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Smart and staff were always prepared

Kirby Smart said he always anticipated having to search for another QB.
Kirby Smart said he always anticipated having to search for another QB. (USA Today)

When word broke on UGASports this past Tuesday night that Georgia was suddenly in the running for former Ohio State quarterback commit Dwan Mathis, it definitely caused many to wonder what was happening.

Obviously, Justin Fields’ potential and expected transfer served as the impetus for the Bulldogs’ late push to secure Mathis, the nation’s No. 2 dual-threat QB.

The idea of potentially having Jake Fromm as the only scholarship quarterback on hand for spring practice was a troubling thought indeed, and that’s the reason – according to head coach Kirby Smart – that he and his recruiting staff had been keeping their eyes peels for potential late additions for basically the entire 2018 football campaign.

“I mean you wouldn’t be a very good coach if you didn’t think this could happen all year, right? So, we were anticipating this as we looked across the country at quarterbacks,” Smart said. “What you find tough is you’re talking in hypotheticals. So yeah, I might be interested coach, if this, if that, if you all have one guy. That’s hard to do in the middle of a season. So, I was very animated with our staff about continuing to recruit kids across the country, because we have a possible situation with one of them with one quarterback on scholarship.”

With Mathis, his interest in the Bulldogs was already established. He camped at Georgia over the summer, and despite his commitment to Ohio State, the Bulldogs stayed in contact with the four-star performer throughout the year.

“We tried to keep relationships developed,” Smart said. “But that one came really fast, where there was mutual interest, he had come here to camp before, and he jumped on board.”

Even if a potential Fields transfer was not likely, Smart indicated signing another quarterback was going to be a goal.

“Obviously, we have to recruit quarterbacks every year. You’ve got to keep quarterbacks in your program and as you know, we were deficient at quarterback the last couple of years,” Smart said. “Ultimately, we’d like to have four scholarship quarterbacks in our program. That is really hard to do nowadays because it’s so volatile and they leave so often. We’re always working off a number of hoping to be at four, but we were very fortunate to have that young man in camp.”

This year, there will at least be three.

Wednesday night, the Bulldogs brought back former walk-on Stetson Bennett, signing him to a scholarship, conceivably to back up Fromm while Mathis spends a year learning Georgia’s offensive system.

Georgia still has a commitment from four-star John Rhys Plumlee – who has been asked to blueshirt – but with Bennett’s addition, Plumlee's future in Athens is unclear.

Athletically, Smart likes what Mathis will bring to the field.

“We liked his athleticism and his arm motion. He's got a really strong whip, he can pop the ball and we thought a lot of him,” Smart said. “There was communication with a lot of guys, but he was the guy who seemed most interested that we also liked the most. We thought he brought the most to the table for us.”

Smart warned this kind of scenario is one fans are likely to see play out more often.

Quarterbacks transferring is not exactly a new phenomenon in college football. It happens all the time.

The last two Heisman Trophy winners – Baker Mayfield and Kyle Murray – both transferred in to Oklahoma. Of course, Jacob Eason transferred from Georgia to Washington with the arrival of Fields.

“I think it’s going to be a reality not just with quarterbacks, kids in general. If you look at the transfer rate in high school, every high school program I go in, the coaches in Florida say it’s crazy here, a kid can go to any school he wants. Coaches in Georgia say it’s getting crazy here because kids can move and go to different places,” Smart said. “You hear the effect of that and I think it is easier it is for kids to transfer in high school, it’s easy for him to do it in college as well. It’s going to be more who adjusts to it and who handles it well.

“I’m not the one to sit here and say it’s right or wrong to be able to do it. Our job as coaches to deal with it. It’s the landscape we may now face. I do wish there was some timing that was a little better. The toughest thing is guys making decisions to do that mid-season. That’s really tough. Fortunately, we didn’t have that issue but I think the time is now when the season ends that kids want to explore their options. That’s a lot cleaner than the fourth game of the year.”

In regards to Fields, Smart said that he will let the former five-star make up his own mind as far as what he wants to do.

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do from that standpoint. He’s not foolish enough to fall victim to that. We’ve been very open and honest that we’d like for him to stay,” Smart said. “We want to support him and his endeavors here and all the goals he came here to accomplish and he’s worked really, really hard to accomplish those during the year. This kid competed his tail off all year, worked, played a team role throughout the year, been very pleased for what he’s done for our team throughout the year.”