Another star-studded recruiting victory for Georgia Bulldogs

Smael Mondon, a senior linebacker at Paulding County High School, talks about how COVID-19 has affected his hopes for the new football season.

UGA lands LB Smael Mondon, state’s top-ranked player

ATHENS — At least we know Smael Mondon has a sense of humor. The 5-star linebacker from Paulding County, at his well-attended and highly anticipated commitment ceremony Thursday morning, had a Florida cap to his far left, an LSU one to his far right, with Tennessee, Georgia and Auburn lids in between at the time of his big announcement.

He reached for purple LSU hat and lifted it — only to reveal a white-and-red Georgia cap underneath. He quickly secured that one over his braided locks, to the delight of most in the socially distanced crowd.

“Consistency,” Mondon said of the reasoning for his choice. “Consistency throughout the recruiting process and consistency as a program.”

The LSU fake-out gesture was especially appreciated in Mondon’s area of the state. Some good ones have gotten away in those parts recently. Like last year, for instance, when Marietta’s 5-star tight end Arik Gilbert did in fact choose the purple cap and signed with LSU, where he’s starring as a freshman this season.

The truth is, the Bayou Bengals weren’t really in this competition. In this instance, it was Georgia winning over Auburn. But every victory in recruiting is important, especially those involving in-state kids with lots of stars next to their name.

The Bulldogs, it could be argued, didn’t get enough of those last year, even though they landed what was judged as the No. 1 class in the nation. That was good, of course, but recruiting is often a long-haul game, and the state university best do business with the state’s best players if it wants to sustain success.

Such is the fine line Georgia coach Kirby Smart is walking on. In his never-ending quest to bring another national championship to Athens, his charge is to sign the best players possible at every position, regardless of where they come from. But when they’re products of the Peach State, and they’re as good as Mondon is reported to be, it’s paramount to win them over.

Mondon — an AJC Super 11 selection — is especially valuable in this recruiting cycle, as the Bulldogs prepare for the departure of Monty Rice, who has been somewhat of an institution for them at middle linebacker. While Mondon is considered the No. 2 outside linebacker in the nation, per the rankings of 247Sports, he projects as an inside player at Georgia.

That “fit” and the Bulldogs' plans for him was the primary reason the 6-foot-3, 220-pound athlete chose to commit his services to them. He will sign in the December period and enroll in January.

“Playing inside, but being a three-down linebacker,” Smael said Georgia’s plan for him. “Being able to play the run and the pass. Pass rush. Pass coverage. Just different stuff.”

Mondon’s commitment was a hard-fought and much-needed victory for the Bulldogs, who as usual are slugging it out with Alabama, LSU and Clemson for Southern supremacy. Mondon’s acquisition moves Georgia past Clemson and up to fifth in 247′s national rankings. But that remains behind No. 1 Bama, Ohio State, LSU and Oregon, though with fewer commitments (19).

Even more eye-opening is the fact that Mondon becomes the third 5-star prospect of the Bulldogs' 2021 class. He joins quarterback Brock Vandagriff of Bogart and offensive tackle Amarius Mims of Cochran in that elite recruit distinction.

Mondon is the 38th commitment or signee with a 5-star ranking from any service since Smart came to UGA in December 2015, according to DawgNation. And there will be more, if he can help it.

Right now, the area where the Bulldogs appear to be coming up light is wide receiver. Technically, Georgia doesn’t have room to sign a lot of them, as it has been a recent area of emphasis. But the best ones in the state are currently going elsewhere, including Notre Dame commitment Deion Colzie. The 6-4, 193-pound playmaker hails from Athens Academy, about a five-minute drive from UGA’s Butts-Mehre football complex.

Such is the complexity of recruiting. Just because a great prospect is “from there” doesn’t mean he’ll want to “go there,” despite a school’s most concentrated efforts.

Mondon represents a victory to that end. The Bulldogs invested a great deal of energy and effort into securing his commitment. This time, it paid off.

“They’re just a top defense, year in and year out,” Mondon told DawgNation after his announcement. “And the recruiting, just the communication with Georgia never fell off throughout the whole process.”

One victory for one day, well-earned.

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