August 31, 2019 Nashville: Georgia defensive end Justin Young (right) rips the helmet off Vanderbilt ball carrier Ke'Shawn Vaughn on a tackle but is called for a personal foul during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, August 31, 2019, in Nashville. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Georgia flourishing in age of transfer portal

Just ask South Carolina, the Bulldogs’ opponent Saturday.

The Gamecocks are dealing this week with the news that linebacker Derek Boykins has entered the NCAA’s portal for players seeking transfers. Boykins is the third South Carolina player to seek transfer this season, joining junior defensive back Jamyest Williams and redshirt freshman running back Lavonte Valentine.

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Tennessee also was dealing with a significant exodus of players when Georgia arrived in Knoxville last week. Three players left the Volunteers’ program heading into the game, not including a fourth player that was dismissed that week.

The timing is not coincidental. NCAA rules permit players to participate in as many as four games without losing a season of eligibility. Knowing that, players that have stayed under that threshold may decide they’d be happier elsewhere, so they enter the portal with that extra season of eligibility intact.

“It’s part of college football now,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s probably one of the most important things in a program now in major college football. … There’s not one guy that comes in here that’s not highly-touted, that’s not given 1,000 accolades by the media or the recruiting sites. So, they go through trials and tribulations and realize they have work to do.”

The Bulldogs aren’t immune to the process. They’ve had several players leave via transfer portal, including a few high-profile instances after last season with quarterback Justin Fields (now at Ohio State) and tight end Luke Ford (Illinois) and outside linebacker Brenton Cox (now at Florida) a week into preseason camp.

Where UGA has flourished, however, is retaining prospects that might need a little more time to develop. Two players that made major impacts in the Bulldogs’ win over Tennessee on Saturday fit into such a category. Linebacker Tae Crowder returned a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown and running back Brian Herrien led Georgia with 88 yards rushing and a score in the 43-14 victory.

Both players are seniors who stuck it out even though they weren’t filling prominent roles early in their careers.

“I don't think you look for greener pastures at Georgia,” Smart said. “You continue to work and get better. ... We sell the players on that we’re going to develop them.”

Senior defensive end Justin Young is another such player who chose staying over going. A 6-foot-4, 275-pound product of Grayson High, Young had been on the scout team his entire career, appearing in just 14 games in backup roles and just one last season. But after entering the transfer portal before last season, Young was convinced by Smart and defensive line coach Tray Scott to stick it out at UGA.

Fast forward to this week and Young has played in every game this season and enters Saturday’s game with four tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and a pass deflection.

“After talking with family and friends and God as well, I just felt like sticking it out here was best for me,” Young said. “Just getting an education here is an unbelievable achievement, while still putting as much value as I can on the field.”

Sometimes staying is not the best option. Offensive lineman Pat Allen (Southeastern Louisiana) and linebackers Jaden Hunter (Western Kentucky) and Jaleel Laguins (Samford) are among the players that have left UGA for other programs phe last two seasons. Disciplinary scenarios resulted in other transfers, as was the case with defensive backs Tray Bishop (Navarro Junior College) and Deangelo Gibbs (Tennessee).

More could follow. Right now, Georgia has 17 scholarship players who have played in fewer than four games. For many them, shutting down now to take a redshirt year or transferring elsewhere are serious considerations.

Asked how often he meets with players to discuss their future prospects, Smart said, “Oh, all the time.”

He said he generally urges them to stick it out at Georgia, which he said is almost always the best option.

“You’re going to develop better at Georgia, where you’ve got more in nutrition, a weight room, an unbelievable support staff, coaching staff, facilities, than you are somewhere else where you might not have those facilities,” Smart said. “You’re also going to develop better here than you are in the NFL because they don’t run a developmental league. They only have a 53-man roster, so they can’t develop players, they cut them. … You’re going to be better off staying here and working to get better so you’re a better player when you do go to the NFL, because the whole key is that you make it. And we sell the players on that, that we’re going to develop.”

Winning helps the retention rate as well.

“Some guys want to stay because of winning and some feel like they need to go because they feel like deserve to play at a high level,” Young said. “But, from my perspective, whether I play or don’t play, I don’t care. I’m committed here and I want to put my all into this program.”

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