Originally created 02/03/05

UGA always on minds of recruits



C.J. Byrd and Marcus Washington met in August. It's a story worth retelling on National Signing Day after the two officially became Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday.

The area's highest-profile players struck up a conversation. Washington knew he was going to be a Georgia Bulldog. Byrd wasn't so sure. Yet.

"Who's looking at you?" Washington said, "Any offers?"

"I've got a few," Byrd said, humble as ever. "Doing OK."

Irony at its finest. Washington didn't know the safety prospect had more than 33 offers to play college football. Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Southern California and Tennessee were just a few of the dream schools.

Georgia was in the mix. Washington, a linebacker, told Byrd he was already committed to Georgia. Byrd chirped back he had a Georgia offer, too. Washington was intrigued.

"Why don't you go ahead and commit then?" Washington said, already recruiting for the red and black. "Georgia's the place. What are you waiting on?"

Both expect to be future stalwarts on defense in Athens.

"It was funny we met like that," Byrd said. "I guess I saw the same things he did in Georgia, too."

Washington was the first of the 2005 signing class to commit in May. He will be the first player from Burke County to play for Georgia. His letter-of-intent was the first to hit the fax at Selig Circle in Athens.

It didn't matter what other coaches or other schools offered. Or which coordinator left.

"I was going to Georgia if Daffy Duck was my coach," Washington said, who will enroll and join the team in June. "As long as that coach was going to teach me the right technique to help me reach my goals. I was always Georgia. Georgia all the way."

The funny part of Washington's day was he had a mild-to-serious case of strep throat. It didn't matter. Washington met Steve Summers, his head coach, at the fax machine.

It was 8 a.m. when Summers dialed the fax number for the Georgia football office. The two looked at each other.

"I congratulated him and told him he handled himself through his recruiting so very well," Summers said. "He handled it better than I ever could have."

Washington smiled at the notion that his early-to-rise attitude was pure luck.

"It was a special moment," he said. "The fax machine said it went through. I knew from that point that I was officially a Georgia Bulldog. Nobody at that school is going to be prouder to be there than me."

Washington scored 920 in his junior year on the SAT. Good enough to qualify, but not good enough for him. Washington focused on SAT prep courses and scored an 1,110 the second time.

"I wanted to do my best," Washington said. "I didn't want to leave any doubt that I would be qualified whatever happened to go to Georgia."

Byrd played the part of local celebrity around town Wednesday. His letter-of-intent might have beat Washington's to the fax machine, but he forgot a form required by the Southeastern Conference at home.

"That was a weird and crazy start to the day," Byrd said. "I woke up today thinking today's the day I become a Georgia Bulldog."

Byrd and his entire family looked the part. His mother, Carolyn, made sure his family dressed appropriately. Mom wore a black suit. Older sister Rene sported a red and black suit. Little brother Rashad, 6, wore a black shirt, red shirt and black pants. He even came dressed in a red-and-black SpongeBob Squarepants Georgia skull cap.

Byrd sported a shiny new red shirt to finish off a red-and-black suit ensemble.

"Maybe the money I save on college with a scholarship comes out in buying red-and-black for the whole family," said Charles Byrd Sr., C.J.'s father.

Byrd, easily one of the top five safety prospects in the nation, hopes to make a sudden impact this fall in Athens.

"I'm going to train harder this spring and summer than I did heading into my senior year," Byrd said. "I want to get a spot and get on the field right away. Safety, special teams, whatever. I'm going to get my weight and my power up to give it my best shot. I'm going to be ready."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.