Quarterback Jacob Park
As Bulldog fans continue to grapple with a disappointing 2013 campaign, many have concerns moving forward. While many of these fears center on the coaching staff, some worry about about the existing and future depth chart. More precisely, some wonder if Georgia is targeting the right players in recruiting.
If the past week's high school all-star games give any indication, the answer may be grim.
In the Under Armour All-America Game, committed tight end Jeb Blazevich registered just two catches for 17 yards while defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard skipped the action altogether.
A few days later, Georgia commits offered an equally uninspiring effort in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Star running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for just 13 yards rushing on six attempts and Jacob Park, an early enrollee, connected on just one of his eight pass attempts while throwing for six yards and one interception.
While it would be foolish to read too much into the performance of young athletes in all-star games, the lackluster showing does highlight the very concern that cripples the enthusiasm of many Bulldog fans. These games may be showcases in nature, but they are the truest reflection of FBS football that most of these young talents see during their high school careers.
The relatively poor performances of Blazevich, Michel, Chubb and Park underscores the theory that Georgia's highly touted recruiting classes aren't performing to expectation at the collegiate level.
High School Competition
The jump from the high school gridiron to the college game is not an easy one. There's a reason (or perhaps a hundred reasons) why no freshman won the Heisman Trophy prior to 2012. The most impressive high school seniors rarely dominate as freshmen in college. The size, speed, strength and knowledge of the competition increases by too steep of a degree.
That being said, some athletes see higher levels of opposing talent prior to arriving on campus and are therefore better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. By virtue of demographics, a larger high school is more likely to fill a roster with high quality athletes than a smaller school.
In that regard, the transition for tight end Jeb Blazevich may be a lengthy one. A product of Charlotte Christian School, Blazevich hails from an institution that is home to just over 1,000 students from kindergarten through grade 12. His high school team competes in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association, a league created specifically for small schools.
Within that context, the near-term expectation for Blazevich should be tempered. While he may develop into a truly elite tight end, he'll have to first master the speed and strength of the nation's best athletes in the SEC.
Big Game Mentality
Another criticism of recent Georgia teams is a lack of big-game success. When individuals fail to collectively shoulder the responsibility of performing at the highest level when the spotlight is brightest, results disappoint. Over the past few years, that has been the case for Georgia football.
Should the statistically insignificant showings of Michel, Chubb and Park further discourage Georgia fans looking for brighter performances? The short answer is no.
These all-star games offered a brief glimpse of how these players perform under pressure, but the games themselves were shrouded in unique circumstances. Both the Under Armour All-America Game and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl are played with minimal practice, a limited playbook and very little prolonged significance. Players enjoy these games for the opportunity to play, not necessarily as an opportunity to win or build toward a greater cause.
Furthermore, the concerns surrounding poor all-star game performance quickly disappear within the context of the entire career of one of Georgia's commits.
Sony Michel ran for 98 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries in the 5A Florida State Championship in 2013. Afterwards his offensive coordinator, Mario Perez, acknowledged to Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald that he pulled Michel out of the game early because, "There are certain players that transcend the program and take programs to a higher level. Sony Michel has been that guy for American Heritage."
Unfortunately, Nick Chubb and Jacob Park were much less impressive in the waning moments of their high school careers. Chubb was held to just 71 yards on 19 carries in a season-ending playoff loss. Park threw four interceptions in the South Carolina State Championship.
Impact Moving Forward
Ultimately these factors (both good and bad) fail to outweigh the importance of a recruit's commitment to the program after he arrives on campus. Some of Georgia's most talented players (Isaiah Crowell, Washaun Ealey, Nick Marshall, etc.) have failed to meet the expectations of the program and as a result been forced to finish their careers elsewhere.
To the contrary, less highly regarded prospects, like current wide receiver Chris Conley, embraced the film room, the weight room and the playbook and found ways to contribute early and often for the Bulldogs.
The 2014 Georgia recruiting class is shaping up to be similar to most in that it is laced with talent. But, what will set this group of athletes apart is the effort they put in on and off the field. Those contributions can make a poor all-star game showing a forgotten detail.