Buford’s Dylan Raiola aims for state title before joining Georgia Bulldogs

Buford quarterback Dylan Raiola (15) celebrates with fans after their 18-0 win against St. Frances Academy at Tom Riden Stadium, Friday, August 18, 2023, in Buford, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Buford quarterback Dylan Raiola (15) celebrates with fans after their 18-0 win against St. Frances Academy at Tom Riden Stadium, Friday, August 18, 2023, in Buford, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Dylan Raiola stood on the field celebrating with teammates after Buford’s 50-0 win over Wheeler on Friday in the first round of the GHSA Class 7A playoffs. Of course, Raiola’s night finished much earlier after contributing to five touchdowns in the first half.

About 10 minutes after the buzzer, Raiola, 18, was swarmed by kids asking for autographs. He was all smiles, cracking jokes and making funny poses for their pictures. He entertained everyone, from children to adults, who approached him.

It’s good to know he’s already accustomed to being popular. This is just the start of his fame.

Among the items he signed: a Georgia mini-helmet. Raiola has, at most, four games remaining in his high school career before relocating to Athens, where he already has been declared the next great Bulldogs quarterback. Raiola reneged from Ohio State in December 2022 and pledged himself to Georgia in May.

“I tried not committing in May, honestly. I wanted to wait until September,” Raiola told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I just had that feeling, and I knew (Georgia) was the place I wanted to be. There’s no other place like it. So I decided to go ahead and commit, and I’m more than happy with it.”

Raiola communicates with Georgia “pretty much every day,” he said. “Now, it’s more about the relationship. It’s not recruiting. I’m not going anywhere.”

An Arizona native, Raiola was the No. 1 overall player in the 2024 cycle at the time, according to 247Sports. He’s dropped to No. 5, but remains a five-star and the nation’s No. 2 quarterback (behind Julian Sayin, an Alabama commitment).

This is Raiola’s first year in the Peach State. He starred at Chandler High School in Arizona before opting to spend his senior year in Buford. He initially committed to Pinnacle High School, also in Arizona, but had not been given a hardship from the Arizona Interscholastic Association, which could’ve made him ineligible to play for half a season. He relocated to Georgia, avoiding that scenario and getting a head start on his next phase of life.

“I’m more than happy,” Raiola said. “I think it’s the perfect fit. I get to go over to Athens (for games). I’m happy I came here. The people have welcomed me in great, and I couldn’t be more thankful. They’ve made it easy for me to come in here and transition. The people are great, I have family coming in all the time. It’s a perfect fit for everybody.”

“It’s crazy to think (my high school career is almost over). I’m trying to slow it down and enjoy it. Just take it day by day and get ready for the next game.”

UGA coach Kirby Smart has landed some of the great recruits in program history, and Raiola has the talent to be among his best. Per 247Sports: Raiola is the fourth-highest rated Bulldogs quarterback commit since 2000, behind only Justin Fields, Jacob Eason and Matthew Stafford.

Recruiting rankings aren’t everything – remember when Eason was touted as Georgia’s savior? – but Raiola sure seems the part. He checks every box as a five-star signal-caller.

The arm talent is immense, as he showed immediately against Wheeler. He found his favorite target, KJ Bolden, on three touchdowns of more than 20 yards. Bolden is a fellow five-star who committed to Florida State.

“That dude can run,” Raiola said. “You just find him in space, find him with a matchup, and you know he’s going to go win and capitalize. It’s a lot of fun playing with him. He knows when I’m going to him. He knows how to scramble. He’s just an all-around smart football player.”

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Raiola is listed at 6-foot-3; that might be underselling him. While not a speedster, he looks comfortable on the move, a borderline necessity in today’s game. His father, Dominic, played in the NFL for 14 years as a guard. His mother, Yvonne, was a collegiate water-polo player. Stafford, who played with Dominic on the Lions, is his godfather.

His season stats, including the first playoff game, feature a 63% completion rate, with 30 touchdowns and no interceptions. Yes, in his first season in Georgia, Raiola has yet to throw a pick. He has thrown multiple touchdowns in all but one start. He’s thrown four or more scores four times, including each of the past three weeks.

“I’ve grown a lot since last year,” he said. “That’s the goal. Everybody in the country is going to keep growing and getting better. You have to find those different ways to set myself apart from the rest of the tier.”

How can he do that?

“Just always in that mindset of: Someone is always coming after me,” Raiola said. “That’s how I train, operate. I always think someone is coming to take my job. I know I have to come out here and perform, be with my teammates like they’ve (been there) for me.”

Twenty-four hours after torching Wheeler’s defense, Raiola rode to Athens to watch his future team decimate Ole Miss. If Georgia doesn’t three-peat, it’ll have come quite close. Raiola knows an incredible situation awaits him whenever he takes over.

“It’s a lot of fun (to watch Georgia’s offense),” Raiola said. “I was expecting them to do this. I think a lot of people weren’t. But I knew what coach (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo had. I knew what he could do. He’s using the pieces he’s got to make explosive plays on offense and do the things they’re doing. I’m not surprised.”

The Wolves will play at Norcross at 7 p.m. Friday in the second round of the GHSA playoffs. Buford won Class 6A state titles in 2020-21.

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