, Georgia’s defense didn’t have its best night. But the offense had no such issues, rolling up 713 yards of total offense in the blowout victory. That broke the school single-game record for total offense -- previously 667 yards -- set in 1993 against Southern Mississippi.

Turning point: It was only a 21-14 game when Georgia’s Michael Bennett caught a 67-yard touchdown pass with 1:34 left in the second quarter to give the Bulldogs a two-touchdown halftime lead.

Record performances: In addition to the total offense record, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray set a new career high with 342 passing yards on 14-for-19 passing. Marshall and Gurley’s rushing yardage set new career highs, and Bennett (four catches for 110 yards) and Lynch (3 for 73) both had career-best receiving numbers. Florida Atlantic also set a new mark for most yards allowed, breaking the previous record of 651 against Troy in 2009.

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