We were supposed to meet a trio of Carver football players at four. We anticipate we won't see them until five or later. We might not see them at all. Meeting up with football recruits south of Macon is always a wait-and-see game—mostly wait. But this is worth the delay because Isaiah Crowell is one of the three we're waiting to see.
Shortly after 4:45 the three roll up—Crowell and Quintavious Harrow arrive in a 90s-something Ford Mercury with Georgia flags flapping behind both rear windows. Junior tailback Cequanti Ford (yes, the son of Glenn Ford, who played at Georgia in the mid-90s) follows in a car that isn't nearly as loud.
And so we convene in a booth at Burger King off Macon Road in Columbus, Ga.
"You guys want to go somewhere else to do this," my boss Dean says. "I mean, we're going to video you guys. Are you sure you want to do it here?"
"Nah, I'd rather just do it here," Isaiah replies.
"Let's just hit this playground up," Harrow, or Cootie as his friends call him, says in agreement.
So we head over to the play area, a castle-themed 6-year-old's wonderland that makes us look and feel like giants.
By now, all I can think is—we've got the soon-to-be King of the Georgia Bulldogs having it his way on the playground at a random fast food joint. Put simply, this is awesome.
And I laugh because this is funny and fun and work all at the same time.
Our female reporter, Dijana, gets Isaiah (I refer to certain players by their first name. Why? I don't know. But Isaiah has always been Isaiah in my conversations. Not Crowell. Not Isaiah Crowell. Just Isaiah) on camera.
You can tell Isaiah isn't exactly comfortable. He knows he's good and all that. But he plays football. He runs the football. He scores the football. He's better at doing these things than anybody in the state and most likely the South and maybe even the nation.
Why do people keep asking him to talk about himself? I can see him wondering this from his perch atop a picnic table as he answers questions about working out and getting ready and his plans and his dreams and his hopes.
I don't know Isaiah. I've only been around him four or five times at length, so I don't want to peg his personality in an authoritative profile piece.
But I can tell that Columbus is his place—his domain, and he's about to leave for a fish bowl. In Athens, Isaiah will become a focal point—and don't fool yourself, this isn't just a football focal point. This is social. This is…everything. He's about to become the Matt Stafford or A.J. Green or Champ Bailey or Garrison Hearst of his generation. Everyone will know the name Isaiah. Everyone will seek or need him—whether it be for an autograph or picture or interview or to be a Facebook friend or for his phone number—just anything ISAIAH.
Dean and I talk to Isaiah and Cootie for about 30 minutes. It's a real talk session—none of the bull**** recruits answer for the television interviews or on-the-record profiles.
We talk life, college, struggles, good times, the real recruiting ploys—it's a great talk no doubt.
Isaiah usually answers the same way every time—eye contact real quick. Flash a smile. Look off. Answer in few words. Nod. Next.
Cootie doesn't mince words much either.
I want to say this is Columbus on display. But I don't really know. That's just me as a writer trying to frame something up bigger than the small-scale look I currently have.
With our discussion fizzling out, we head back to the 90s-something Ford Mercury. Dean, wisely, moves for his high-powered camera.
Cootie demands the 90s-something Ford Mercury be the background for the shots. Cequanti wants a picture in front a newer Dodge Charger with shiny rims that just happens to be parked nearby.
Isaiah has no preference. But he doesn't waste time posing, and he flashes that smile. He's amused, and I can tell he and Cootie would follow each other to the end of Earth. Or Athens, whichever comes first.
Does Isaiah fully understand what he's getting into? I don't think he does. Does he know he has the chance to control the pulse of practically an entire state? I don't think he does.
He just carries a football. And better than most ever have. And he smiles. And he gets back into a 90s-something Ford Mercury and drives away.
Where's he headed? Athens in a few weeks. The Dome in a few months. The record books in a few years. Is that fair to say? Probably not. But these expectations come with being the next Georgia superstar.
I told Isaiah as much before he left, and he smiled and nodded.
With all that said…ladies and gentlemen, you already know what it is…let's get it poppin'.
Begger asks: For my favorite hustling beauty... Any idea on a time line for the school choice decisions of the following young men:
Ryan Harrow - Oops! (committed to Kentucky)
Kevin Ware - Should be by the end of May or early June. Should be.
Tony Parker - he's going to let the summer play out, hit the AAU circuit one final time and then get to business. Could announce any time between August and November.
Robert Carter - I haven't spoken to Mr. Carter about a timeline. There is some secret line at Macon—any recruit below the line is hard to get in touch with.
Marcus Hunt - He told me in March he wanted to take his time and let things happen. He is still picking up offers and doesn't have a favorite at this time. He won't be deciding until at least August. Most likely fall.
Charles Mitchell - I haven't spoken to this Wheeler prospect.
Jordan Price - Again, I'm expecting something after summer.
Jordan Adams - Rumors had Adams announcing early, a month ago even. But he didn't. Of all the players you listed, he's really the only one I've heard that could decide sooner rather than later.
Keep in mind, these are based on what some of these kids have told me and others on what people around them have told me. As always, these are subject to change.
Waffle House, IHOP, Denny's or Huddle House?
Throw out IHOP and Denny's off a bridge…I have little to no use for them. I'll eat IHOP (Smokehouse platter), but I only partake once in a blue moon.
So the real competition here is between Huddle House and Waho. There was a HH in my hometown before a Waffle House invaded a few years later in the county over. So I've got more history with the House that Huddles.
But since Waffle House has infiltrated practically every exit off the interstate in Georgia (and there's at least 43 in Athens), I've spent entirely too much time in such establishments.
So I'll take that…I usually get a ham and cheese omelet, hash browns smothered and covered with cinnamon raison toast, a coffee and a water.
Quick story to add: In college, my buddies and I would load up every so often at 3 in the morning (sometimes intoxicated, but always with a sober driver) and hit up "THE" Waffle House. Just as we were getting ready to leave, we would cram the jukebox with as much change as we had to buy as many songs as we could.
And we would play Lee Greenwood's God Bless America five straight times, followed by five straight Little Richard's Tootie Fruity.
Immature? Yes. Hilarious? Totally.
We would leave during the first song, and would always die laughing thinking about everybody still there being forced to struggle through the predicament we placed them in.
Just for good measure, we would play one more Lee Greenwood after the Tootie Fruity gauntlet as the kicker.
Pure college humor at it's best. And before you ask, there was no disrespect meant to Mr. Greenwood's patriotic ballad. It's just such a well known song and such a niche tune that it made for the most reasonable song to play first.
Bread Basket off Chase St or the Golden Pantry off 78/22 in Lexington?
I have to take the RaceTrac off 441 (on the Timothy exit off the loop) as my go-to gas station. That place has been kind to me for over three years now because there is so much selection and it's convenient in terms of where I live.
Seeing those red lights glowing when you drive over the hill just past Athens Academy is something akin to flying into Vegas for me and my college roommate Burch.
With Maymester almost over, what football and basketball signees WON'T be enrolled for that first summer school session?
I can only go off what I know for sure in these instances (just to be fair to the kids), but Mayes is the only player I can say for sure. He'll be going the JUCO route (probably for two years).
As far as any other football and basketball players, I haven't heard anything definitive. Again, I hate to take such a slappy stance, but academics is something I won't speculate about. I know reading this Mail Bag, people might start thinking I have little to no integrity…but I don't comment about grades until it's a done deal.
14dawgs47 asks: 1) Will you be in Athens to check out the talent at the football 101 camp.
If there is a camp in Athens, I'll be there. 7-on-7 is the first week of June. The Mark Richt camp is the following week, with the biggest days on June 11 and 12.
I'll be at any and all of the above. I'm sure I'll be writing, photographing and getting on video.
2) with the jrs that you feel are leaving after this year and with guys we've lost in the off season, where do we stand for available spots for this class.
I think the coaching staff is shooting for a number somewhere between 22 and 25. That's as of right now and accounting for the attrition of this offseason coupled with the rising seniors for sure leaving and potential juniors who could go early.
BlackDeathD asks: Can Aaron pull this Offense together, and make us a force on the field?
I think Aaron is a great leader, a hard worker and he wants to win. Those qualities should be evident this season.
Is adding Crowell a huge step in that direction of making Murray even more dangerous along with Orson/WRs?
Of course. Crowell gives Georgia something it's been lacking for two seasons now—a back with home run hitting ability. I know it's dangerous to put so much hype and expectations into an incoming freshman, but he's a great player. And he has dreadlocks…I can't stress how many cool points the kid has coming in just off the dreads alone.
Can we get by with this OL and still be productive?
As the line stands now, I think Georgia can get by. But there can't be any injuries and some unproven players (Burnette, Long, Benedict, Houston) have to step up and fulfill their potential.
IS Bean going to be ok at OT or is that a worry?
What is that saying…fool me once? Shame on you. Fool me twice? Shame on me. Fool me three times? Wait...
I admit, I'd feel a lot better if Austin Long can supersede the player you mentioned.
Could T. King be that superstar WR that seems to be overlooked?
I'm not sure about superstar—when you say superstar, I think A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones—those type of guys. I'm hesitant to put King in that group, but I think he can round out into more than just a "stretch the field" kind of guy.
If you could ask one thing of the RBs behind Crowell what would it be this year?
Remain eligible and healthy. I repeat…don't get in trouble and don't leave any off-the-field details to question.
Does Rambo get a bad wrap on the board? Rambo was the guy that laid into an AU WR in 2009 and may have won us the game with that play at the cost of his own body. That takes heart.
Yeah, Rambo took some criticism last year that I feel was underserved. I've seen some people say he loafed, but I've never been told that in off-the-record convos with coaches and other players (where we discuss such things as Washaun Ealey has a bad attitude and isn't going to be here much longer. These convos aren't your typical "interviews" so there would be no reason to protect Rambo).
I think people see what they want to see sometimes. I'm not saying Rambo didn't ever loaf. He may have. But it wasn't a glaring problem to me.
The bigger problem, in my honest opinion (and this is not because I love interviewing Rambo…because I love interviewing Rambo) was he was constantly playing with people next to him that had no idea what was going on. Imagine doing your job while constantly looking over to make sure the guy next to you is doing his as well (kind of like how I am with Dean. It's exhausting covering for him). That's not fun…and not fair.
Now, Rambo did have some gaffes in coverage (the season opener was the most publicized). But in some of those clips where Rambo was giving chase to a streaking receiver, he wasn't the one who screwed up. He was just the last guy that happened to be trying to run down the man.
He just wouldn't say something like this, "We were in Cover 2 and Jakar was running quarters instead," or anything like that. Instead he bit the bullet and took the heat.
I think Rambo is going to be fine. Don't forget, last season was his first as a starter, and he now has two left to play and to get better. I'm not concerned about him.
Have a safe trip.
Thanks. It's been a blast so far.
tcdawg30 asks As a first time mail bagger, Fletch, how much if any Boise Blue will be in the GA Dome come Sept 3rd?
I'm thinking it will be a 70/30 split or somewhere nearing that disparity. If it's anything less than that, you guys should be ashamed.
I'm the eternal optimist, so I'd like throw a game one prediction at you and the rest of the mailbag. Our DAWGS lay a beating on the Broncs, and send 'em back to Boise with a big 'ole headache! 41-13 DAWGS!!!
And so it will be. Thanks for your first appearance in the Sack. Don't be a stranger.
nayah asks: Fletch I just knew that our"Dream Team" recruiting class would have a carry-over effect on 2012 recruits in Georgia. I know it's still early but it just seems like GA kids are breaking their necks to go out-of-state. What's your take on this topic?
There are a few things in play that I can provide in Georgia's defense…A) 2012 isn't nearly as talented, top to bottom, as 2011.
B) Early on, before some of the attrition hit, it didn't look like Georgia was going to be able to sign a full class (and no, I'm not trying to get into a debate about oversigning or who should be blamed for the attrition/lack of numbers).
C) There are a few kids that could sway the perception of the class (Keith Marshall, John Theus, Jordan Jenkins, Jordan Watkins, etc.).
This class is not going to be as good as last year's (and potentially the 2013 class could be better than both). But if Georgia takes care of business on the field this season, I think it could close with a class that will be fine.
What receiver not named Tavarres King will have a break-out season?
I'll be honest…I just spent about 20 minutes typing out a fairly long answer where I picked Marlon Brown as my breakout pick…and then I erased it all.
I just don't have a good feeling right now about any of the returning receivers outside of King. I'm not saying Brown won't do anything, but I don't know. I just don't know. And I don't want to fake this answer.
So instead, I'm going with some new blood here. I'm going to pick Malcolm Mitchell because he's got speed, quickness and he wants to come in and play right away. He's a confident football player, and I could see him playing pretty early.
I'm always a little hesitant to take true freshmen for a breakout role (outside of guys like Isaiah), but I don't know for sure about any of the returning guys on the team at this moment.
Based off of what you know about CKO and CWF do you think they are good hires?
It's hard to say if Georgia is better or worse with those guys—I personally like Coach O, and from what I'm told he's on the ball. I think he's great at talent eval and breaking down film (probably a trait honed in the NFL). Coach O is a good guy. I could tell that from the first couple of minutes of our first interview with him. How that translates to football? I dunno. But I think he'll be fine.
With Friend, I think he's good, too. I don't have much of an opinion because he's only been here for a few months. From what I've seen, Friend and Bobo have become fast friends. I assume they knew each other already, but they seem to be on the same page.
It's hard to say he'll be better than Searels (and I know last season kind of put a damper on people's perception of Stacey), but I need more time to say one way or the other.
Give me to the end of fall camp, and I'll give you a more detailed, investigated answer.
Are you a CMR fan?
I have immense respect Mark as a person and a coach. He's always treated me well. Actually, I can't recall ever seeing him not treat a member of the media with kindness or respect. That's not to say he hasn't gotten testy on occasion, but I can count on one hand how many times that's happened and each time something like that happened I could understand why Mark took offense.
I do think he needs to have a good year in 2011, but at times I feel like people say that as if Mark doesn't realize that himself…which is simply…stupid.
Mark has his priorities firmly set—faith, family, football. That shouldn't be used against him to suggest he doesn't want to win more than the next guy. He's a highly competitive person, whether he shows that in front of a television camera or not.
TNLogDog asks: Can a player change jersey numbers during a game...meaning could B. Smith change jerseys and be on the field the same time as Crowell?
No. If they're wearing the number at the start of the game, that's the number they wear throughout.
I asked Isaiah about this Tuesday, and he still insists they'll both be wearing No. 1 this year. I played sports for years (back in the day), so I understand the numerical attachment (To this day, I'll fight a man for No. 11. My dad wore it. My favorite basketball player, Isiah Thomas, wore. I wore it). Still, I'd like to have the option of Smith and Isaiah out there together…I'm just sayin'.
What is the best and worst thing about road trips with Dean?
Just to mix it a little bit here in the Sack, let's welcome in Dijana Kunovac (who occompanied Dean and I this week on an extended road trip). Take away Dijana…
To soften the blow a little bit, I'll start off with the so-called "best" part about being in a vehicle with Kingpin Legge for a total of approximately twenty hours. The best thing in my opinion would absolutely have to be the free food – I think the fact that I'm a girl brings out the chivalrous side of Dean in these situations and he feels the need to pay for every meal, snack and drink I would like to purchase. With that being said however, this is kind of a double edge sword. With each meal I receive though, Dean also makes his own purchase and drinks approximately 63 Diet Cokes (with grenadine) a day. There are several interesting habits Dean also has and as I type this he is currently arguing over the organization of his maps (ATLANTA GOES IN THE FRONT). His constant need to wrap every cord, fold everything in sight, and place the trash pile directly below my feet makes it just a tad difficult to enjoy the ride with him.
Dijana Kunovac, ladies and gentlemen. Give her a hand. Do you see how she already refers to Dean as Kingpin? That's no accident, folks. The Mail Bag influence is real…and here to stay.
Real quickly, I'll add the worst part about being in the car with Dean…he's the worst backseat driver this side of the DMV lady who rode with me when I got my driver's license when I was 16.
Here's an interesting comment Dean made to me one night when we were driving back from Columbus (The Carver versus Buford, Isaiah hugs Richt game): "I'd like to get to Athens some time tonight."
A mere 20 minutes later, I was pulled over and written a $240 tickets for speeding. Thanks a lot Kingpin.
UGA53MAIN asks: How good can T.J. Stripling be when healthy?
Strip is athletic—no doubt about that. But he still needs to gain some weight. And that knee injury is going to take some time before it's where it fully needs to be.
Give him some time to fill out and find his way—I still think he can be a player.
SuwaneeDawg03 asks: What is your pre-writing the Mail Sack ritual....oh wait, that was last week.
Real funny, Suwanee…I like to think your clever remarks last week brightened somebody's day. At least that's what I like to think.
Do you see Figgins being a vital part of the offense other than blocking for Murray and the RB?
I think both he and Zander Ogletree could be a useful weapon. I don't, however, think they'll be anywhere near as good as Chapas or Southerland (at least not with Zander this season).
Bruce is big and he can catch and he can block. But there is something about being a "fullback." It's like one of those things you're born and bred to play, but other players have made a successful position change in the past (so my theory is probably a bad). I think Bruce will be fine, but I don't see him having the impact Chapas did the past 14 seasons (it's also a requirement for a Georgia fullback to create the feeling that he's been playing in Athens for over a decade. Figgins, sadly, will not join the elite, ‘how long has that dude been here,' club. Gordon Ely-Kelso and Jonathan Kilgo were also in this group. Actually, Drew Butler is quickly joining them. Apparently the club opens its doors for only fullbacks and punters. Strange, I know).
We all know that our first two games are going to be tough and we all know the Gators will be tough, but what other game in 2012 will be most difficult for the Dawgs and why?
I don't know if the Tennessee game in Knoxville will be the next most difficult game, but that is a monkey the Bulldogs need to exonerate and a demon they need to get off their backs.
The last two games up there have been complete blowouts…just stomach punchers. Georgia needs to get over that hump.
Will Harrow be as smart as I hope he is and pick the Dawgs?
Yeah…about that…see…let's move on.
Why do you think a person not of the South would pick UGA as a school of choice versus others in the SEC?
Great question…but a tough answer because there are so many variables and every case is different.
I think there are a few things that separate Athens and Georgia from SEC counterparts (again, I'm not saying Georgia and Athens is better or worse than the next SEC destination…just different. Wow, that sounded like the beginning disclaimer for an Anthropology 101 lecture).
A) Athens is the best college town in the conference and is probably at worst top 10 in the nation.
B) Atlanta is less than an hour away.
C) Georgia can hold it's own academically, offering a wide array of degrees and boasting more than one strong area of study.
In listing those strengths, I think most of the SEC has a vast grab bag of pros to throw at any given recruit. Most of the time, what it comes down to is the coaching staff and the current players. Some guys click with Richt, Bobo and Grantham. Others don't. Some guys really get into the vibe the players at Georgia give off. Others don't. Why? Couldn't tell you. That's like wondering why one little boy prefers red when another always picks the blue crayon.
Did you rub it in to Dean and DIjana about all the love your Sack gets each and every week?
There are so many different ways I could go with this question…but yes, I let Dean know about my Mail Bag success at least once a week. He just shakes his head and says, "I don't get it man, but do your thing."
And I think Dijana is already a viable member of #TeamMinion, especially considering she made her first appearance this week, and she gave Dean a little bit of a hard time, too. The Sack just keeps on getting sweeter. VICTORY!
aname asks: Hardest question of your career, oh no. Wait, I am asking that the next mail bag. This one will hold you through tough. Will our O-line be better this year or worse.
This seems to be the question most people want to know…will the line be better?…why was the line so up and down last year?
Those are questions worthy of plenty of time spent in contemplation.
Like I said earlier, I think Austin Long could be a good player if he gets healthy and gains some experience. I'd feel better at that position if he could take over some time during fall camp…or maybe Bean does figure it all out and finally lives up.
Either way, I think Isaiah might be able to make this line look better, regardless if they play better or not. All he needs is a crease. And he can make people miss, unlike Washaun Ealey. An explosive and decisive back can make an average line look great.
But it would be nice to see a good line and a good back play together for once.
blackbulldawg asks: Hopefully this makes it in time been busy all day and just saw this i'm trying to keep my stats up lol
I'll take care of you man…but I have been known to leave a question or two out of the Mail Bag on accident. This time, I think I got it right. I think…
What are the likes and dislikes of your job?
I think the best parts of my job are the worst parts of my job. Does that make sense? Hang with me here.
I like getting out and traveling and seeing new places and faces…but then at times I feel like my hectic schedule is going to kill me.
I never really know what I'm doing from day-to-day, so I get to have a different work experience on a daily basis. I like that spontaneous nature. But then that also makes me feel stretched out and stressed at times. I always feel like I'm chasing something or trying to catch up.
I keep this in mind: I get paid to watch football and basketball games…which is awesome. Watching football and basketball—and sports in general—is something I've been doing practically since I came out of the womb. And it's something I'll do until I die.
But, "working" at games has changed the way I watch each specific event I attend. I can't cheer. I'm constantly looking for angles and trying to "figure it all out." I can't just kick back, or tailgate, or…relax. In saying that, I do cut loose at Braves games and have the fan experience from time-to-time (if you follow me on Twitter, you've probably taken note of when I'm at a game as a fan instead of as a reporter. And if you don't follow me on Twitter, @FletcherPage, shame on you).
All in all, I love what I do. I'm glad to be where I currently am. And I don't want to do anything else. Even if I hit it big on the lottery, I'd still show up on Dean's message board the next day. I promise you that.
Does Austin (Long) look like he's ready to go?
Yes, I saw Austin earlier this week. He looks healthy and fit. He has the body of a tackle in my opinion, and I think if he continues to gain strength and (good) size I think he can be a starter in the SEC. He just needs a good long (no pun intended) stretch of workouts and practice with no talk of injuries cropping up.
Can you guys get in contact with crowell and see what he has been doing to get ready to play between the hedges?
Again, I saw Isaiah earlier this week. It's almost as if you knew who we were going on the road to see this week. Creepy. Anyway, Isaiah said he's been working out and running "gassers" to get ready. Just looking at the guy, he seemed fit and appeared fine to me. He didn't really go into detail about what he's specifically doing on a daily basis, but he seems to be keeping up with what he needs to do. That's what he's saying at least.
Do you still have to pay to get into the games at Sanford?
I know this going to make you jealous, but no I do not have to pay for any sporting event I go to in Athens. That includes football, basketball, baseball…and everything else.
Not to brag, but I've covered a pro golf tournament, a NASCAR race at Atlanta and even a high school girls soccer match at Oconee High School. All were free for the Minion, and that last one was the highlight of my career!
Thanks again for all you do and even with your busy schedule finding time to put out your SACK lol
Always man…speaking of scheduling…I'm tired…and I've probably spent over 70 hours with Dean and Dijana this week. I'm exhausted, actually. Think I'll peace out and take a break for a bit.
Turn the lights out boys, the party's over…We outta here baby…Thank y'all for coming.