Notre Dame’s battle with Georgia this Saturday extends beyond the football field and onto the recruiting trail.
Deion Colzie, a coveted wide receiver out of the 2021 recruiting class, will be in attendance as the No. 7 Irish (2-0) face the No. 3 Bulldogs (3-0) in Sanford Stadium (8 p.m. EDT on CBS).
Both programs extended scholarship offers to the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder and are among his top schools. 247Sports pegs the four-star recruit as its No. 6 receiver and No. 55 overall player, while Rivals ranks him No. 6 at the position and No. 95 overall.
Under head coach Brian Kelly, the Irish have signed 10 recruits from the Peach State. Maybe none of their recruitments from UGA and ND had quite the head-to-head bout that’s in the works for Colzie.
The Athens (Ga.) Academy product attends school just five miles from UGA’s campus. The children of UGA head coach Kirby Smart and offensive coordinator James Coley also attend Athens Academy and are friends with Colzie.
Colzie’s mother, Yolanda Jackson, has been a Notre Dame fan for a few decades. She accompanied her son on two visits to South Bend this past year.
“It will definitely be difficult being on the Georgia sideline and being a fan of both teams,” Colzie said. “We definitely need to have a poker face to not show too many signs of which way were are leaning toward. We like both schools a lot.”
The Irish recruiting approach for Colzie compares to that of 2020 receiver Xavier Watts. Plucking away the Omaha (Neb.) Burke product from Nebraska was no simple task. The Irish communicated with Watts on a day-to-day basis for weeks before landing his commitment on July 5.
NCAA rules prohibit Division I coaches from initiating communication with recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year. Since 19 days ago, the Irish coaching staff has reached out to Colzie almost daily.
Head coach Brian Kelly contacts Colzie about three times per week. Offensive coordinator Chip Long, wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander and coordinator of recruiting operations Aaryn Kearney also communicate with Colzie a few times per week.
“He’s had more interaction with coach Alexander than he’s had with (UGA receivers coach) Cortez Hankton,” Jackson said. “That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that. But I think because Deion is right in their backyard, they are a little bit more hands off.
“Notre Dame knows that he’s right in Georgia’s backyard, so they need to be more hands-on.”
Becoming more hands on in Georgia has been ND’s volition over the past couple cycles. Kelly signed just four recruits from the state in his first eight recruiting classes. ND’s 2018 and 2019 classes produced a combined six Georgia signees, including Atlanta Marist product Kyle Hamilton.
Hartwell (Ga.) Hart County’s Cane Berrong looks to join that group. The 2021 tight end verbally pledged to the Irish in June. Colzie became the next Georgia priority after landing an Irish offer that same month.
Colzie’s prowess in three different sports — football, track and basketball — intrigued the Irish. His 6-7 high jump ranks among the best in Georgia. Colzie play at cornerback reminds his head football coach of four-time Pro Bowler Richard Sherman.
“He’s dominant,” continued Josh Alexander on Colzie, who plans to enroll early. “If we can get the ball near him, he makes things happen. He’s big, strong and the kind of kid you like at receiver. He blocks as well as he catches the football and runs routes.
“The way college football is built, those guys have to do a little bit of everything. Blocking on the perimeter is not going to be a problem for him.”
Competing with the Bulldogs for Colzie comes with other challenges beyond the proximity differences. Smart’s previous three recruiting classes each ranked top three nationally.
The Bulldogs also began recruiting Colzie earlier than the Irish. Colzie started attending UGA football camps as an eighth grader. The Irish expressed interest the following year. Colzie has been to South Bend three times: ND’s Sept. 8 home game against Ball State, the Blue-Gold Game in April and the Sunday Night Football recruiting camp in June. UGA has hosted Colzie at least 10 times.
“The (biggest) difference is the school size,” Jackson said. “He could get a quality education at UGA as well. I think it would be more of the student-teacher ratio that would be different.”
Colzie plans to announce a commitment following this football season, though the coming weeks may change that timeline. Another trip to South Bend is planned for ND’s Oct. 12 home game against USC. A final push may be needed following Saturday’s result.
“The family atmosphere at Notre Dame,” said Colzie on the difference between the two schools. “I’m starting to build a great relationship with coach Alexander. I’ve started to talk with coach Kelly a little bit more. From the start, Notre Dame has wanted to build a relationship with me.
“For UGA, since it is right around the corner, it’s kind of a home feel. If I go to Georgia, I can have all my family and friends right there to support me.”