Watch out for No. 1, Isaiah Crowell, to be back in prime form
Little over a year ago, Georgia's Isaiah Crowell and friends were initiated into a fraternity of sorts. That was the day Mark Richt and the Bulldog coaching staff ignited a lantern filled with high hopes fueled by a powerhouse recruiting class.
The scene was Athens (GA) and the stage was set. The official fraternity became affectionately known as "The Dream Team," a brotherhood of players destined for greatness, or in layman's terms: a knockout recruiting class that might carry the Dawgs into college football's elite in their term at UGA.
Crowell brought 4,872 rushing yards and 61 touchdowns to Athens from his high school years at Columbus (GA) Carver High School. In his first year at UGA, his first amazing performance came against the South Carolina Gamecocks as he scored two touchdowns, rushing 16 times for 118 yards and catching two passes for 40 yards. Although the loss to the Gamecocks by three points was a heartbreaker, Crowell's continuing breakout performances led to the Dawgs winning ten straight games, the SEC East title and a trip a post-season bowl game. Crowell suffered a high ankle sprain against Kentucky that would take him out of the final regular season game against rival Georgia Tech, however, he finished the year with 185 carries for 850 rushing yards and five touchdowns ... not too bad for a freshman.
Wondering where the remaining members of his recruiting class stand? Have they lived up to their billing? Here's a look at their accomplishments and how the Dawgs' Dream Team of 2011 will impact the Bulldogs' 2012 season.
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell will return in 2012
It's hard to believe a freshman could rack up so many impressive first-year statistics, but Malcolm Mitchell, a Valdosta (GA) native, will blast into 2012 spring training with a proven track record and enough surprises up his sleeve to keep boredom a safe distance away from Sanford Stadium.
Mitchell, a wide receiver, achieved a career high of seven receptions against Michigan State in postseason play. He started the season with a 51-yard touchdown reception against season opener Boise State and from that point on, he became one of the team's most talked-about and anticipated players of the season.
His kudos don't end with statistics alone. He was voted Freshman All-SEC by SEC coaches and All-SEC Third Team by Phil Steele. He appeared in 11 games, making nine starts and catching 45 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns, earning him a worthy rank on the Dawgs' Dream Team.
If Mitchell can stay healthy, he's ready to set the spring tone for talk of titles in 2012.
Tight end Orson Charles has gone but talent and adjustments will help fill his shoes.
Can't wait to watch! That's the attitude Bulldog fans have shared when it comes to the tight end position vacated by Orson Charles. Sitting as the top candidate to replace Charles on the gridiron is Jay Rome, a Valdosta (GA) standout who was redshirted last year. Athletically superior and a model student, Rome was a sports writer's favorite child to write about during signing days in 2011.
The 5-star recruit who was also wooed by Alabama is getting an early start at Georgia on the basketball court this year. Named the No. 1 tight end in the country by ESPN as a recruit, sports fans caught their first glimpse of Rome this season as a forward for the Dawgs' hoops. Coaches from both sports—football and basketball—are supportive of this two-sport player who is equally passionate about both.
The 253-pound, 6'6" player is built of strong genes, as his father, Stan Rome, was also a two-sport player at Clemson after blazing the football fields and basketball courts at Valdosta. Like father, like son. Look for a preview of Rome's football talents this spring.
You'll see some new faces on Georgia's offensive line in 2012.
Some will say Georgia's offensive line will be young in 2012, but don't let experience (or lack thereof) throw you off. Linemen like David Andrews—part of the Dream Team—will be back stronger than ever and ready to intimidate with the likes of Hunter Long, Kenarious Gates and Watts Dantzler, all freshmen who saw action in 2011.
Andrews, 6'2", 280 pounds, is a Norcross (GA) player on a mission. An academic standout named to the Athletic Director's Honor Roll in 2012, he played in 10 games last year. With the departure of seniors Ben Jones (center), Cordy Glenn and Justin Andrews (tackles), along with Andrews, watch out for some incoming transfers to step in—in a big way.
Pay special attention to junior college transfer Mark Beard (300-plus pounds).
2012 is expected to be the year of John Jenkins (6).
Could this be the year of "Mount Cody"-style plays for defensive tackle John Jenkins?
If 2011 statistics from this Dream Team member are any indication of what's to come, then chances are John Jenkins will rise to the occasion. Jenkins appeared in 14 games last year and started seven of those 14 games. Against Georgia Tech, he had a career high of five tackles and in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State, he got one interception.
Jenkins, who tips the scales at 350 pounds, will be ready to attack when regular-season play starts in September. This spring he'll be getting stronger and faster and will bring his enthusiasm for the game and position to the forefront of the media this spring.
Georgia QB Aaron Murray will receive an able backup in Christian LeMay
The hero mentality of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray will carry on to lead the Dawgs in 2012, but watch for Murray's Dream Team counterpart to be ready for action.
Quarterback Christian LeMay will most likely be an able and willing backup in 2012. Although fans didn't see more than three of six passes completed for 38 yards at the annual G-Day game in 2011, the 6'2", 198-pound freshman and Matthews (NC) native is set for action this year as a likely backup.
This 2010 recruit achieved a Rivals 4-star ranking and the No. 3 rated quarterback in the nation. As a high school sophomore, he had 1,800 passing yards and 16 touchdown passes. His total high school passing yardage exceeded 3,000 and his passing percentage was 68.5.
Georgia fans will have a lot to celebrate in 2012.
With expectations high for the 2012 season, Georgia football fans can rest easy knowing several key players from the Dream Team recruiting class will be vying for positions this coming season.
Here are a few names to memorize—some new and some returning—and to watch for in the upcoming spring practice and season ahead.
• Linebacker Ramik Wilson: The freshman from Jefferson High School in Tampa (FL) will be solid this spring and fighting for this position. He was seen eight times in 2011 and had two tackle performances against Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State. In high school, Rivals gave him a 3-star ranking.
• Long snapper Nathan Theus: All eyes from Jacksonville (FL) will be on hometown boy Nathan Theus as a backup long snapper in 2012. Theus was ranked No. 1 long snapper for 2010 by ProKicker.com as a recruit.
• Defensive back Damian Swann: Swann will be the top player to rotate into a senior defensive backfield position.
• Wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley: Justin runs track and will be working to impress coaches of his agility and ability to earn the wide receiver spot.
• Outside linebacker Ray Drew: Look for Ray to develop as a key playmaker after playing in six games as OL in 2011. He achieved eight tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss and also recovered a fumble in his first year of play.
• Defensive back Kevin Bowman: With the recent dismissals, look for Kevin to get some looks from coaches seeking to fill slots.