Kirby Smart keeps Georgia in stride with solid first class

Eason impressed by Kirby Smart (1:37)

Jacob Eason talks about why he decided to stay at Georgia with new coach Kirby Smart replacing Mark Richt. (1:37)

ATHENS, Ga. -- The moment Kirby Smart emerged from a tucked away stairwell inside Georgia's Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, a sizable and very lively sea of red, black and white roared with excitement.

The man chosen to replace a long-time winner in Athens had already brought a new sense of attitude to the program, and in a couple of hours, he'd bring in a solid batch of new blood.

Hoots, hollers and barks filled a room of a few hundred, leading Smart, a Georgia alum, to beam as he spent a little more than 16 minutes previewing his first recruiting class and talking about the joys of being home.

But a home like this brings great responsibility. And national signing day serves as the first big step for a new coach after hiring his first staff toward truly winning over the hearts of a ravenous fan base.

When the miserable rain stopped and the clattering of thunder died down around Clarke County, Smart owned the nation's No. 7 class with 20 signees (13 ESPN 300 members) -- six of them, including No. 1 pocket-passer Jacob Eason, already on campus.

"Today, for you guys [media], may be about stars and rankings," Smart said. "To me it's about new Bulldogs, new members of the family and making sure these kids understand what's important to their success is graduating and becoming great players and becoming productive players as a whole. That's what this class will be judged on."

As Smart would eventually insinuate, this wasn't a class for the ages. It likely won't tranform Georgia's program or define Smart's tenure. It mimicked former coach Mark Richt's classes of old in many ways and it was a solid first get for the old Dawg.

The long-time Alabama defensive coordinator went toe-to-toe with his old boss, Nick Saban, and came away with a couple of victories. The new coach on the block took over a top-10 class and kept it that way. The defensive guru provided much-needed playmaking depth along a gutted defensive line.

There wasn't much Wednesday drama, but there were a few big wins -- and steals -- coupled with heartbreak and even some low key shade tossed at a tricky recruit or two.

The wins of the day came even before that gleeful crowd even showed up in the form of six important early enrollees. Eason headlined a group that Smart said "kind of held the glue" of the class together. Committed for more than a year, defensive tackle Julian Rochester was a huge get, along with No. 1 tight end Isaac Nauta. Ben Cleveland is a monster offensive lineman, and WR Riley Ridley was a pleasant surprise.

"Obviously, the six midyear enrollees were critical for us to have a successful class because they could sell us as a staff probably better than our older players could," Smart said.

Smart worked his own signing day magic, too. The coaches' area exploded with excitement just after 9 a.m. ET when No. 2 athlete -- and potential two-way star -- Mecole Hardman picked the Dawgs. More elation swirled after Georgia flipped former Alabama three-star WR commit Tyler Simmons, who some consider one of fastest prospects in the state of Georgia, and former Auburn ESPN 300 DT David Marshall. ESPN 300 DT Michail Carter also picked Georgia over Alabama.

However, there were some misses that will sting. Five-star DT and No. 1 prospect in the state of Georgia Derrick Brown chose Auburn over the Dawgs. Smart took a major chance by not offering a place-kicker in this class. In-state ESPN 300 OT E.J. Price shocked many by picking USC over Georgia, four-star linebacker Mack Wilson picked Bama over Georgia, and Smart failed to secure a decent-sized offensive line class.

"When you go to the offensive line, it's not exactly what we want," Smart said. "We want some offensive tackles. If you say what's the number one need going into 2017, it's offensive tackles is what we need. That's the most deficient area on our front."

Smart did sign a tremendous defensive line class and brought in at least three solid receiver prospects, with ESPN 300 member Demetrius Robertson still waiting to sign and strongly considering Georgia. He could have signed 25 players, but smartly kept those five scholarships for next year, opting for quality over quantity.

This class didn't steal headlines, but consider it was 10 spots better than Saban's first Alabama class and was the SEC East's best. This was a good start for Smart, who, remember, is still getting used to this whole head-coaching thing.

"There's a bunch of experience on this staff and there's a bunch of guys who have won a lot of football games," Nauta said. "You put all those minds together and put some good talent with it, the only thing you can do is go up."