Roquan Smith: UGA beats UCLA for historic recruit

Roquan Smith, who has gained national notoriety since last week’s signing day, is headed to UGA, his coach told the AJC.

“The Prodigal Son stays home!” Macon County coach Larry Harold said in a text message. “Roquan Smith signs grant-in-aid papers to attend UGA! GO DAWGS!”

The 4-star linebacker from Macon County High School committed to UGA on Friday morning over UCLA, Texas A&M and Michigan.

“We just got off the phone with (assistant John) Lilly and he said ‘Usually Friday the 13th is a bad day. This is the best Friday the 13th we’ve ever had at UGA,'” Harold told the AJC later on Friday.

ILB Roquan Smith (AJC)

ILB Roquan Smith (AJC)

Why UGA? “After everything that Roquan had been through, he was already torn between UGA and UCLA,” Harold said. “I think he did some more research. Just with UCLA so far away from home and Coach Ulbrich not being there, his family and I felt more comfortable with him being closer to home.”

“Coach Richt was excited, and told him he’s just glad he’s a Dawg for life. Through this process, I can really see how Georgia fans and alum are there for you forever. It will set up Roquan for stuff down the road, and not just the next four years.”

Smith signed his scholarship or grant-in-aid papers with UGA on Friday, but has famously declined to sign a binding national letter of intent after nearly getting burned by UCLA last week.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder is believed to be one of the the first big-time football prospects in recruiting history to opt against signing an NLI on signing day or after – which could change the landscape of football recruiting.

Smith is finished with his recruiting after Friday’s announcement, according to his coach. He will be counted as an official UGA recruit when he attends his first day of college classes this summer.

With the addition of Smith, UGA now has 29 members of its 2015 class. The Bulldogs moved up from No. 9 to No. 6 in the national rankings after Smith was figured in.

Last Wednesday, Smith committed to UCLA over UGA in front of ESPN cameras. But he decided against turning in his NLI after reports surfaced later that day that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had accepted a job with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

Smith said Ulbrich had told him on the eve of signing day that he had “declined” the job offer from the Falcons, per UGASports. On Thursday, Ulbrich (now with the Falcons) declined comment to the AJC about Smith’s claim.

New Falcons LB coach Jeff Ulbrich (AP file)

New Falcons LB coach Jeff Ulbrich (AP file)

After nearly getting burned by UCLA, Smith turned the recruiting world upside down by revealing that he would not sign the NLI, the NCAA document which was called the “worst contract in American sports” by Sports Illustrated this week.

Smith’s innovative strategy has been discussed nationally over the last 10 days.

Smith was labeled as “revolutionary” in a Thursday column by CBSSports.com’s Dennis Dodd, while the Washington Post wrote an article with the headline of “How Roquan Smith might end up empowering future high school football stars.” Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com suggested Smith might be “the Rosa Parks of college football recruits.”

One of Georgia’s top high school coaches was asked about Smith this week, and he mentioned the name of Curt Flood, who is legendary for opening the door for free agency in professional baseball.

Here is the statement that Smith issued on Friday:

“To begin with, I would like to thank God for making all things possible after all, it is through him that I was even blessed with the talents to play football. Secondly, I would like to thank my family and coaches for their never ending love. Through these strenuous times , they have never left my side and have always stayed true. Their loyalty is not something that can be bought only earned. But more importantly I would like thank my teammates. When I’m playing with these guys, it’s not about the accolades or the elaborate stats. It’s about the value of leadership, brotherhood, and team work… things I will forever cherish.

“As you could imagine it’s been tough lately , But I am relieved to say that I am officially committed to The University Of Georgia 100%. Proverbs 16:3 says that if you commit to the lord in whatever you do, he will establish your plans. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God knows the plans he has for my life and I will trust in him through any and everything as I have always done. Once again , thank you so much to all my true supporters and my community. I will make you nothing short of proud.”

5 things to know about Roquan Smith’s situation

  • Roquan Smith is set to make history by becoming the first high-profile football recruit to not sign a NLI. It has happened before in other sports, most notably college basketball.
  • College football prospects sign two sets of papers during the signing period: A NLI (which binds the recruit to the college) and a grant-in-aid (which binds the college to the recruit). Roquan will only sign the grant-in-aid.
  • Technically, because he isn’t going to sign the NLI, Smith will be a free agent until he attends his first day of college classes at UGA. At that point, he will officially be counted as a UGA recruit.
  • The national signing period for high school players to sign a NLI goes from Feb. 4 to April 1. If a senior high schooler accepts a football scholarship after April 1, he can only sign grant-in-aid papers.
  • UGA will be able to publicly comment on Smith once he faxes in his grant-in-aid paperwork, per NCAA rules.

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