published Friday, March 29th, 2013

'Dream Team' has helped Georgia rise


Georgia cornerback Damian Swann, a member of the "Dream Team" signing class, returns an interception during last year's win over Florida.
Georgia cornerback Damian Swann, a member of the "Dream Team" signing class, returns an interception during last year's win over Florida.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DREAM TEAM?

A look at the Georgia signing class from 2011 and their impact in Athens:

C David Andrews, Norcross Andrews was a 14-game starter last season and was SEC offensive lineman of the week after the win at Auburn.

DE Sterling Bailey, Gainesville Bailey had one tackle in three games last season, but he has impressed new position coach Chris Wilson this spring.

CB Devin Bowman, Rossville Bowman started last year's opener as a result of two suspensions in the secondary. He had nine tackles in 13 games.

WR Chris Conley, Dallas Conley had 36 catches for 630 yards last season, including a 136-yard, two-touchdown showing against Nebraska.

RB Isaiah Crowell, Columbus Crowell rushed for 850 yards in 2011 and was SEC Freshman of the Year, but he was arrested and dismissed last June.

OG Watts Dantzler, Dalton Dantzler has appeared in nine games through two seasons, with a high-ankle sprain derailing his sophomore year.

DE Ray Drew, Thomasville Drew has 31 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in his career. He showed promise with eight tackles against Georgia Tech.

S Quintavious Harrow, Columbus Harrow put a wicked lick on Auburn's Tre Mason during a kickoff return in 2011 but was an academic casualty last summer.

LB Amarlo Herrera, College Park Herrera has been very productive with 107 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles through two seasons.

CB Nick Marshall, Rockville Marshall played some before being dismissed in February 2012. He quarterbacked Garden City (Kan.) JC and now is at Auburn.

DT Chris Mayes, Griffin Mayes had to take a detour to Mississippi Gulf Coast CC but is back in Athens with three years to play three seasons.

WR Malcolm Mitchell Valdosta Mitchell has 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns through two years. He opened last season at cornerback.

S Corey Moore, Griffin Moore has 15 tackles and one tackle for loss so far in his career, but teammates are pointing to him for a breakout year.

TE Jay Rome, Valdosta Rome compiled 11 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns last season, including the opening score in the SEC title game.

CB Chris Sanders, Tucker Sanders was dismissed in February 2012 and landed at Georgia Military College, where he got dismissed last July.

WR Justin Scott-Wesley, Camilla Scott-Wesley had six catches for 135 yards as a redshirt freshman, with three of his receptions coming against Nebraska.

WR Sanford Seay, Leesburg Seay was dismissed in February 2012 and played last season at Itawamba (Miss.) CC, where he had 27 catches for 377 yards.

CB Damian Swann, Atlanta Swann started 14 games last year, racking up 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions, including two in the bowl.

OL Xzavier Ward, Moultrie Ward sat out the 2011 season and played in six games last season. He remains a reserve tackle so far this spring.

There is an argument that college football recruiting classes shouldn't be judged until three or four years later.

Then there are classes like the "Dream Team" that speed up the timetable.

Georgia's 2011 signing crop contained 26 players, including 19 from the Peach State who comprised a Dream Team theme created by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. They signed several weeks after the Bulldogs lost to Central Florida in the Liberty Bowl to close a disastrous 2010 season, but they've since been a part of 22 wins.

"I think it's worked out perfectly," junior receiver Malcolm Mitchell of Valdosta said. "We've been to two SEC championships. We haven't won one, but we're still getting there, and we plan on going back. We've lost some people along the way, but the ones who are still here are making a big impact.

"The Dream Team has done what it came here to do."

Mitchell, cornerback Damian Swann of Atlanta, center David Andrews of Norcross and inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera of College Park are returning starters from a class that flourished late last season.

Defensive end Ray Drew of Thomasville had eight tackles in the 42-10 romp of Georgia Tech, and tight end Jay Rome of Valdosta opened the scoring in the SEC championship game loss to Alabama. Then more joined the act in the 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.

Swann had two of his four interceptions last season at the expense of the Cornhuskers, and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley had three of his six catches in Orlando. The biggest star was receiver Chris Conley, who had 136 yards and two touchdowns, including the deciding 87-yard score from Aaron Murray with 11 minutes remaining.

"Once we all matured, I think we've done a lot," Andrews said. "We all came in with a little chip on our shoulder because the older players were saying, 'Here comes the Dream Team,' so we had to come in and prove ourselves. It's a good group of guys and guys who love to compete, and I can't wait to see what we can do this year."

IN THE BEGINNING

Drew, Columbus tailback Isaiah Crowell, Mitchell, Swann and Rome were top-60 national prospects in the 2011 class according to Rivals.com. Georgia's 26-member class was ranked fifth nationally by Rivals.com and Scout.com and sixth by ESPN.

On the day the Dream Team signed, Richt explained his reasoning for the name.

"I knew there was some risk in it," Richt said, "but we just said, 'Let's go for the best and go with reckless abandon and not care what anyone says.' I think a lot of the young men bought into it."

Mitchell and Crowell provided the quickest contributions, with Mitchell catching a 51-yard touchdown pass in the 2011 opener against Boise State and Crowell pounding out 118 yards on 16 carries in the second game against South Carolina. Mitchell went on to lead the Bulldogs with 60.5 receiving yards a game, while Crowell rushed for 850 yards and was voted SEC freshman of the year.

Herrera and Swann combined for nine starts as freshmen on a defense that finished fifth nationally in yardage allowed.

"I think a lot of the guys had their own goals, and a lot of the guys wanted to be the guy who played right away," Swann said. "Everybody wants to compete for playing time, get on the field and then make the big play when Georgia needs it. Some guys have done it more than others, but we still have some guys with us who still have that mentality and know it's not too late."

Crowell won the SEC freshman honor despite serving a one-game suspension for a failed drug test, and he was dismissed last June following an arrest on felony weapons charges. Receiver Sanford Seay and cornerbacks Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders were booted early last year for violating team rules, and safety Quintavious Harrow became the fifth Dream Team departure as an academic casualty last July.

The loss of Crowell was quickly forgotten when freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for 2,144 rushing yards last season, and the next big Dream Team dilemma became whether Drew would live up to his prep clippings. He played in seven games as a freshman, recording eight tackles, and had 23 tackles in 13 games last season.

Drew has yet to start for the Bulldogs but has been excelling this spring, making two sacks in Tuesday's first scrimmage.

"Because of our lack of depth up front before, we really didn't have a chance to redshirt him," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "We would have liked to have redshirted him that year so he could sit and develop himself, and then he could have been a sophomore with three years. He's a guy who's excited to show that he can be a significant player in the SEC, and I think he can."

Said defensive line coach Chris Wilson: "Ray is right where he should be, and I think if he keeps continuing on this path, he will have a breakout season for us this year."

MOVING FORWARD

The Dream Team has helped the Bulldogs achieve two consecutive wins over Florida, with Mitchell's 45-yard touchdown reception the key score in last year's game.

Georgia is on a run of amassing 76 consecutive points against Auburn the past two years, but the Dream Team has yet to experience a win over South Carolina. So there is more work to be done.

"It's flying by fast," Swann said. "I can remember getting here that first summer, and now we're coming up on our third, and we're kind of the guys who are having to be leaders."

Defensive end Sterling Bailey of Gainesville has earned praise from Grantham and Wilson this spring, but the unheralded Dream Team member most classmates believe is destined for a big year is safety Corey Moore of Griffin. Moore has played in 26 games the past two seasons and recorded 15 tackles.

"He hasn't had the opportunity, because he's had to play behind Shawn Williams and Bacarri Rambo," Mitchell said. "When you come in behind people like that, you just have to sit back and learn. He's learned, and now it's his time."

Cornerback Devin Bowman of Rossville and offensive lineman Watts Dantzler of Dalton are among the Dream Team members who have tasted action and would like more. Dantzler said Dream Team talk has died down among the players but that it has been a close class all along.

Considering some of the questions the Dream Team was having to answer upon its arrival two years ago, there is little doubt this class has packed a punch.

"We came in after Georgia went 6-7," Andrews said. "People were questioning Coach Richt and questioning our program, and we came in saying we wanted to make a difference. We wanted to turn the program around and get Georgia back to where it is and where it should be. Last year, we were one play away from the national championship [game], and this year, who knows what's going to happen?

"It could be a very special year, and we're training and preparing like it's going to be."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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