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Michael CarvellMichael Carvell

UGA makes late addition to 2014 class, older brother of top Alabama recruit (UPDATED)

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Basketball-turned-football player Joe Ledbetter (center) at Dawg Night with 5-star QB commit Jacob Eason (AJC/Michael Carvell)

Basketball-turned-football player Joe Ledbetter (center) in his TE stance at Dawg Night with 5-star QB commit Jacob Eason (AJC/Michael Carvell)

UGA has gotten a commitment from the older brother of one of Alabama’s top football recruits.

Joseph Ledbetter, who has played NCAA Div. II college basketball the last two years, was both offered a football scholarship by UGA and accepted it after trying out for the Bulldogs at Dawg Night prospect camp last week.

Ledbetter, who measured at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds at camp, will take an official visit to UGA on Tuesday and then start practices with the Bulldogs on Friday. He will have three seasons to play two, but it hasn’t yet been determined yet if he’s eligible to play this fall.

His younger brother is Jonathan Ledbetter, the 4-star defensive lineman from Tucker High School who is committed to Alabama. Jonathan, who went to Dawg Night with his brother and will join him on Tuesday’s visit, is one of UGA’s top recruiting targets for 2015.

UGA is trying to flip Jonathan from Alabama, where he committed last January.

How will Joseph’s commitment to UGA affect Jonathan’s college plans?

“I would love to have two Georgia Bulldogs as sons,”their mother, Teresa Belcher, told the AJC.

“Or three – because I have a third son as well. But I try to stay out of it. I try to let them decide what is best for them. Of course, I give my opinion. But Jonathan will make his decision on what is best for him, as far as the type of team that fits his personality. I try not to overwhelm him with questions about that.

“Jonathan is very happy for Joseph. He is very excited for his brother. But I really don’t think it’s going to influence his college decision on way or the other.”

More on Joseph Ledbetter: He played football and basketball during his childhood but decided to focus on basketball only during his final two years of high school. He played at Virginia’s Oak Hill military prep as a junior, then returned to Tucker as a senior.

The elder Ledbetter signed a basketball scholarship out of Tucker with Pfeiffer College, a Div. II school in North Carolina. He played two seasons there, averaging 3.1 points and 5.1 rebounds last year.

After seeing Jonathan’s rise to stardom in football, Joseph came up with idea to return to football.

2015 Alabama DL commit Jonathan Ledbetter (AJC/Michael Carvell)

2015 Alabama DL commit Jonathan Ledbetter (AJC/Michael Carvell)

“He is a very physical basketball player, and he’s a very aggressive rebounder — people always told him that he should play football,” his mother said. “He used to think it was a joke. But with his feet and agility, it really lends itself to football. I’ve always told him that. I’ve always wanted him to play football.

“I never push my kids to do something that they don’t want to do. He kind of knew he always should be playing football.”

Once Joseph Ledbetter decided that he was switching from basketball to football, he only considered two schools, Alabama and UGA. Alabama didn’t have a scholarship spot, and invited him to join the program as a walk-on.

“I think Alabama made its decision when they told Joseph to see financially what he could do (as a walk-on),” his mother said.

UGA’s coaches got to personally evaluate Ledbetter’s skill when he showed up for Dawg Night last week. He looked a little rusty from football, but definitely passed the eyeball test with his physical frame and raw athleticism.

UGA took around a week to think about it. The Bulldogs offered a scholarship last Friday that was quickly accepted.

“I think God’s favor is awesome,” his mother said. “You can’t describe it. You can’t explain it. When you trust God for something that you want and you work hard for it, your action and your faith will get you things in life that you desire.

“And I think that’s what happened with Joseph. He went out and aggressively pursued two schools. He had faith in what he was doing, and he put his heart into it. And God honored his heart, and have him exactly what he wanted. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t even need to explain it. I just have to thank God for it, and accept it.”

UGA had a scholarship spot open up at tight end last month when 2014 signee Hunter Atkinson quit the team for undisclosed reasons shortly after reporting for summer classes.

What do I think? UGA must think Jonathan Ledbetter hung the moon as a prospect because this is most definitely a package-deal offer to give the Bulldogs their best chance to flip the Alabama commitment. UGA wouldn’t just do this for anybody. There have been rumors for months that Jonathan is considering a flip, even before Joe’s name got brought up, and this might just do it. As far as Joe, I don’t think there’s a remote chance he gets this scholarship offer off the bat if his younger brother isn’t his younger brother (he’d probably be invited to walk-on, like Alabama did). As far as Joe, he surprisingly looked pretty good at Dawg Night for a guy who hasn’t played football in at least four years (since his sophomore year at Tucker). He’s a big kid with a good frame and good athleticism. If you watch his basketball film, he looks like a football player who plays basketball. At Dawg Night, Joe certainly looked like he belonged on the field with the rest of the elite prospects — but he did have the advantage of being at least three years older than most of them. As far as UGA, you’ve got to love this aggressive style of recruiting if you’re a fan of the Bulldogs. You can’t give all of the credit to new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt but some things have definitely changed since he arrived in Athens. You get the feeling that both Robert Nkemdiche and Dillon Lee would both be playing at UGA if the Bulldogs had been this aggressive in past years. This is the second type of crafty package deal in the last couple of months (the other was UGA offering a last-minute basketball scholarship to the sister of 5-star commit Terry Godwin). As far as Joe Ledbetter’s situation specifically, UGA had little to risk and a lot to gain, in my opinion. Who knows? Joe may have success like other college basketball players who switched late to football to play tight end (Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, etc.). Worst case, he could play special teams next week. Or he may be a bust. But if he’s a bust, he’ll only be taking up a scholarship for two years, or three at the max. UGA has some scholarships to burn after losing some players in the offseason, so why not throw a dart? Especially since Joe’s younger brother is one of the nation’s top defensive linemen. This is a game-changer for UGA’s recruitment of Jonathan. Now he and his mother will be making frequent trips to Athens this year for Joe, giving the Bulldog coaches more opportunities for exposure. If I was a college coach, I’d do deals like this to try to secure the prospects I most wanted … all day long.

TO GET THE BIG PICTURE

Got an item? mcarvell@ajc.com

mcarvell@ajc.com

– By Michael Carvell, AJC’s Recruiting Blog

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