Football Banquet

The College Football Annual Kickoff Party took place Friday night in Rome, Ga. Fans from SEC schools were in attendance along with several elite recruits. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo were the keynote speakers for the event. Learn more of what the border war coaches had to say about the Tide and Bulldogs.

The event kicked off with Rusty Mansell's opening remarks and introduction of Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart who took the podium first and answered questions from the audience. Coach Smart spoke about the Tide's 2008 season, this year's depth chart and future plans for the Alabama program including a future game in Dallas.

"It's scary to think about all the places you have coached, and it's only been eight years," coach Smart said. "It's honor to be here. Georgia is the home team here, and for us to speak it helps a lot."

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart
Keynote Speaker
"I wore my black shirt tonight in honor of the Georgia fans. When Alabama and Georgia play Georgia fans call it 'The Black-Out', so I wore my black shirt tonight. I am sure coach Bobo appreciates that."

"It was a great year for our program. It exceeded a lot of expectations. A lot of that had to deal with the senior leadership we had on our team."

"Going in to this season it's a little nerve racking knowing that you are not going to have the John Parker Wilson's or Andre Smith's or Rashad Johnson's. They were all really good players for us, but most importantly leaders."

"Greg McElory did a great job in the spring. In our two minute drill he scored every time against our defense, and we are suppose to have a pretty good defense. Greg did a great job against those guys."

"We have three starters back on the offensive line. We have a player from Augusta, Ga., that is starting right now at left tackle [James Carpenter]."

"As far as running backs--Roy Upchurch and Mark Ingram were both injured all spring. We have those two guys who are SEC tested backs that were injured the entire spring. We then signed Trent Richardson. We hope he can start and play for us."

Julio Jones
"We have Julio Jones coming back. I'll say this about Julio Jones. He is one of the toughest, most competitive wide receivers I have ever been around. He walks by me at practice and says to me, ‘It's on today coach. I am going to get after your dbs [defensive backs]', and he does."

"He challenges us. He beats up on us and makes us better. He stays after practice. He is the first one on the field. He is a great kid, and we are honored to have him. We hope to keep him for three more years, but I don't know if that will happen."

"At tight end we have Colin Peek. He is a kid out of Jacksonville, Fla. that is going to be a good player for us."

"Defensively, we have 10-of-11 back. Everyone is back except for the safety drafted in the third round by the Arizona Cardinals, Rashad Johnson. He is a great player and great leader. We are going to miss him."

"We have more depth on defense than we had last year. We have a lot of freshmen we signed two years ago that are going to give us a chance to compete and play more guys."

"Overall coach Saban's philosophy is this--we want to go play a big game every year the first game of the year. We played Clemson last year in the Georgia Dome. Most of you are aware we played in the state of Georgia three times."

"We played in Athens and twice in the Georgia Dome. It was great exposure for us. We can't survive as a program unless we sign players out of the state of Georgia. The state of Alabama is only going to support 60-70-percent of our team."

"The rest of that is going to come from places like Mississippi, Georgia and the panhandle of Florida. There are too many kids in Georgia for Georgia to sign them all. Georgia and Georgia Tech. Every kid we get from Georgia is all set and ready to go. That is a big credit to the coaches in Georgia. It's good for our program."

Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban
"Student enrollment is up tremendously, and a lot of that can be contributed to the football program having a lot of success. We have more kids from Georgia enroll at Alabama than ever before."

"We are looking forward to great season this year. We have not set any expectations for our players. Coach Saban is very specifc. We say on each day on how you want to get better. The best thing I have taken from him is--what you do speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you say. That is our motto for the season."

"We had a good off-season so far. We hope we can finish off and have a great season. We open with Virginia Tech in the Dome. It's a great venue to play in. We have received a lot of great exposure with ESPN. They have actually a schedule for us to play in three years to play a Big 12 team in the new Cowboys stadium."

On coaching against his Alma Mater [Georgia]:
"It has no effect. Every game is the same in the SEC. Every game is a war. You don't get caught up in the emotions or feelings. You go in with the focus to win that game."

On replacing Rashad Johnson:
"Robbie Green is a little under-sized player. He did a great job in the spring. We have six seniors at corner and safety."

The next speaker was Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo who is a native of Rome. Coach Bobo talked of the high points about the Bulldogs, but answered a lot more questions from the crowd. It was expected as Georgia fans outweighed any other school fans in attendance. He opened up with a quick comeback at coach Smart.

"The SEC sent us out to Las Vegas to play golf," coach Bobo said. "We went to the casino one night. Kirby keeps walking by with buckets full of quarters. I didn't really know what I was doing."

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo
Keynote Speaker
"Kirby is real smart. He has a Finance degree from Georgia. I asked what he is doing to win so much money. He told me they have a machine out there that every time I put in a dollar he gets four quarters back. That's not a true story. He wore his black shirt, so I had to get him back."

"It was a tough year for us. We had high expectations. We were ranked No. 1. As a coach you want players to focus on what they can improve on every day. We fell short of our expectations to play in the SEC championship."

"I was proud of the way we fought back. We won 10 games. It was tough to lose to our rival, that team in Atlanta that I can't mention. We got some fire back, and beat Michigan State in the bowl game."

"Georgia is a special place for me. I played for the state school, and I'll always love Georgia. We have a great man and great coach in coach Richt. It's not about him. It's about the players and the University of Georgia."

"We are always going to have great players because we recruit this state. We are going to recruit Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina, but we are going to recruit the majority in Georgia. Alabama, Florida, Auburn, LSU are always going to have great players."

Georgia Head Coach
Mark Richt
"Year in and year out the best team is going to win, not the team with the best players. You are playing for each other. You are playing for Georgia. You represent the 'G' on your helmet. We had great players in guys like Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford, but we were also a great team."

"Coach Richt is a family man and Godly man. He is about all the right things. I am so happy he coaches at Georgia. I was at Jacksonville State. Coach Richt gets the job at Georgia, and he is looking for a young guy like himself when he was at Florida State. He learned my name from coach Joe Kines. I went to meet with coach Richt."

"Coach Mark Richt talked about his life, family and vision for the program. We didn't talk about how we were going to win this many games. He wanted to build the team on good people. I didn't care what position he offered me. I was going to do it."

"I am excited. Joe Cox is a fifth year senior. He hasn't played a bunch, but if he told an offensive or defensive player to move or let's go throw they are going to do it. That's how much respect he has in the program."

"Joe Cox is about Georgia. It's something special for him to be at Georgia and love Georgia. I think he has the team right now. He is extremely accurate and has the intangible I look for."

"The strength is our offensive line. We are still young with only one senior. We have eight guys who started a game in the SEC. I still have a little concern about some young guys out of position. You want to have a main five that play the majority of the time. We are going to be better. We aren't going to be where we will be in a year or two."

A.J. Green
"The highlight of our team is our offensive line, but our No. 1 playmaker is A.J. Green. He is the guy we have to get the ball to. When he came in he was No. 10 on the depth chart."

"He made plays in practice. He made plays in the first game. He didn't know the whole playbook, but I knew when he got the ball he would make plays happen. We have to find some young guys again this year to make plays."

"A question mark is tight end. We lost Tripp Chandler. The tight end is very vital to our offense. We are going to run and throw the ball equally. We want to be balanced and you have to have a tight end to do that."

"The guy is Aron White from Missouri. He is up to 230-pounds. He is really working hard. We have a couple young guys like Orson Charles and Artie Lynch. One of those young guys will have to step up. If you make plays, I don't care if you are a freshman or a senior we are going to make sure you get the ball."

"Our strength on defense is going to be our defensive line with Geno Atkins, Jeff Owens coming back from knee surgery and Kade Weston. We have three senior defensive linemen. SEC football is won on defense."

Rennie Curran
"I coach on offense, but if you are good on defense you are going to have a chance to play in Atlanta. One main thing that separates the SEC from other conferences is the defensive line. There is great defensive line play in this league."

"The leader of our defense is Rennie Curran. Rennie is probably 5-foot-8, 220-pounds. He is probably the best football player on our team. He loves Georgia. He is a tackling machine. Every time he came over I would tell him to wear those big Timberland boots. He would look taller."

"We are going to be strong in the secondary with guys like Bryan Evans, Prince Miller and Reshad Jones. We are going to miss Asher Allen, but we have players with good experience. We have some good young guys like Branden Smith. He is very electric and will give us a chance."

"Overall we are heading in the right direction. We are excited about the season and first game. We are playing Oklahoma State. It's great exposure for our program. It's give us something to work for. The schedule is going to be a battle each week."

On signing Aaron Murray away from Florida schools:
"He loves his quarterback coach," coach Bobo said with a laugh. "I don't know. It's different things for different guys. The main thing we want to do is sell Georgia and how we do things."

"Aaron felt comfortable about reaching every dream he ever had at the University of Georgia. He is going to have a chance to sit back and learn from older guys. I am excited about him and Zach Mettenberger. I was pleased to get them in this spring."

On the return of offensive lineman Trinton Sturdivant:
"Well we lost Trinton before the season started last year. He went through no contact in spring, but still went through all the drills. He is full this summer. He is excited about going out this summer. He is very competitive. He wants to be very good and wants to be considered as one of the best OL in the country. It's good to get him back on the left side."

On working with offensive line coach Stacy Searels:
"Coach Searels is awesome. He went to Auburn, but says he is back home. We were fortunate to get him back from LSU. We hit it off from day one. He has been a huge success for what we do. We felt real good going into the year then all those injuries happened. It's a credit to him for how he held it together."

On playing coach Searels in Racquetball:
"He is about 6-foot-6, 290-pounds. His head weighs about 90-pounds. He is a competitive guy. He is a pretty good golfer as well."

The college coaches departed before any of the recruiting segment of the program. National Recruiting Director
Scott Kennedy National Recruiting Director Scott Kennedy talked in depth about his journey as a recruiting analyst, how rankings are put together and the evaluation process.

Kennedy introduced Assistant Regional Manager Andrew Bone who interviewed a couple of prospects in attendance, Desmond Brown, three-star safety and Coty Blanchard, three-star quarterback from Centre-Cherokee County, Ala.

Rusty Mansell interviewed Alex Sentell, outside linebacker from Rome-Darlington School, Ga. Mansell introduced South Regional Manager Chad Simmons who quickly got into the interviews with some of Georgia's finest in attendance.

Mack Brown, National 100 running back from Lithonia-King, talked about the recruiting process.

"All week long people text and call you, but now I am getting used to it," said Brown. "I realized I was going to be this type of recruit when my coach called me to the gym, and UGA and Florida offered me at the same time."

Mack Brown

"I like Nick Saban. We talked to Nick Saban for an hour. I like how he would use me as a running back."

"The Gators have been recruiting me the hardest through the process. I have a great relationship with coach [Kenny] Carter. We talk every week."

"I have been a Georgia fan since I was seven years old. I am a Georgia boy."

Favorites and when a decision is expected:
"It's really Georgia and Florida right now. They are 1A and 1B. I will probably commit during the middle of the summer. We want to win state this year. I am going to be focused on the season."

Nash Nance, three-star quarterback and Da' Rick Rogers, four-star wide receiver from Calhoun, Ga., were introduced. The best friends and teammates with play at SEC-East schools. Nance recently committed to Vanderbilt and Rogers to Georgia.

Alec Ogletree, five-star safety from Newnan, Ga., made the biggest surprise of the night when he announced his decison to the crowd and committed to Georgia.

How Ogletree became a safety:
"I have been wanting to do it my whole life. My freshman year I was supposed to go with the receivers, but I got in the wrong group. My coach told me to stay in the group, and he taught me everything I know."

The recruiting process:
"I have really enjoyed the process. I have taken it all in. I never let it stress me out. You have to learn how to handle things. It helps you out a lot."

Surprise for the crowd:
"You can expect a decision tonight. UGA."

Juwan Thompson, three-star running back from College Park-Woodward Academy, Ga., entered the event with Duke No. 1 on his list. He left the stage as a Blue Devil commitment.

Juwan Thompson

"Of all the schools I received offers from they were the only one that really showed they wanted me to be a part of their program," said Thompson. "It was never a tough decision."

A big round of applause for Rusty Mansell who put on a tremendous event.

"It takes a lot for me to get the shock and awe, but everyone in this room got it with Alec Ogletree committing to Georgia," said Mansell. "For him to make his decision at our event was a great."

"We had Juwan Thompson make his decision as well. We then had a lot of great players here like Mack Brown, Coty Blanchard, Desmond Brown, Nash Nance, Da' Rick Rogers and Alex Sentell. It made all the hard work put into it well worth it."

On bringing in coaches Mike Bobo and Kirby Smart:
"The coaches are up and coming. I knew when we did this event we wanted some good speakers. Coach Bobo grew up in this area. He was going to be a big draw. Coach Smart is an ex-Georgia player and recruits this area. I knew they would be great, and they were."

The event was a huge success with many thanks to all who took a part in the planning and for attending. thanks coach Kirby Smart and coach Mike Bobo for speaking at the first annual event.

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