This past weekend I was able to experience my first night game at Neyland Stadium. Early into the game, I thought the electric crowd would be my lasting impression of the night. It was far and away the loudest game that I have ever attended. I was sitting in the second row but it sounded like I was standing between two great water falls.
While I will always remember that part of the experience, I left Knoxville with an even greater impression. As I watched the Bulldogs finish off the Volunteers, one thing become crystal clear. The “Dream Team” had now become a reality.
In 2010, The Bulldog coaching staff watched a couple of crucial in-state signees slip out of state and sign with rival teams. The most notable was current Tennessee Volunteer Da’Rick Rogers. As a result, Coach Mark Richt was determined to rebuild the fence around the state and the coaching staff coined the idea of the “Dream Team.”
The results were phenomenal. The University of Georgia, despite coming off a 6-7 bowl record, signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes. Just as they set out to do, The Bulldogs locked down the state of Georgia. According to rivals.com, UGA signed seven of the state’s top 10 players which included:
- Isaiah Crowell (No. 1 running back Scout, ESPN)
- Ray Drew (No. 1 weak-side defensive end by Rivals)
- Malcolm Mitchell (No. 1 defensive back by Rivals)
- Damian Swann (No. 3 defensive back Rivals)
- Jay Rome (No. 1 tight end ESPN)
- Corey Moore (No. 5 safety by Rivals)
- Sterling Bailey (No. 10 strong side defensive end by Rivals).
Going into the season, Bulldog fans were hopeful that many of these players would be able to contribute as freshmen. However, even the most devout Georgia fans had some reservations because they have experienced their share of recruiting busts. Players like Caleb King had been touted as the next Hershel Walker but never became true contributors.
Through the first three quarters of the Bulldogs season opener against Boise State, it appeared that there would be an extensive period before these young Bulldogs would become contributors. However, in a flash, Malcolm Mitchell caught a 51-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray early in the fourth quarter, and despite the loss hopes were once again high for these young Bulldogs.
The “freshman sensation” hype train began to pick up more steam the following week as Crowell rushed for 118 yards on 16 carries. Mitchell would also have another solid contribution with five receptions for 52 yards.
While Crowell and Mitchell were excelling, other freshmen began to contribute in the following weeks.
Heading into the Tennessee game, there was still uncertainty that these young freshmen could contribute on a bigger stage. How would they do in front of 100,000 fans on the road? We knew Neyland would be rocking, but we did not know how these young players would respond.
The 2011 UGA recruiting class passed the test with flying colors.
It was not just Mitchell’s three receptions for 123 yards and Crowell’s two rushing touchdowns. Ray Drew was putting pressure on the quarterback. Amarlo Herrera continued to dominate at linebacker and Big John Jenkins is getting better each week.
Make no mistake about it, there are other dream teamers that are getting ready to burst onto the scene. Others, like Christian LeMay, will have to wait a little bit longer but might go down as one of the Bulldogs all-time greats.
Not only has this class potentially saved Mark Richt’s job, but they will make the Bulldogs relevant again.