Georgia Football: Behind-the-Scenes Look at an Official Recruiting Visit

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Georgia Football: Behind-the-Scenes Look at an Official Recruiting Visit
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

In the days and weeks leading up to national signing day on Feb. 5, high school student-athletes from around the country made their official visits to potential schools looking to secure their services.

But what goes into an official visit?

The truth is, there's no real answer. Each official visit is tailored to the specific wants and needs of the prospect. By the time a prospect steps foot on the Georgia campus for an official visit, director of on-campus recruiting Daryl Jones and his staff have already established relationships with the players.

"Once we recognize that a prospect is for Georgia academically, athletically and character-wise, then we start to engage them by virtue of talking to their high school coaches," Jones said. "When they're at that age when we can engage them in some social media stuff, we do that both from our football department and our head football coach [Mark Richt]."

The familiarity with each prospect means itineraries specially designed by Jones and his staff.

University of Georgia

"We don't visit guys just for the sake of visiting," Jones said. "If they visit here, there's a sincere interest because we're pouring resources into them with manpower and hours being poured into getting guys here on campus. From that point on, we've done the background work, we know what they like, we know what their needs are and we know what they're interested in."

Once the prospect arrives on campus, a two-day whirlwind begins from the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Athens. 

A typical visit starts on Friday night or Saturday morning, depending on when and how the prospect arrives on campus. If he drives, the 36-hour clock starts when he arrives at the hotel. If he flies in, the visit begins when they get in the car to Athens.

Saturday morning begins with a meeting with the Georgia football staff at the Butts-Mehre football facility, which includes a meeting with the football staff and a team highlight video in the Georgia meeting room. 

Barrett Sallee
Jerseys are presented in the RB and QB wing of the Georgia locker room

From there, prospects descend to the lower level of the facility to the Georgia locker room for one of the highlights of the official visit. The recruiting staff and equipment personnel stage a jersey presentation for high schoolers, which, according to the SEC's policy, has to be in the locker room and can't be in the stadium.

"They definitely try and make you feel special," said Aron White, who played for Georgia from 2008-11. "You have all kinds of coaches coming up and talking to you. It's the whole dog and pony show when a guy comes in who they really want."

Barrett Sallee
A wall of former Georgia players in the NFL lines the hallway leading to Georgia's offensive and defensive meeting rooms

Players tour the football facility with coaches and recruiting coordinators, which includes a tour of the weight room, player lounge and team meeting rooms, which are lined in a hallway filled with pictures of former Bulldogs in the NFL.

From there, players head upstairs to one of the most important events of the visit. Coaches and recruiters can create a fun, informative and exciting visit for players and their families, but the best recruiters in the country are the players themselves.

Barrett Sallee
The atrium leading to the Georgia football offices

In Georgia's team meeting room, prospects participate in a player panel with two or three current Bulldogs where everything is put on the table. Anything from the reason the players signed with Georgia to the best eats in town are asked of the current players. Nothing is off limits.

"It really gives parents a sense of the picture because players can be a little more sympathetic to recruits because they've been in their shoes recently," said White. "They know what it's like to talk to 20 different schools and have every coach telling you this is the best fit."

Prospects typically spend Saturday afternoon meeting with academic staff and touring the colleges and departments in which they are considering majoring—before heading to dinner in style.

University of Georgia
The Georgia "G" lit up

On the 50-yard line of the club level of Sanford Stadium, dinner is served inside the President's suite while Georgia highlights play on the Jumbotron. The stadium is dressed to the nines, complete with fresh field paint and the "G" surrounded by red lights. 

Barrett Sallee
Signs with scores of all of Georgia's "4th quarter victories" adorn the weight room

Excessive? Not at all.

"We do our best to give them a quality visit," Jones said. "We treat them first class. I don't believe that we do anything in excess compared to what anybody else does. We do things on par with any other Division I school."

All of the events are designed to emphasize one important point: The football program is a family and will treat players as such.

"We have to be able to emphasize our football coach, and how he's built this program is a family," Jones said. "Because football is a family. Everything from the athletic director to the guy who's emptying the trash cans, we're all in this together."

Barrett Sallee
Images of former Georgia stars line the hallway of the coaches offices

But what happens if the recruiting staff gets thrown a curveball?

Most prospects have been on campus on unofficial visits, but sometimes family members who aren't familiar with the program join prospects on visits. The itinerary has to be flexible.

"If grandma wants to go to the bookstore and buy something, then we're dropping everything and grandma's going to the bookstore," Jones said. "That's just how it works, and it should be that way."

Barrett Sallee
Mark Richt's office overlooks the practice fields and the multi-purpose area above

There are a lot of bells and whistles on official visits, but where the rubber meets the road is in the room behind Richt's office that overlooks an indoor reception area used for greeting families on game days and some light practice work in inclement weather.

It's here where Richt is at his best.

Barrett Sallee
Mark Richt's ring display

With professionally lit championship rings staring at families from the other end of the room, this is where prospects and families get quality time with the head Bulldog. Call it the "closer's room" or simply the living room behind Richt's office, but this is where Richt really gets to know prospects, their families and their goals, not only as football players but as men.

From strategically edited highlight presentations to the decorations on the walls of the Butts-Mehre football facility to one-on-one time with Richt, an official visit is designed to sell as much as possible to a prospect in a short period of time.

Part of that equation is a commitment to quality food. Whether it's a diverse spread designed by the award-winning Georgia food services department or a trip to a local restaurant in downtown Athens, prospects and their families eat well on a recruiting trip to Georgia.

UGA Food Services
A sample dinner from Georgia's food services department

"I ate so good on my official visit, it wasn't even real," said White. "On my official visit, we went to dinner and they had the biggest spread of low country boil, shrimp and crawfish, big platters of fried shrimp. I was like, 'I can't believe there's this much food on all these tables.' It was one of the biggest spreads I've ever seen. There's a bunch of grilled-up andouille sausage and peppers. You eat so much that you don't really want to do anything after."

It was on an official visit where White first got a glimpse of oysters.

"Seeing people open them up and put hot sauce on them was probably one of the strangest experiences for me, because I had never seen it before," he said. "I was like, 'y'all are nasty. That looks like some mussel with some snot on it.' They were tryin' so hard to get me to try it, but I refused. They were eating them up like they were hot cakes."

From the events in the football facility to the academic tours to the events around town, an official visit is hectic and diverse and requires an incredible amount of coordination and planning among several entities.

The result is a jam-packed, two-day adventure that is designed to educate and impress. 

"When they come on campus," Jones said, "the goal is for them to say, 'I've experienced Georgia. They've treated me well. It's the best program in the country, and I'm either reaffirming my commitment or I think they've changed my mind.'" 

 

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

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