Signing Day... The Crowd Awaits

ATHENS – First thing Wednesday morning, they'll start showing up at Georgia's Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.

No, not the two dozen or so signed letters-of-intent from some of the nation's top high school football players making their intention to play for the Bulldogs official, but the hundreds of diehards there to symbolically welcome those pledges.

This crowd starting coming the first year the building was open for business on signing day, which was 1989, but it could hardly be called a crowd then.

"There are fans that come up here that I've seen every year since I've been here," said Claude Felton, Georgia's director of sports communications. "They'll take off of work or whatever and drive to Athens for signing day."

In the school's first year in the building, the line was just a trickle. Felton and his staff posted an easel outside the office door with a list of all the players expected to sign and put a football helmet sticker next to the name when the piece of paper arrived.

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"Then it was an all-day process," Felton said. "Some kids signed at 8 in the morning, some kids signed at lunch, some kids had signing parties at home at night. The people would pretty much hang out all day."

Now the day is over by lunch time mostly and the number of onlookers has exploded. More than 300 people are expected to come through Butts-Mehre on Wednesday to check out what is now a high-tech operation by the sports communication office.

Felton and his staff now control a video projection board via computer, which includes statistics and video highlights of the Bulldogs' signees.

"The technology has allowed us to do those kind of things," Felton said. "It's become more and more automated."

And also more and more work for him and his staff.

"It takes a lot longer," Felton said. "You have so many early commitments now that you really start working on that stuff a couple months in advance. It used to be we'd be sitting here on the Monday before signing day and nobody had announced where they were going. You can do so much more ahead of time now."

Some schools in the SEC hold signing parties where the head coach addresses boosters at an off campus location. Several of those force fans to buy a ticket, but at Georgia, the midmorning pep talk from head coach Mark Richt and his staff, not to mention the coffee and donuts, will remain free.

"I've never really thought of making it a commercial event," Felton said.

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