ATHENS, Ga. --- Georgia settled for a split of the two highly recruited offensive tackles who made signing day announcements Wednesday.
Thanks to a strong foundation of linemen already in the class, that split was good enough for the day to be declared a success.
Georgia signed only one quarterback, one receiver and three running backs.
Instead, the emphasis was replenishing depth on both sides of the line. Of Georgia's 29 signees, almost half — 14 — are linemen.
Capping the class rated as high as No. 3 in the nation were signing-day decisions for Georgia from massive offensive tackle Max Jean-Gilles (6-5, 340) of Miami and defensive end Marcus Jackson of Norcross.
Jean-Gilles, Jackson, defensive lineman Kedric Golston and linebacker Marquis Elmore are the most highly rated players in a class Coach Mark Richt says is of championship caliber.
"This group, when they're juniors and seniors, you're going to have a tremendous amount of leadership and talent that is going to help you win championships,'' Richt said. "I think it was extremely important we did sign a large class.''
Richt boasted the signing class includes "strong leadership, strong talent and strong numbers.''
The class also is strong in size.
Georgia signed six offensive linemen and eight defensive linemen. The class includes 10 players listed at 270 pounds or bigger and four at 300 pounds or bigger.
Said Richt: "I would say three or four years down the road, we will see some great results from this group.''
Rivals.com rated Georgia's class as the third-best in the nation, following Texas and Tennessee. Ohio State, Miami and Auburn completed the Rivals.com top six. Other recruiting services rated Georgia lower in top 15 and top 20 rankings.
Of the 29 signees, four enrolled in December and will count toward the 2001 total of signees. The early enrollees are quarterback Joe Tereshinski, defensive tackle Darrius Swain, offensive lineman Josh Brock and defensive end Preston Pannell.
Jean-Gilles' early morning signing with Georgia helped offset the news later in the day that offensive tackle Derek Morris picked Ohio State instead of the Bulldogs.
While Morris was rated the nation's top offensive tackle by Rivals.com, Jean-Giles was rated as the top tackle by SuperPrep and No. 9 by Rivals.com.
Other highly ranked prospects to choose other schools over Georgia: linebacker Ricardo Hurley, who stayed in state by signing with South Carolina; safety Pat Watkins, who stayed in his hometown by signing with Florida State; receiver DeJuan Rankins, who stuck with his original verbal commitment by signing with Oklahoma; and offensive lineman Brandon Jefferies, a North Carolina native who picked Tennessee.
The only defection from Georgia's list of verbal commitments entering the day was tight end John Doucette of New Orleans, who was the most recent addition to the list.
Doucette, who earlier had decommitted from Georgia Tech, finally chose Memphis on Wednesday. Georgia coaches already felt good about having tight ends Leonard Pope of Americus, Michael Turner of Brookwood and Matrez Milner of West Hall.
Richt added two late surprises in defensive lineman Aaron Scranton of Buford and cornerback/wide receiver Tim Jennings of Orangeburg, S.C. Scranton had been expected to sign with Arkansas.
Offensive line was so crucial because six linemen — George Foster, Alex Jackson, Kevin Breedlove, Jon Stinchcomb, Ian Knight and Kareem Marshall — will be seniors on the unit this year. There was an obvious shortage of underclassmen to follow the seniors in 2003 and beyond.
The lack of depth was also a great concern on the defensive front.
"We felt we were able to address a lot of the needs that we had going into this recruiting year,'' said recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner. "At the same time we felt like we were able to attract the type of student-athletes that will represent this institution in a positive manner. That's the one thing that I think sticks out in everybody's mind about this class. They're all young men of character and integrity, not just about athletic ability alone.''
Last year, Richt and Garner had to take more recruiting gambles after Richt was hired to replace Jim Donnan. That led to eight signees failing to meet academic entrance requirements.
This year, Richt said all the signees have a good chance of making the academic requirements.
"Everybody is within striking distance and very reasonable striking distance,'' he said. "We're not going to have many disappointments, if any.''
Richt stressed the need for more cover cornerbacks, and B.J. Fields, Bryan McClendon, and DeMario Minter may have a chance to make an immediate impact. McClendon is the son of former Georgia running back Willie McClendon.
With the graduation of starting rover Jermaine Phillips and the unexpected departure of strong safety Terreal Bierria to the NFL draft, LaGrange High's Olaolu Sanni-Osomo may have an opportunity for immediate playing time at safety.
NOTES: Richt said defensive end Robert Geathers will miss spring practice due to foot surgery. Also, offensive guard Kevin Breedlove had surgery to clean up a thumb injury he suffered last year. Defensive end Darrell Holmes and running back Albert Hollis II, each returning from serious knee injuries, would be limited if they are cleared for spring drills, which will begin on March 4. The G-Day spring game is set for April 6.
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.