North Carolina TE chooses UGA over UNC

New Hanover's Garrett Walston runs after a catch in this August 2014 file photo. (Matt Born / Wilmington Star News)

New Hanover’s Garrett Walston runs after a catch in this August 2014 file photo. (Matt Born / Wilmington Star News)

John Lilly is smiling today. The Bulldogs received a commitment from a target UGA’s tight ends coach had wanted all along.

New Hanover three-star Garrett Walston committed to the Bulldogs over North Carolina. It wasn’t anything elaborate. He didn’t trumpet his choice from his Twitter account. There was no press conference at his local high school.

He just made a simple phone call to the coaches who had been recruiting him. New Hanover offensive coordinator Darryl Raynor confirmed Walston’s choice with the AJC on Tuesday afternoon.

UGA tight ends coach  John Lilly is very happy today. (Sonny Kennedy / Special to the AJC)

UGA tight ends coach John Lilly is very happy today. (Sonny Kennedy / Special to the AJC)

RELATED: Why UGA wanted Walston so badly

Walston becomes the 12th commitment for the 2016 class in Athens.

UGA’s coaches had felt for a long time that Walston was undervalued. His skills were the type that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer told a New Hanover coach he looked good enough to be ready to play in the NFL in three years.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder needs to bulk up to about 240 in college. He’s a “B” student and is taking AP classes. He will enroll early in January. He caught 44 passes last season and 10 of those went for touchdowns. He averaged a gaudy 19.3 yards per reception as a junior.

What kind of athlete is he? Walston played three sports at one time in high school and was even a part-time quarterback. His 40-yard dash time has been estimated at between 4.65 and 4.75 seconds. He’s been rated as the No. 17 tight end prospect in the nation for the Class of 2016, but that stock has shot up considerably this summer. He was the No. 60 tight end just a few months ago.

Want to know something about him that’s better than any star rating or position ranking? Here’s two nuggets on Walston:

1) He was moved up to the varsity when he was a sophomore. From that moment on, he’s been the leader of his varsity football team. That stuff cannot be undervalued. Any recruit with a SEC offer can play, but who do blend in within a team? What does it take to get them to buy in?

According to his coaches, Walston has shown the ability to do that on a daily basis for the last three years. He’s been the most competitive player on his high school team since he was moved up to the varsity.

2) Here’s THE Walston story. We’ll let New Hanover offensive coordinator Darryl Raynor tell it.

“We just moved him up to varsity,” Raynor said. “We were playing two tight ends and he had missed two blocks in a row. I had motioned him over and he missed his blocks and we got hit in the backfield.”

When the play was over, Raynor found Walston. He peppered in some new instructions and a few choice words.

“We get the ball next on the 10-yard line,” Raynor said. “We’re literally on the 10. So I put him in on the next play but not before saying ‘Are you going to block the kid this time for us?’ and I loved his response.”

Walston made the block.

“He was like foaming at the mouth,” Raynor said. “He blocks the linebacker so far he pushes him all the way into the end zone and smashes him into the field goal post. I was like ‘I know how to get under his skin now’ after that play.”

My thoughts: Check out just the first two plays of his Hudl highlight film below. Three-star? Yeah, right. There aren’t 15 tight ends in the country in any year who can make plays like that.

What this means: Walston became UGA’s top priority after the nation’s No. 1-rated tight end who is from Georgia (Buford’s Isaac Nauta) committed to Florida State last December. UGA scoured the Southeast, and zeroed in on Walston. He’s prototype UGA tight end that has the athleticism to line up at receiver and create mismatches, while also possessing the frame (once he adds weight) to help out with the interior blocking. You have to give props to UGA assistant John Lilly because Walston was on the verge of committing to NC State a few weeks ago before delaying his announcement in order to visit UNC and the Bulldogs. UGA was so high on Walston that the Bulldogs held off on offering Cartersville tight end Miller Forristall after he attended camp at UGA earlier this month. Forristall, a lifelong UGA fan who was ready to commit upon an offer, promptly accepted Alabama’s offer after leaving UGA. It was a risky move that paid off as Walston pledged to the Bulldogs. One more thing: What if Isaac Nauta wants to come to UGA? He visited with the Bulldogs this past weekend, and his mother “tends to think” he may flip. That quote generated a lot of excitement among UGA fans, but Nauta has made it clear to the Bulldog coaches that he is “solid” with FSU, despite last Sunday’s flirtation. Would UGA accept Nauta’s commitment if he wanted to come? It’s doubtful that any college in the country would turn down Nauta, but he’s a long shot to sign anywhere but FSU at this point.



Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

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