Former Georgia great Hines Ward is bullish about new Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart's chances of leading his alma mater to SEC and national titles, so much so that he's openly hinting about wanting to be on his former teammate's staff. But as Dawg Sports notes, something else is sticking in Ward's craw: Deshaun Watson leaving the state to star for Clemson.
Multiple Atlanta media outlets interviewed Ward yesterday (you can see his interview with Fox 5 up top) and the possibility of coaching was one subject he covered.
"I wanted to help Kirby, and I wanted to help my university," he told the station's Rusty Mansell. "The one thing that irks me is we're losing great talent. To see the quarterback at Clemson leaving Gainesville to go there. It's like, 'what in the world?' I want to keep all our great talent in state."
Ward joins the ranks of literally every other college football fan, all of whom want their team to run their team's given state. And, honestly, Georgia's done just fine in Georgia, a state that gets raided by practically every team in the ACC and SEC, bringing in top-tier talents like Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb.
Quarterback, though, is a different story. Missing on a quarterback like Watson hurts.
Watson is currently the offseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2016 after a great sophomore season and a scintillating night against Alabama with a national title on the line. He was once "just" a high school star in Georgia, though, and despite being the state's best quarterback prospect since Cam Newton, he barely gave Georgia the time of day, committing to Clemson as a sophomore and never truly wavering on that pledge.
That wasn't for lack of trying: Watson was Mark Richt's primary target in the 2014 class, and the only QB the Dawgs had offered as of May 2013, when Watson essentially shut down his recruitment. By then, though, Watson had been committed to Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris for nearly two years, and it seems that Clemson beating everyone else to the spot with Watson is what secured his enrollment.
Ward does have a point when it comes to Georgia's recruiting, especially when it comes to big-time Peach State QB prospects. It's just more about scarcity than anything, and maybe about the need to do things like find a Watson before anyone else can.
The story of Georgia "losing great talent" at QB dates back to Newton, more or less. Legend has it that he picked Florida over Georgia because Richt saw Newton as a tight end; the presence of likely future starter Matthew Stafford (from Dallas) probably didn't help. (It should be noted that Florida had some Tebow guy as its Stafford figure.) Inarguably, Georgia missed on Newton.
After Stafford finished his successful career and went No. 1 in the 2009 NFL Draft, though, Georgia could conceivably have inserted an in-state hotshot who had been waiting on campus as his successor.
But that would have required those players existing in the recruiting pool.
Other than Newton, the only four-star QB (in the 247Sports Composite) from Georgia in either the 2007 or 2008 recruiting classes was Joshua Nesbitt, a dual-threat player far better-suited for the Georgia Tech offense he ended up commanding than Richt's more traditional look. The Dawgs' big pickup on the recruiting trail during those two cycles was Logan Gray, who came to Georgia from Missouri.
Georgia did hit on a four-star player who was the best in-state QB in 2009, but that QB was Zach Mettenberger — who transferred away from the school in early 2010 after pleading guilty to sexual assault. The Dawgs deserve credit for landing Mettenberger, sure, but Richt also deserves credit for dismissing him for his misdeeds ... and for bringing him in as the No. 2 to Aaron Murray's No. 1 in a loaded 2009 recruiting class.
Murray, a top-20 recruit nationally, drew few complaints for his provenance. And Murray also came along during another dry spell for Peach State QBs: No four-star Georgia QBs existed in the 2010 and 2011 classes, though Blake Sims was a four-star athlete in 2010 and Nick Marshall began his Georgia career in 2011 as a four-star defensive back.
Greyson Lambert was the state's only four-star QB in 2012, and between him becoming a Dawg after all and having an uneven 2015 season as Georgia's No. 1, it doesn't seem like he was a great loss — especially since Georgia ended up with Brice Ramsey, the state's best QB prospect since Newton, in 2013.
Between Newton in 2007 and Watson in 2014, Georgia produced just three four-star quarterbacks. Georgia landed two of them, and the third wasn't really a fit.
In Watson, fans see the second painful miss on an in-state QB in eight years. Still, that wasn't exactly crippling, given Richt's penchant for finding talent by spanning the nation, and doesn't really matter going forward, with 2016 five-star Jacob Eason from Washington in hand and Smart seeming more likely to nab a player like Watson even if he isn't quite a scheme fit, given how badly he said Alabama wanted him.
What he and Georgia have to work with now isn't as good as having Watson. Ramsey hasn't impressed in his Georgia career to date, Lambert is a stopgap at best, and Eason might not be ready. And it's easy for Dawgs like Ward and Georgia fans to look at what they watched in 2015 and then at Deshaun Watson and pine for the best QB in the country, who just happens to be a Peach State passer.
Georgia missed on Watson, much like it missed on Newton, and Ward is sort of right about how bewildering it is that Georgia didn't end up with either of the two truly transformative QBs in the state in the last decade or so. When considering what was available to the Dawgs, however, it's clear they made out fine despite that.