ATHENS — Georgia was in full spin mode Wednesday, insisting that its signing class was as strong as ever — even as some fans grumbled about the big ones who got away.
The Bulldogs weren't done, though.
Hitting the jackpot right at the end, Georgia landed one of the nation's top receivers, Marlon Brown, who went on television at mid-afternoon to announce he was picking the Bulldogs over Ohio State, Tennessee and Mississippi.
The signing of Brown gave Georgia another consensus Top 10 class, according to the top recruiting services. Scout.com ranked the Bulldogs No. 8, while Rivals.com bumped them up to ninth.
"I'd much rather have everybody committed and done with, but it's fun to nail one the last day," coach Mark Richt said. "I'm sure the Bulldog fans are enjoying that and we are too, believe me, because Marlon is a fantastic kid and a great player."
Indeed, Brown's decision bolstered the mood around Athens. While Georgia locked up 17 signees before noon, there was a sense that many of their top targets had gotten away.
Linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Juwanza Starling both signed with Southern Cal. Offensive lineman Bobby Massie went with Mississippi. Georgia high school player of the year Greg Reid picked Florida State.
When Brown made his announcement, a roar could be heard throughout the athletic building. But Richt insisted he was pleased with the class he already had, including a couple of pair of quarterbacks who've already enrolled at Georgia: Aaron Murray of Tampa, Fla., and Zach Mettenberger of Watkinsville.
"If those two guys had decided this morning they were going to Georgia, the building would have exploded and everyone would have been all jacked up to have two of the best quarterbacks in America coming to Georgia," Richt said. "But I'm not about all that drama. I'm about taking care of business the right way and getting the right kind of people."
But Brown's decision provided plenty of drama.
Richt had gotten a call late Tuesday from the receiver, who told him Georgia was the choice. But the coach took no chances, keeping his cell phone handy while meeting with the media on Wednesday.
Then, while still being interviewed, he looked down to see it ringing.
"I've got to take this call," he said, hustling out of the room to talk again with Brown.
About an hour later, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder made it official during a news conference at Harding Academy in Memphis, Tenn. He sat at a table along with four friends, each wearing a cap representing the schools he was considering.
On cue, Brown grabbed the red-and-black hat with a "G" above the bill, and the school band began playing Georgia's fight song. He'll join A.J. Green, who starred for the Bulldogs last season as a freshman, to give the Bulldogs a dynamic 1-2 punch.
"The reason I chose the Bulldogs is they have a good head coach and a good system for a receiver to come in and play early," Brown said.
He was a Parade All-American who starred in both football and basketball at Harding. Brown will focus on football with the Bulldogs, so it wasn't a problem that Georgia recently fired Dennis Felton and is finishing out the basketball season with an interim coach.
"That was not a factor in my decision," Brown said, "so it's all good."
Georgia landed a balanced recruiting class that included three offensive linemen, three linebackers, three defensive backs, two quarterbacks, two receivers, two defensive tackles, along with a running back, a tight end and a defensive end. Eleven signees are from within the state.
"We feel like we were able to meet all our needs," said Rodney Garner, the recruiting coordinator. "Every position is covered except for the (kicking) specialists. We were able to go out and address the needs of our team."
Other than Brown, everyone who signed with the Bulldogs had already committed well in advance. In fact, Murray, Mettenberger and offensive lineman Dallas Lee from Buford High, graduated from high school early so they could get a head-start on their college careers.
All three have already enrolled at Georgia and will be able to take part in spring practice.
The extra time should be especially beneficial to the quarterbacks, both learning a system that is much more complicated than what they ran in high school. Mettenberger and Murray are rooming together and becoming good friends, though one day they'll be rivals for the same job.
The Bulldogs have already said that fifth-year senior Joe Cox will replace departed starter Matthew Stafford, who left Georgia after his junior season and is expected to be one of the top picks in the NFL draft. Once Cox is gone, Murray and Mettenberger will get their time to shine.
"Anywhere you go in the nation, you're going to have to compete against someone," Murray said. "That's only going to make us better, that's only going to make Georgia better. In the end, that's what you want to happen."
Mettenberger is a hometown kid — he played at nearby Oconee County High — whose mother works as a secretary in the football office. At 6-5, 228 pounds, he's more of a pure dropback passer, while the 6-1, 205-pound Murray is better at creating plays outside the pocket.
Richt compared them to Brad Johnson and Casey Weldon, two quarterbacks who entered Florida State in the same class. Both had successful college careers and played in the NFL.
"You always try to promote fierce competition without feeling like you have to hate the guy you're competing against," Richt said. "These guys will compete. Right now, they're just trying to figure out what to do in the system."
Another intriguing signee was Branden Smith, a potential two-way threat from Washington High in Atlanta. The 5-11, 171-pounder will surely play cornerback and return kicks, but the Bulldogs would like to also find a way to get him involved in the offense.
"Branden does have tremendous offensive skills," Richt said. "I'd hate to think he'll go through our program and not get a chance to get his hands on the ball."