Recent Georgia recruit Keith Marshall is surrounded by reporters during national signing day at Butts-Meyer Heritage Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Athens Banner-Herald, Richard Hamm) MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, TV OUT
ATHENS -- The day started so well for Georgia. Top prospect Josh Harvey-Clemons revealed he was signing with the Bulldogs, turning a solid recruiting class into one that figured to be ranked among the nation's best.
Then the drama began.
As Wednesday dragged on, Georgia nervously waited for Harvey-Clemons to send in his signing papers, prompting speculation that his family wanted him to play elsewhere. The linebacker from Lowndes High School was heavily recruited by Florida and Florida State, which are both much closer to his south Georgia hometown than Athens.
By the time coach Mark Richt and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner held an early afternoon news conference -- nearly four hours after Harvey-Clemons made his nationally televised announcement -- there was still no word on whether he was actually following through on his decision to sign with the Bulldogs.
"We can't talk about anybody if we don't have a fax," Garner said. "We don't anticipate any hang-ups. We've just got to get the fax. That's it."
Richt was equally tightlipped.
"I'm not going to comment on any of that," he said.
Earlier, in a television interview shortly after Harvey-Clemons made his announcement, Richt was much more giddy about apparently landing a player rated by most recruiting services as the state's top prospect -- and perhaps the best outside linebacker in the nation.
"I was watching on TV and learning like everyone else," Richt told ESPN. "I'm so excited. He's a great kid and just a tremendous player."
While Harvey-Clemons was on hold, Georgia did announce the signing of 18 players, including running back Keith Marshall from North Carolina, offensive lineman John Theus from Florida and 315-pound defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor of Millen.
Richt called it a versatile class that will help the Bulldogs build on a comeback year. After going 6-7 in 2010 and losing the first two games last season, leading to speculation about the coach's future, Georgia won 10 straight to claim a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"Going into last season, there was a little bit of noise," Richt said. "People were waiting to see how things were going to go. It hurt us a little bit on the front end (of recruiting). But once we had the season we had -- doing something we had not done since the early '80s, winning 10 in a row, and returning a lot of players -- maybe some of those guys in wait-and-see mode now feel very comfortable where Georgia is and where coach Richt and his staff are.
"We have tremendous momentum now, even going into next year's class."
But first, there was the matter of Harvey-Clemons, who had the potential to turn a top 20 recruiting class into one that would likely be ranked among the top five.
All signs pointed to the Bulldogs when Harvey-Clemons, during a news conference at his high school, had his sister pull off her sweatshirt to reveal a red Georgia T-shirt. The player then put on a red cap with the trademark "G" and gushed about how he wanted to play in Athens.
"I knew when I went there, that's where I wanted to go," Harvey-Clemons said. "It felt like home. It seemed like they want to win and compete for championships."
He developed a special bond with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
"It seems like he's put a lot of players in the NFL," Harvey-Clemons said. "That's where I want to get."
While the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder figures to make his mark on defense, Richt said in his initial TV interview that Harvey-Clemons could also get some work on Georgia's offense. He was a two-way player at Lowndes.
"Quite frankly, he's a heck of a wide receiver, too," Richt said. "We may need to use his talents inside the 20-yard line. He has such great leaping ability and strong hands."
Only if he sends in his paperwork, of course. A message left by The Associated Press at the home of his grandfather, Woodrow Clemons, the player's legal guardian, was not immediately returned.
The Bulldogs signed two running backs from North Carolina, landing Todd Gurley along with Marshall. Both will push Isaiah Crowell, last year's top signee, for playing time.
Crowell had a solid season on the field but ran into disciplinary issues, including a failed drug test that resulted in a one-game suspension. Richt said there should be enough carries for everyone.
"There aren't many running backs anymore thinking, 'I've got to be the only guy,"' Richt said.
"To carry 25 or 30 times in our league, it's just not healthy for you, it's just not good for you. You want guys to share the load, to keep you healthy, to keep you fresh. I think they are all special backs. I'm excited about it."
Georgia's recruiting class broke down like this: a quarterback, two running backs, a fullback, a receiver, a tight end, three offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, four linebackers, a punter, a kicker, and one player listed as athlete.
Richt and his staff hoped to end up with one more signee. All they could do was wait.
"It happens," Garner said. "It's the nature of the business now. You just have to adapt and adjust with this culture."
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