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Georgia signs highly rated defensive lineman

ATHENS -- Mark Richt said Wednesday his long search for a new defensive coordinator took a toll on Georgia's recruiting efforts, which ended with the school signing 19 players, including 12 on defense.

Georgia lost perhaps its top verbal commitment when receiver Da'Rick Rogers from Calhoun signed with Tennessee. Rogers was rated as the state's top prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com.

Georgia also lost cornerback Nickell Robey, a native of Frostproof, Fla., who signed with Southern Cal.

Richt received a late boost when defensive tackle Mike Thornton of Stephenson High School in nearby Stone Mountain chose the Bulldogs.

Richt acknowledged his six-week search to replace defensive coordinator Willie Martinez caused recruits to look elsewhere. Richt, who fired Martinez and two other defensive assistants on Dec. 2, hired former Dallas Cowboys assistant Todd Grantham on Jan. 15.

Richt pursued Virginia Tech's Bud Foster, LSU's John Chavis and Alabama's Kirby Smart before hiring Grantham.

''Recruiting is a lot about relationships,'' Richt said. ''Anytime there is some kind of change on your staff for whatever reason, the relationships that had been built throughout this recruiting process were broken. I think the timing of the hire, taking as long as it did, it did put a strain on some of these young men who had committed. We know some guys changed their mind.''

The loss of Rogers hurt Georgia's ranking among the nation's top recruiting classes. Rivals.com ranks Georgia's class No. 16 in the nation. Georgia's signing classes were rated among the nation's top 10 by Rivals each of the last eight years. Scout.com ranks Georgia's class No. 21.

Georgia finished 8-5 in 2009 after winning 10 or more games in six of Richt's first eight seasons. Richt said other schools used the down year and shakeup on the coaching staff to ''create doubt'' with recruits.

''I think it has certainly given me a lot more resolve to continue and just to get the program where it belongs,'' Richt said. ''This past season I know was a disappointment to a lot of people. I don't expect Bulldog fans to be excited about an 8-5 season.''

Thornton is regarded as one of the state's top prospects. At 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, he will try to win a job in the middle of Grantham's three-man defensive front. Georgia also signed defensive tackle Garrison Smith of Douglass High in Atlanta.

Georgia signed only four skill position players. The class includes four defensive ends and three offensive linemen.

After losing Rogers, Georgia added receiver Lonnie Outlaw of Wilcox County as its 19th signee on Wednesday afternoon. Outlaw joins Michael Bennett of Alpharetta as the only receivers in the class.

Hutson Mason, a Parade All-American from Lassiter High in Marietta, was the only quarterback in the class. The only running back is Ken Malcome of Southwest DeKalb.

Twelve of the school's 19 signees are defensive players, including Newnan safety Alec Ogletree. Ogletree's twin brother, Alexander, a linebacker, also signed with Georgia.

Alec Ogletree, rated by Scout as a five-star prospect, may boast the most honors in the signing class. Ogletree (6-3, 215) was a USA Today first-team All-American and he joined Mason on the Parade All-American team.

''Obviously we faced some difficulties, but I was really pleased with how everything came out,'' said recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner, also the defensive line coach. Garner was the only defensive assistant retained after the regular season.

''We wanted to make sure we were attracting quality over quantity and that's what we feel we were able to get with this class,'' Garner said.

Two signees, offensive lineman Kolton Houston of Buford and safety Jakar Hamilton of Johnston, S.C., and Georgia Military College, enrolled early and began classes last month.

Notes: Richt said running back Richard Samuel is moving to linebacker. Samuel requested the move after falling behind Washaun Ealey and GAC grad Caleb King on the depth chart at running back. ... Spring practice is scheduled to begin March 4. The spring game is set for April 10.