ATHENS — Nearly 24 hours later, Georgia finally has its top prospect and one of the best recruiting classes in the country.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, an outside linebacker from Lowndes High School in Valdosta, went on national television to announce he was signing with the Bulldogs.
But he didn’t immediately follow up by faxing his official letter-of-intent to the school, leading to reports his family wasn’t happy with the decision and wanted him to attend either Florida or Florida State, which are both much closer to their south Georgia home than Athens.
Turns out, Harvey-Clemons didn’t waver.
The Bulldogs announced he faxed his papers to the school at 8:30 a.m. Thursday — almost a full day after his announcement — to give the Bulldogs a total of 19 signees and a class ranked among the top 10 in the country by at least two major recruiting services.
Richt and Garner were not immediately available for comment after Harvey-Clemons sent in his papers. Two messages left at the home of Woodrow Clemons, the teenager’s grandfather and legal guardian, were not returned.
On Wednesday, the 6-foot-5, 208-pound player announced he would sign with the Bulldogs by having his sister pull off her sweatshirt to reveal a red Georgia T-shirt. Harvey-Clemons then put on a red cap with the trademark “G.”
While he figures to make his mark mainly on defense, Richt said in his initial TV interview that Harvey-Clemons could also get some work on Georgia’s offense. He starred on both sides of the line 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.”
Georgia’s recruiting class also included a leading running back from North Carolina, Keith Marshall, who’s already enrolled in college; an offensive lineman from Florida who could challenge for playing time right away, John Theus; and two more of the home state’s top prospects, linebacker Jordan Jenkins of Hamilton 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, firing up speculation about the coach’s future, Georgia won 10 straight to claim a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
With most starters returning in 2012, including several third-year players who passed up a chance to enter the NFL draft, the Bulldogs are likely to begin next season ranked in the top 10.
“People were waiting to see how things were going to go,” Richt said. “We have tremendous momentum now, even going into next year’s class.”
Marshall and another signee from North Carolina, Todd Gurley, are expected to push Isaiah Crowell for playing time in the backfield.
Crowell was last year’s top signee and had a solid season on the field, ranking fifth in the SEC with 847 yards rushing despite missing two games. But he had injury problems and 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,’” the coach 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, five linebackers, a punter, a kicker, and one player listed as an athlete who will likely play cornerback.