Five-star signee eyeing titles with Georgia's 'nasty' defense
FEB 05, 2014 6:02p ET
NORCROSS, Ga. -- Lorenzo Carter, a five-star recruit, the reigning Mr. Football in Georgia and one of the state's most prolific defensive prospects in recent memory, didn't waste much time Wednesday in revealing his college plans.
While holding court at the Performing Arts Theatre at Norcross High School -- as part of an after-school, en masse Signing Day event (27 Blue Devils commitments on the day) -- the charismatic wunderkind carefully placed the hats of Georgia, LSU and Florida on a spotlight-friendly table ... before donning a Bulldogs cap, a moment that elicited a roar of booming applause from the NHS students and faculty, awash in jubilation.
"I'm excited! I'll be representing the state of Georgia," beamed Carter to the Norcross faithful. For the TV audience a few seconds later, he then broached unsolicited talk of "hopefully bringing a national championship back to Georgia" ... while adding the Bulldogs' defense "is going to be nasty, and I plan on being a big part of it."
And with that, Carter put a tidy end to one of the most suspenseful recruiting battles of the 2013-14 school year, leaving a cluster of schools in the South -- all powerhouse programs -- to wonder (read: worry) how head coach Mark Richt and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt might utilize Carter's versatile, hulking talents in Georgia's reconstituted defense.
In fact, Georgia's stealth hire of Pruitt -- who helmed Florida State's BCS-title-winning defense in 2013 -- was absolutely "huge" in Carter's signing with the Bulldogs.
"If (Georgia) didn't pick him up, I'd probably be (signing) with LSU," said Carter in a moment of candor, immediately after his announcement.
LSU's consolation comes in the form of losing by only two percentage points to Georgia, in Carter's mind. Going further, the 51/49 split was actually a 50-50 proposition as late as Tuesday night. But upon waking up on Wednesday, Carter experienced a moment of familial clarity.
"Listening to my sisters just talking about Georgia, and representing the state, just thinking how big it'd be if I brought home a national championship," said Carter, recalling his thought process earlier in the day. "I just had to make a grown-man decision and live with it."
By Carter's estimation, he wasn't anything close to a nationally renowned prospect until the end of his junior campaign at Norcross -- although his first recruiting letter arrived from Colorado three years ago (just days ahead of Nebraska).
"(The Colorado letter) was like a little poster of my schedule, I put that on my wall," recalled Carter, grateful for the initial attention. "It started rolling in, really, last year."
It's tough to believe Carter didn't register with national programs until 14 months ago. Blessed with impressive size, admirable speed and a hunger to maximize his physical gifts, the 6-foot-5, 234-pound athlete (with a frame to carry more weight) has all the makings of a Day 1 difference-maker on the Athens campus, presumably as a rush end or outside linebacker.
(At the SPARQ Rating National Championship last summer, Carter reportedly had the following combine numbers: 4.54 40-yard dash, 4.27 shuttle relay and 41-inch vertical leap.)
After leading Norcross to back-to-back 6A state championships in 2012 and 2013, Carter has developed a hearty appetite for more titles -- namely the SEC crown and/or BCS national championship next winter.
When asked to provide a welcome message for Bulldog Nation, Carter paused for a brief second before saying, "Don't be surprised if we win a few big games (in 2014)."
For someone who wasted little time snagging a red Bulldogs cap on Wednesday, it's odd Carter didn't inform the Georgia staffers of his choice prior to the TV appearance.
Instead, there was a method to his playful madness:
"I let (the Georgia coaches) sweat a little bit," said Carter, with a wide grin.
It must be a surreal experience, being the subject of a high-trending national/regional recruiting story, without having any direct contact with a college coach.
Recently, Carter's Norcross basketball team was playing at Mountain View High School (Lawrenceville, Ga.). During the game, Carter's parents, Leo and Lisa, were reportedly flanked by at least six college assistants from Florida (including ex-Kentucky coach Joker Phillips) and Florida State (group led by Charles Kelly), with each school quietly, but passionately pitching for Carter -- as a football asset.
"I was surprised. I didn't even realize (the FSU and Florida coaches) were at the game like that," recalled Carter. "I think it was like the third quarter, when I finally turned back to my parents and thought, 'Whoa! That's Coach Phillips? That's Coach Kelly too!' ... I guess it was a big deal (in hindsight) that all the coaches were there."
In this social-media age of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, along with the technological advancements of Skype and Webcams, you'd think the six coaches occupying Mountain View that day could have maximized their time better, invoking methods of directly talking to recruits.
But then again, nothing beats the personal touch of going the extra mile with blue-chip prospects ... especially when parents are involved.
Throw in Carter's Super Bowl weekend visit to Georgia -- where he reportedly bonded with Pruitt and Bulldogs assistants Tracy Rocker and Kevin Sherrer, before his mother partook in a bowling match with Coach Richt -- and it's easy to see why recruiting gurus had trouble handicapping the Signing Day field, amongst Georgia, Florida and LSU. (Florida State apparently finished fourth.)
It's worth noting that Carter included a fourth hat in Wednesday's made-for-TV ceremony: This one honored the men and women of the United States military, serving our country around the world.
There is an inescapable downside to garnering such a prolific prospect ranking at 17 or 18 years old -- and it's twofold:
For Phase I, blue-chip athletes are expected to immediately impact their respective programs, either competing for a starting spot or commanding the lion's share of reserve playing time. For Phase II, as upperclassmen, they're viewed as near-automatic candidates for the NFL -- forgoing their senior year -- after only three college seasons.
Otherwise, why else would they have warranted such a high ranking at the prep level?
Granted, it's short sample size, but in the nine-year history of ESPNU's Top 150 (or now Top 300) rankings, the track records of the No. 14 overall prospect (Carter's current mark) has been spotty, at best.
Yes, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston (4,057 yards passing, 44 total TDs in 2013) was tabbed at No. 14 two years ago. But for every Winston, or even Georgia defensive end Ray Drew, there's Stafon Johnson (USC), Brian Maddox (South Carolina), Chancey Aghayere (LSU), Devon Kennard (USC) and Taylor Bible (Texas commit before eventually transferring to Carson-Newman) -- decent college players, but nothing close to household names in the NFL universe.
Scout.com, in turn, has Carter ranked No. 23 overall and as the fifth-rated defensive end for 2014. Citing Scout's historical rankings, here's a listing of the No. 23 overall talent in recent years (original commitments in parentheses):
2010: QB Phillip Sims (Alabama)
2009: QB Tajh Boyd (Clemson)
2008: C Michael Brewster (Ohio State)
2007: WR Deonte Thompson (Florida)
2006: CB Deon Beasley (Texas -- six slots ahead of Tim Tebow)
2005: RB Kevin Grady (Michigan)
The lesson here: Signing Day is redoubtably a tent-pole moment in a young person's life, but it should only serve as a mere starting point for kids who, for now, have the sporting world at their feet.