Minister of Defense

ATHENS - Ray Drew knew he was going to Georgia well before he announced his intent to sign with Georgia shortly before Signing Day in 2011 – he just didn't let anyone in on the secret.

It was January 2010 and the Battle Hymn of the Republic blared out of Ray Drew's cell phone. Having just visited Athens the weekend before, perhaps the sounds of Georgia's fight song should have been that surprising. Recruits often jump in and out of moods with schools. They are usually warmest after a visit.

But to change your ring tone to a fight song? It was at least one sign that Drew was on his way to Athens more than a year before he would have to sign. The biggest sign, in retrospect, was his visit to Jacksonville for Georgia's annual fight with the Gators in 2010.

There drew was, cell phone in one hand, red pom-pom in the other. Neither school hosts recruits at that game, so Drew figured out how to make the three-hour trip and secure tickets in the Georgia section on his own.

Drew may have been the most important person helping Mark Richt and his staff in pulling in Georgia's absolutely critical Dream Team class of 2011. Cell phone records secured through Freedom of Information requests show that Drew was in constant contact with Richt, Mike Bobo and Todd Grantham during the recruiting process – particularly during the make-or-break days of December and January.

Drew, who picked the Bulldogs on January 28th, was pivotal in recruiting fellow Dream Teamers to Athens. Records show that Drew called Georgia coaches a lot. It was not abnormal for his conversations with Grantham to last longer than 15 minutes. Drew called Grantham five times, Richt 15 times and Bobo 12 times in January alone – in other words he checked in about once a day.

For months Drew visited schools around the South – the charade was on. He was saying all of the right things to the media covering his recruiting and online in social media leading up to Signing Day – including posting "War Eagle." That got the Internet masses worked up, but those on the inside knew that Drew was just pulling punches.

"Some people don't realize that 17-18 year olds can be overwhelmed with all of this, so I just decided to use the social networks to try to make others sweat it out while I had fun," he said at the time. "It was fun for me and it helped me have more fun going through the process."

The Friday before Signing Day, Drew picked the Bulldogs during a press conference in his hometown of Thomasville. The five-star defensive end prospect picked Georgia, which was only a surprise to casual recruiting fans. But what did surprise observers was that Drew admitted to how critical he had been during the recruiting process for the Bulldogs in 2011.

"I would like to think that I have been a pretty big key as far as the process goes," he said after picking Georgia.

But no one knew just how much.


Ray Drew pressures Florida QB Tyler Murphy (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

Records indicate that Ray Drew was on the line with a coach at Georgia just before, during or after important and pivotal times in January. Auburn wins the national title? Drew is on the phone with Richt. Malcolm Mitchell holds a press conference? Drew is on the phone with Richt at 7:44 p.m. The day Xzavier Ward commits to Georgia? Richt and Drew talk twice. The day Drew commits to Georgia? He and Richt talk three times, and he speaks with Bobo the night before. Signing Day? Mike Bobo's second phone conversation of the day, at 7:17 a.m. in the morning, is Drew. The day John Jenkins holds a press conference? Richt and Drew speak moments before Jenkins takes the podium.

Drew was a critical tool for the Dawgs.

Drew was vital to Georgia's recruiting several players who eventually signed with Bulldogs, and a few who didn't. JUCO nose guard John Jenkins was probably the most notable player who Drew enticed with his charm.

"I didn't know anyone who Georgia was recruiting besides Ray Drew," Jenkins admitted after recruiting was all said and done.

Without Drew Georgia might not have been able to pull together the class they had – they certainly would not have had a particular amount of intelligence he brought about recruits.

*****

Two years later some of the message board pundits had given up on Ray Drew. "Where's this five-star guy we were supposed to see?"

Drew had played in 20 games – with 11 quarterback pressures to go along with four sacks. Drew had played well at times, but he couldn't figure out how to crack the starting lineup of a Bulldogs defense littered with NFL players. First, Drew played outside linebacker, but the position didn't fit his skill set. He then transitioned to the defensive line, but his top games game against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern.

"What was wrong with Ray Drew?" the persistent pundits asked. "He's going to be another five-star flop for Georgia."

Or maybe he wasn't. Maybe Ray Drew, like many young, talented players, needed some time to get ample size 17 shoes beneath him. In today's world, where you are judged only on your last great failure, Drew had yet to succeed on the level many projected him to.

He had also yet to start a game or reach his junior season at Georgia. The expectations for the other five-star player in the class, running back Isaiah Crowell, were high as well. And Crowell disappointed Georgia partisans in a massive way.

But Drew isn't Crowell – he just needed time. And his time came in the fall of 2013. Drew earned a starting spot and took off from there he led the defense with sacks and made timely plays late against LSU to help the Bulldogs in one of the most exciting wins in Sanford Stadium history.

"He finally had a role on the defense," one insider said of Drew's sudden playmaking surge.

"It's been a long time coming, but as Sam Cook said 'I knew a change was going to come," Drew said of his production surge in 2013. "It's just hard work and preparation that's been put in. You know one of my favorite quotes is that 'hard work when talent won't.' You can have all the talent in the world, but if you refuse to prepare or put in the time and put in the effort to get to where you want to get you're probably not going to make it. With the people we have here with coaching and training staff and just everyone working together, I believe it's helped me out tremendously to help me get to where I am now."

"Ray is very teachable," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "He's very conscientious. He wants to please, and any time you get that combination of guy along with his athletic ability it's going to come to the top eventually. For him it's come now, and I'm proud of him and his work. I look forward to him being productive for us for the remainder of his career here."

And that seems to include the 2014 season. Drew, along with the bulk of the 2013 defense, is expected to return for another year in 2014. The Bulldogs dealt with a slew of growing pains in 2013 that included typically starting seven sophomores or younger on defense. Drew, suddenly, was one of the elder statesmen on the Bulldogs' defense.

"He's a guy that's a good example of, guys come in highly rated as a recruit and you know he probably wasn't where he wanted to be the first two years. Truthfully, in fairness to him, he probably should have been redshirted his first year, but because of our lack of depth and the lack of linemen, with his ability we kind of had to play him that first year a little bit," Grantham said. "If he'd have been redshirted you'd be looking at a guy that's a redshirt sophomore right now instead of a junior. I think that's important as you move forward in your program; to make sure you've got quality big people so you can redshirt those guys so that a guy like Ray becomes a redshirt sophomore so he's got his three years after that. Ray's a guy that kept grinding and he's been a big factor in us playing better."

"I think Coach Wilson has done a very good job with Ray and really challenged him," Mark Richt said. "The team really needed him to step up on the football field and I think all the work Ray put in is starting to pay off and hopefully he sees that."

No, Ray Drew wasn't the freshman sensation everyone wanted him to be – that's very rare in college football anyway. But that's an unfair way to judge a college career. Drew's impact has already been felt in the form of his dedication to his signing class off the field and his development on it.

Ray Drew is coming into his own at just the right time.


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