College football fans interested in recruiting have, for the most part, turned the page on the class of 2016. There’s no shortage of intrigue surrounding how the best players in that class will perform in their first seasons on campus, but all of them already have determined which uniforms they’ll be wearing this fall.
That wasn’t the case a little more than a week ago, when five-star wide receiver Demetris Robertson had yet to announce whether he’d play for California, Georgia, Georgia Tech or Notre Dame. When he did, it effectively put an end to a recruitment that has piqued the interest of fanbases across the country and reanimated a debate over the practicality of a recruiting staple.
In a ceremony at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Robertson, a standout at Savannah Christian Preparatory (Ga.) School, picked the Golden Bears nearly two years after making his first commitment to another school on the other side of the country. Robertson pledged to Alabama in July 2014. The following April, he announced that, “after careful consideration” with his family, he had reopened his recruitment. He drew interest from programs across the nation, attracting more than 20 reported scholarship offers, and decided to take official visits to Cal, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech before signing day.
But Robertson opted against signing a National Letter of Intent, avoiding the worst contract in American sports and extending his recruitment beyond the day his classmates inked with their respective schools. In appearances with the media, he had expressed a strong desire to attend Stanford, but he reportedly needed to raise his SAT score in order to be accepted into the school and would not know the results of his latest attempt at the test until May. Robertson would up taking his final two official visits to Alabama in February and Georgia in March. He also reportedly signed financial aid papers—which dictate that programs honor scholarships with a given recruit and permit them to have unlimited contact with him—with Cal, Georgia and Georgia Tech before announcing his decision after spring football had wrapped up and a few months before the start of preseason camp.
What is Cal getting in Robertson, whom Scout.com rates the No. 23 overall prospect in the class of 2016? He’s an explosive playmaker who could make an impact right away in the Pac-12. “His hands are a real strength and he is consistent there and has shown he can make the tough catches,” Robertson’s Scout.com analysis reads. “Not elite top-end speed, but good release off the ball, quick and subtle moves when he gets the ball, and a real weapon on the offensive wide.”
It may be difficult for some Georgia fans to understand why Robertson spurned the in-state Bulldogs for a program that has averaged only 4.67 wins in three seasons under coach Sonny Dykes and that just watched the player who would have been delivering Robertson the ball, quarterback Jared Goff, become the top pick in the NFL draft.
But Robertson made clear that, in making his choice, he considered other factors than his team’s projected win total and whether the offense he was joining had a proven passer running the show. Cal is not Stanford—which had been considered something of a “dream school” for Robertson—but it does offer a similar allure with its academic prestige.
“I always told myself I’d rather have a million-dollar business than a million-dollar contract in the NFL,” Robertson said, according to The Telegraph in Macon, Ga.
There’s really no way of getting around it: This is a significant loss for Georgia*.
*Unless it can convince Robertson to change his mind. He is merely committed to Cal; the window to sign a National Letter of Intent closed on April 1, meaning Robertson is still not bound to the Golden Bears. And Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said last week that he’s still recruiting Robertson.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume Robertson won’t be donning red and black this fall. Not only is Robertson from the Peach State and a player that Smart had been recruiting dating to his time as Alabama’s defensive coordinator, but Robertson is also exactly the type of athlete the Bulldogs need to slay their arch nemesis in the SEC, Alabama.
More than just a big-time recruit, Robertson would have filled an acute need. As Smart mentioned in March while describing how he had planned to use Robertson, according to the Telegraph, “We need speed.” (Smart was allowed to discuss Robertson publicly because of the aforementioned financial aid papers Robertson signed with Georgia.)
Though the Bulldogs return one of the best running back tandems in the country in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, they could have used a deep playmaking threat like Robertson to complement those two in the passing game and ease the transition of true freshman quarterback Jacob Eason—who could beat out senior Greyson Lambert for the starting job—by converting short throws into long gains.
If Robertson’s decision is a big miss for Georgia, it’s a major coup for Cal. According to Scout.com, Robertson is the most highly regarded prospect to pick the Golden Bears since defensive tackle Viliami Moala in 2011. But the significance of Robertson’s choice can’t be reduced to one number and a group of stars on his recruiting profile pages. Cal needs Robertson—and fellow freshman wideout Melquise Stovall, a four-star prospect from Paraclete (Calif.) High—to produce right away, given that it loses its top six receivers from last season. Golden Bears assistant Jacob Peeler said he anticipates Robertson playing outside receiver. “He’s a guy that can turn a four-yard screen pass into a 44-yard touchdown,” Peeler said.
Cal will not have an easy time replacing Goff, who set a host of program records during his three seasons in Berkeley. Sophomore Chase Forrest and redshirt freshman Ross Bowers are considered the top contenders for the starting job. What’s clear is that whoever wins out will no doubt appreciate having a game-breaking target like Robertson at his disposal.
Surprising recruiting twists may be nothing new, but this one came three months later than usual—to the benefit of one middling Pac-12 program and to the detriment of an SEC power.
Social media item of the week
Logan Rudolph, a four-star tight end out of Northwestern (S.C.) High, announced last week that he has committed to Clemson. His announcement was anything but ordinary. Rudolph is the younger brother of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Three things to know
• The nation’s top-ranked quarterback is back on the market. Five-star Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High standout Tate Martell announced last week that he has decommitted from Texas A&M. Martell’s decision was not a huge surprise, considering he had previously said that he plans to take all five of his official visits. Yet the Martell news was just the beginning of a bad night on the recruiting front for the Aggies. Mannie Netherly, a four-star wide receiver who attends Crosby (Texas) High, later announced that he would follow Martell in backing away from his pledge to Texas A&M. In the message revealing his move, Netherly seemed to reference a string of Tweets sent out by Aggies wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, who lamented “ppl” who don’t understand loyalty and the sensitivity of society. Moorehead later apologized for what he called “impromptu comments,” but the episode probably won’t help Texas A&M’s standing in the eyes of recruits.
• Martell wasn’t the only highly regarded quarterback prospect to alter his commitment last week. Four-star Basha (Ariz.) High passer Ryan Kelley announced that he decommitted from Oregon. Kelley pledged to the Ducks last November, with former offensive coordinator Scott Frost reportedly serving as his primary recruiter. Kelley initially stuck with Oregon after Frost left Eugene to become Central Florida’s head coach the next month, but when Kelley withdrew his pledge to the Ducks, he mentioned that it was “due to some changes.” Fortunately for Oregon, it has plenty of time in this recruiting cycle to find a replacement for Kelley. Martell expressed interest in the Ducks last year, and he recently mentioned them as one of the programs he’d like to visit or from which he wants a scholarship offer. Two other options for Oregon could be San Clemente (Calif.) High’s Jack Sears and Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High’s Chase Garbers, both of whom the Ducks reportedly visited last week.
• It wasn’t long before Kelley chose a different school. The No. 10 quarterback and No. 112 overall prospect in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com, announced on Friday that he has committed to Arizona State. Kelley continues a strong run of recruiting for the Sun Devils at the most important position on the field. If Kelley sticks to his pledge, Arizona State will have landed a four-star signal caller in each of the last four classes: San Marin (Calif.) High’s Manny Wilkins in 2014, Hart (Calif.) High’s Brady White in ’15, Westfield (Texas) High’s Dillon Sterling-Cole in ’16 and Kelley in ’17. At 6’4’’ and 184 pounds, Kelley likely will need to add some bulk to his frame before he’s ready to carve up Pac-12 defenses, but he’s highly regarded for a delivery that Scout.com describes as “effortless” and his “ability to get the ball down the field.” As a junior last season Kelley passed for 2,606 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, according to MaxPreps.