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All eyes on Texas governor as calls grow to halt execution
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All eyes on Texas governor as calls grow to halt execution

All eyes on Texas governor as calls grow to halt execution
Photo Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File
FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2017, file photo, death row inmate Rodney Reed waves to his family in the Bastrop County District Court in Bastrop, Texas. Supporters for Reed, who's facing lethal injection in less than two weeks for a murder he says he didn't commit, are mounting a final push in the courts and on social media to stop his execution, which is being called into question by lawmakers, pastors, celebrities and the European Union. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP, File)

All eyes on Texas governor as calls grow to halt execution

In his five years as Texas' governor, Republican Greg Abbott has overseen the execution of nearly 50 prisoners while only once sparing a condemned man's life, after a victims' family asked him to do so.

But Abbott — who has proudly referred to the death penalty as "Texas justice" — has never confronted such intense pressure to halt a lethal injection like he is facing in the case of Rodney Reed, who is set to die this month for a 1996 killing despite new evidence that even a growing number of Republican legislators say raises serious questions about his guilt.

On Saturday, supporters of Reed are planning their biggest protest yet outside the governor's mansion, escalating a public campaign that now counts Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Oprah Winfrey among the celebrities who have urged Abbott to call off the Nov. 20 execution. So, too, has the European Union's ambassador to the U.S.

It's unclear if the public pressure is making any impression on Abbott, who was a law and order state attorney general before he was elected governor. Abbott hasn't spoken publicly about Reed's case. Even Republican lawmakers who are close to the governor and have lobbied his office in recent days and weeks for a reprieve say they're in the dark about his thinking.

"They said the governor has heard about it and is taking a very deliberative and thoughtful analysis," Republican state Rep. Matt Krause said. "But they didn't give me an indication one way or the other on which way he'd be."

Reed, now 51, was convicted of raping and strangling 19-year-old Stacy Stites while she made her way to work at a supermarket in Bastrop, a rural community about 30 miles southeast of Austin.

Reed has long maintained that Stites was killed by her fiance, former police officer Jimmy Fennell. Reed says Fennell was angry because Stites, who was white, was having an affair with Reed, who is black. In recent weeks, Reed's attorneys have presented affidavits that support his claims, including one by a former prison inmate who claims Fennell bragged about killing Stites and referred to Reed by a racial slur.

Reed's lawyers say other recent affidavits also corroborate the relationship between Stites and Reed. Fennell's attorney has said his client didn't kill Stites, and prosecutors maintain that they believe Reed is guilty.

Texas remains the death penalty capital of the U.S. even as executions nationwide hover at historic lows. Last year, about half of the 25 executions nationwide took place in Texas, which has put to death eight people so far this year.

Support for the death penalty has been declining in recent years, but in Texas, Abbott hasn't relaxed his position. A practicing Roman Catholic, Abbott breaks with the church on the Vatican's view that capital punishment can never be sanctioned, and efforts to scale back the types of crimes that carry the death penalty in Texas have stalled under his watch.

Only once has Abbott spared the life of a convicted killer shortly before the scheduled execution: Last year, he accepted a rare recommendation of clemency from Texas' parole board and commuted the sentence of Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, who fatally shot his mother and brother. Abbott did so after Whitaker's father, who was also shot, asked for mercy.

It's not the first time Abbott's decision-making has been in the spotlight over a high-profile death penalty case. While serving as Texas attorney general in 2011, Abbott ruled that a state forensic panel could not consider old evidence in the case against Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for a fire that killed his children but whose guilt remained in question after his death because the arson science used to convict him had since been debunked.

In a letter to Abbott this week, more than a dozen Republicans said that getting it wrong with Reed could "erode public trust — not only in capital punishment, but in Texas justice itself."

"We have a lot of executions, right? We're Texas," said Republican state Rep. James White, who has served in the Legislature for nearly a decade. "This probably is the first one I've directly reached out to the attorney general's office and the governor's office on. Not on the prospect that I believe that Mr. Reed is innocent. But I do believe there is a lot of information and evidence that does deserve to be vetted."

___

Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pauljweber

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Local News

  • An Athens businesswoman is on the Georgia Medical Cannabis Commission appointed by Governor Brian Kemp. Danielle Benson will serve on the panel that will make recommendations for the Georgia Legislature. The new legislative session begins in January.   The commission has seven total members with three appointed by the Governor, two appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and two appointed by the House Speaker. The members serve four-year terms, and the Governor selects the commission chair. The commission is administratively attached to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. Governor Kemp’s Appointees Danielle Benson, Small Business Owner Christopher Edwards, M.D., Principal Surgeon, Atlanta Neurological & Spine Institute Jason Hockenberry, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Health Policy, Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health Lieutenant Governor Duncan’s Appointees William Bornstein, M.D., Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer and Chief Quality & Patient Safety Officer, Emory Healthcare Judith Rochon, M.D., Kaiser Permanente Speaker Ralston’s Appointees William “Bill” Prather, President, Georgia Board of Pharmacy Bob Starrett, City of Austell Chief of Police
  • The third annual University of Georgia STEMzone took place before the Nov. 9 Missouri game on the Zell B. Miller Learning Center lawn. STEMzone, now in its third year, hosted more than a dozen hands-on opportunities to engage people of all ages on research being done at UGA in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. “We are glad to report that STEMzone fall 2019 was a great success,” said Caitlin Conn, a doctoral student in ecology and member of the STEMzone planning team. “Around 85 graduate student and faculty volunteers braved the cold weather to bring Bulldog fans 13 different interactive booths, ranging in topics from conservation and palm oil to regenerative bioscience. We were able to engage nearly 1,000 visitors of all ages (and team affiliations) with the STEM research being done at UGA.” While STEMzone booths and activities were geared toward young children, people of all ages found something interesting to take part in as they made their way into the stadium, with a diverse range of topics including brain anatomy, monarch butterflies, reptiles and underwater robots. STEMzone was created three years ago by ecology graduate student Reni Kaul to introduce the community to research being conducted at UGA. It has since grown into an interactive outreach event that bridges the gap between two otherwise unrelated realms: football and research. STEMzone 2019 participants included: Department of Anthropology EcoReach: Build-a-Bug Workshop Genetics Graduate Student Association: Diversity of Life Georgia Dolphin Ecology Program Graduate Research Assistants Diversifying STEM (GRADS): To Flu Shot or Not Integrative Conservation PhD (ICON) and POP UGA: Palm Oil, the Hidden Ingredient Project Monarch Health: Migration Station Regenerative Bioscience Center: Regenerative Bioscience you can TOUCH Roberts-Galbraith Cellular Biology Lab: Off with Their Heads! UGA Women in Science Neuroscience Graduate Student Association: Neuroscience at UGA Herps! Marine Sciences: Marine Debris If you missed STEMzone 2019, you’ll have another chance to participate in the spring. “We are excited to do it all again on G-Day,” said Conn.
  •  We wake up to the coldest temperatures so far this fall, with the mercury well below the freezing mark in Athens and across northeast Georgia: forecasters say we will see more of the same overnight tonight before a bit of a warmup later in the week.   From WSB TV…  The coldest weather of the season is here. Many woke up to temperatures Wednesday we haven't felt since January.   At 4:30 a.m., temperatures started out in the low to mid 20s across metro Atlanta.  Severe Weather Team 2 meteorologist Brian Monahan says sunshine will keep us a bit warmer than Tuesday.   Ice patches were reported on I-575 at Barrett Parkway in Cobb County and on Scenic Highway at Tree Lane in Snellville.  Monahan says: Be prepared for cold weather all day long.
  • He wore the Georgia G and the G of the Green Bay Packers. Zeke Bratkowski has died. Bratkowski was a record setting quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs in the 1950s and was Bart Starr’s backup on the Packers NFL championship teams of the 1960s. Zeke Bratkowski was 88 years old. From Claude Felton, UGA Sports Communications… Bratkowski was born Oct. 20, 1931, in Danville, Illinois—also the home of Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman. He became one of Georgia's most celebrated quarterbacks under Coach Wally Butts followed by an outstanding 14-year career in the National Football League. 'The Brat' earned All-America honors in both 1952 and '53 and was the nation's leading passer in '52 and the nation's leading punter in '53.    He was a two-time All-SEC selection and two-time SEC passing champion throwing for 1,824 yards in '52 and 1,461 yards in '53. He set numerous UGA passing records and finished his career with 4,836 career passing yards. Following his senior season, Bratkowski threw touchdown passes of 50 and 60 yards in the Senior Bowl all-star game before embarking on a 14-year NFL career with the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, and Green Bay Packers.    In 1954, he was selected by the Chicago Bears in the annual NFL draft and earned the starting job as a rookie. He is still one of only three first-year quarterbacks to start a season opener for the Bears since 1933.   With the Packers he became known as 'Super Sub' backing up starter Bart Starr as Green Bay won three consecutive World Championships including two Super Bowls in 1966 and ‘67. In 1965, Bratkowski led the Packers from a 10-0 deficit to a 13-10 overtime victory over the Baltimore Colts clinching the NFL Western Conference title. In his 14 NFL seasons, he completed 762 of 1,488 passes for 10,345 yards and 65 touchdowns.    He was later inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in addition to his selection into the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Polish American Hall of Fame in 1995. He was inducted into the University of Georgia Circle of Honor in 2006.   Following his playing career he became one of the NFL’s most successful offensive coordinators holding assistant coaching positions with several NFL teams including the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Baltimore Colts, Indianapolis Colts, NY Jets, Cleveland Browns, and Philadelphia Eagles.   Living in recent years in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, Bratkowski turned his attention to a special project away from football. assisting with hurricane relief efforts in Alabama’s Gulf Coast.   
  • The Georgia Bulldogs defeated The Citadel, 95-86, on Tuesday night in Stegeman Coliseum.    Six Georgia players boasted double-digit performances. For the second-straight game, freshman Anthony Edwards led all scorers for Georgia tallying 29 points. Sophomore Amanze Ngumezi’s 10 points tied a career-high and marked only the second time in his career he finished in double-digits. Four other Bulldogs recorded double-digit points including senior Tyree Crump (13), graduate transfer Donnell Gresham Jr. (13), junior Rayshaun Hammonds (10) and freshman Sahvir Wheeler (10).    Georgia ended with single-digits in turnovers, committing only eight, a feat that only occurred once last season. Georgia’s defense caused The Citadel to turn the ball over 22 times, resulting in 28 points for Georgia. This bests Georgia’s 2018-19 season-high 24 points off turnovers.    'We found a way to get into the bonus early in both halves,” Head Coach Tom Crean said. “It was the 11-minute mark in the second half and 12:37 in the first half. The 10 extra free throw makes and the 13 extra free throw attempts were a huge part of the game. There was a lot of youth that came out tonight. We are working constantly to not over help on their dribble, and do a much better job of staying with our man. We have to become a more physical team and figure out ways to help us become that.'    Besides an early 2-2 tie, Georgia led for the entire game. All 11 Georgia players who saw the court put points on the board.    Georgia went on a 7-0 run over 52 seconds to take an eight-point lead with eight minutes to play. As a result of a two and half minute scoring drought for The Citadel, Georgia maintained a six-point advantage.    A nine-point lead was capped by Edwards on a fast-break dunk. Shortly following, back-to-back shots from behind the arc gave Georgia its first double-digit lead of the game, 45-35.    As time expired, Edwards notched another steal and sent Georgia into the half leading, 48-40.    Out of the locker room, Georgia jumped out to another double-digit lead. A four-point play from Gresham and a layup from Edwards boosted Georgia to its largest lead of the night, 12, with 15:32 remaining. Edwards scored seven points in 1:20 to maintain the double-digit lead, 67-57.    The Citadel went on a 8-0 run to cut Georgia’s lead to one, 74-73, with 9:40 to play. Georgia quickly responded, scoring on its next four possessions to regain an eight-point advantage.    While The Citadel creeped within two points with 2:39 remaining, baskets from Edwards and Hammonds extended Georgia’s lead yet again, 92-85. The Citadel would score only once more, as Georgia sealed the 95-86 victory.    Georgia returns to action on Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m. against Delaware State in Stegeman Coliseum. The contest will be televised on SEC Network +. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS Georgia jumped Alabama in the College Football Playoff Rankings on Tuesday night, but nothing has changed in the Bulldogs' locker room. Tailback D'Andre Swift said four weeks ago Georgia would treat the remainder of the season as playoffs. Coach Kirby Smart echoed that mindset on the SEC Coaches teleconference on Wednesday. 'There's no difference in this game and the last three, four or five since the South Carolina game,' Smart said, asked by DawgNation if he would mention the potential CFP ramifications of the Auburn game to his players. 'I don't know that the ramifications have changed,' Smart said. 'We've got an opportunity to win the East. That's really our next step is to worry about Auburn and take care of business for this game.' RELATED: Georgia jumps Alabama in CFP Rankings The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) play No. 12 Auburn (7-2, 4-2) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Georgia's only loss this season came at home on Oct. 12 against an unranked South Carolina team by a 20-17 count in overtime. Alabama, which is ranked No. 5 in the current CFP rankings, fell at home to No. 1-ranked LSU last Saturday, 46-41. The CFP Committee said it valued the Bulldogs two wins over Top 20 teams over the Tide's schedule. Alabama doesn't have any wins over current Top 25 teams and only one win over an SEC team with a winning record (Texas A&M -3). 'T he difference for Georgia being at four was the fact that they have two wins against top-20 teams being Florida and Notre Dame,' CFP Committee Chairman Rob Mullens said on the Tuesday night national teleconference. 'You're looking at the full resume, so you're discussing everything. You're discussing all the wins and the loss, and again, it's an art, not a science, and that's why you have 13 members, and everybody shares their perspective on those losses and those wins, and at the end, you put it to a vote.' The committee noted after the first set of rankings last week that in addition to having a strong defense, the Bulldogs featured and experienced quarterback in Jake Fromm and a talented runner in Swift. 'They are the only FBS team to not give up a rushing touchdown, which is a pretty strong statement,' Mullens said on Nov. 5. 'They have an experienced quarterback, and elite running back.' It was Swift who threw down the gauntlet after the 20-17 loss to South Carolina, speaking passionately about the Bulldogs' need to pull together and play up to their potential. RELATED: D'Andre Swift makes strong statements in wake of SC loss ' I'm going to address the team today and just tell everybody we need to stick together, we need to be more of a family now than any time, and let them know one loss doesn't define our season,' Swift said the Monday after the shocking loss to the Gamecocks. 'We need to keep going and treat every game like a playoff game, that's really what it is,' he said. 'We should be one of the best teams in the country on offense, in every aspect, and I think we need to do a better job of playing fast in practice and hopefully see that trickle down to Saturday. We haven't played a complete game offensively, at all.' RELATED: UGA looks for elusive road win over SEC West opponent The same could be said as the team heads to Auburn with the season likely on the line. Georgia football stories from DawgNation UGA confident it has the speed to keep up with Auburn Georgia defense tops SEC in every major statistical category Bulldogs move into top 5 in rankings George Pickens makes UGA live with the bad to get his good A look at Georgia football playoff picture after Missouri win Bulldogs stock report: George Pickens scores, defense soars Kirby Smart talks about UGA injury situation for Auburn game The post Kirby Smart: No difference' for Georgia in wake of No. 4 College Football Playoff ranking appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Georgia remains the top-ranked, one-loss team in the nation in the College Football Playoff Rankings. LSU (9-0) took over the top spot in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday nighton the strength of its 46-41 win at Alabama last Saturday in Tuscaloosa. Ohio State (9-0) was No. 2 and Clemson (10-0) was No. 3, and then came the Bulldogs (8-1) at No. 4. The Crimson Tide (8-1) came in at No. 5 with Oregon (8-1) at No. 6. LSU's win last Saturday snapped Alabama's 31-game home win streak and ended the Bayou Bengals' string of futility against the Tide at 8 games last Saturday. The Tigers have four wins over teams ranked in the Top 20 this season: Alabama (No. 5), Florida (No. 11), Auburn (No. 12) and Texas (No. 19). Ohio State (9-0) dropped to No. 2 despite a 73-14 win over Maryland. The Buckeyes' best win was a 38-7 victory over No. 14 Wisconsin on Oct. 26 in Columbus, Ohio. It's the first time the top-ranked team in the CFP rankings has dropped when coming off a win. Defending College Football Playoff champion Clemson (10-0) is at No. 3 after its 55-10 at North Carolina State last Saturday. Georgia is ranked ahead of Alabama on the strength of its wins over No. 11 Florida and No. 16. Notre Dame. 'As you look at (Nos.) 4 and 5, two really good teams, one-loss teams, we just saw Alabama had a tough loss,' said Rob Mullens, the chairman for the 13-member CFP Committee. 'You compare that against Georgia's resume, and the two big wins that Georgia had.' Mullens explained on the teleconference that the committee works to rank the No. 1 to No. 3 teams, and then Nos. 4-6. 'The separator for Georgia in the (4-6) pool is their two wins against Top 20 teams,' Mullen said. 'You're looking at the full resume, so you're discussing everything, all the wins and the loss.' Mullens said the committee spent a lot of time comparing Georgia to Alabama, and it did take into consideration that the Bulldogs lost to unranked South Carolina while the Tide lost to LSU. The Crimson Tide, however, doesn't have any wins over Top 25 teams this season. Its best win is likely considered the 47-28 victory it scored over Texas A&M on Oct. 12. Alabama (8-1, 5-1) was ranked higher than t he Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1) in the AP Top 25 poll last Sunday, coming in at No. 4 there with UGA No. 5. Minnesota (9-0) made the biggest jump in the CFP rankings, up to No. 8 from No. 17 after a 31-26 home win over previously unbeaten and now No. 9-ranked Penn State. The Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win at No. 12 Auburn (7-2, 4-2) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. RELATED: Kirby Smart updates playing status of Trey Hill and Lawrence Cager The committee had Georgia as the top-ranked one-loss team last Tuesday night, too. CFP Committee chairman Rob Mullens explained why last week. 'Georgia has beaten two top 15 teams, (then-) No. 10 Florida, (then-) No. 15 Notre Dame,' Mullens said, asked by DawgNation on last Tuesday night's national teleconference about the Bulldogs place in the order of one-loss teams. 'They are the only FBS team to not give up a rushing touchdown, which is a pretty strong statement. They have an experienced quarterback, and elite running back,' he said. 'But the separator for them at this point was the two Top 15 wins.' Georgia extended its streak of games without a rushing touchdown with a 27-0 win over Missouri, it's third shutout of this season. The rankings will be released the next three Tuesday nights at approximately 7 p.m. on ESPN, with the final rankings coming out on Sunday, Dec. 8, at noon. College Football Playoff rankings for 2019 Week 12 Georgia football stories from DawgNation UGA confident it has the speed to keep up with Auburn Georgia defense tops SEC in every major statistical category Bulldogs move into top 5 in rankings George Pickens makes UGA live with the bad to get his good A look at Georgia football playoff picture after Missouri win Bulldogs stock report: George Pickens scores, defense soars Kirby Smart talks about UGA injury situation for Auburn game The post College Football Playoff Rankings for Week 12 released: Georgia jumps Alabama in Top 5 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Mike Shildt has been named the 2019 National League Manager of the Year, after leading the St. Louis Cardinals to an NL Central title and an appearance in the NLCS. Shildt was followed by Craig Counsell, Brian Snitker, Dave Roberts and Dave Martinez in voting. Snitker earned three of the 30 first-place votes after managing the Atlanta Braves to another NL East title in 2019, leading them to their most wins (97), since 2003.
  • ATHENS Georgia coach Kirby Smart said center Trey Hill has been practicing this week after leaving last Saturday's game with a sprained left ankle. 'Trey has been fine,' Smart said at his Tuesday night press conference. 'He's taken all the reps and done everything.' Smart said senior graduate transfer receiver Lawrence Cager has also had a good week of practice after re-aggravating a shoulder injury in the 27-0 win over Missouri. 'He's been good, taking all his reps, catching balls and doing what he's supposed to do,' Smart said. 'Hopefully we can keep him healthy.' Smart said senior defensive back Tyrique McGhee remains sidelined with a foot injury. 'He hasn't been able to practice,' Smart said. Hill's healthy status should pave the way for the Bulldogs to open the game with their starting line intact for the third consecutive week and fourth time this season. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (8-1, 5-1 SEC) play at No. 13 Auburn (7-2, 5-2) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Georgia has had a rash of injuries on the offensive line, with left tackle Andrew Thomas the only player to start every game. Smart explained that Cager's shoulder injury is of the sort that the coaches leave it up to him whether or not to play. 'I think he's very tough,' Smart said. 'He's playing with a tough injury to deal with. It's his choice. He has to make a decision whether or not he wants to play. 'He wants to make plays for his brothers on the team.' The post Georgia coach Kirby Smart provides practice updates on Trey Hill, Lawrence Cager appeared first on DawgNation.
  • EDITOR'S NOTE: This original Richard LeCounte III story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access the other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com. The year was 2015. It was a summer night in July. The Mark Richt era was on its last season in Athens. There was this rising 2017 prospect who kept bounding up and down. He wasn't the biggest cat, but boy could he move. He was so springy. That young man's name was Richard LeCounte III. He was a 'Down South Georgia Boy' prospect if there ever has ever been one. But back then, those guys didn't go play football at the University of Georgia. LeCounte had the hops and the explosive acceleration. He was often found near rising senior Mecole Hardman, Jr. at that camp. Hardman went on to basically shine as brightly as anyone at that camp that night at both the receiver and cornerback spots. Those two represented potential glory for Georgia. If the Bulldogs could only start signing guys like those two. Georgia did. Hardman put in his three years and is already making millions and weekly highlight reels in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs. LeCounte is still in Athens, but he's currently in a stretch that can be called the best football of his time at Georgia. The program would be lucky to keep him away from Hardman's new league for one more year the way he's playing. The former 5-star safety tied for the team-best total in tackles (6) against Kentucky. He shadowed future NFL tight end, Kyle Pitts, down in Jacksonville with great success and also had six tackles on that night. He picked off Missouri last Saturday in the red zone and returned that theft 71 yards. The former Liberty County star might have scored if he didn't have to vault over a teammate on that return. Those three games came after he managed just one tackle against South Carolina. That was saying something after LeCounte finished his sophomore season with 74 tackles. That led the Bulldogs in 2018. It was an up-and-down year for LeCounte, though. He's made sure that the valley against Carolina didn't become another 'rat trap' trend. 'The difference between Richard now and then is he's bought in a little more into the understanding of what I have to [do]within this system,' Kirby Smart said while describing LeCounte's proper thought process on Monday. 'What is my job? I have to make calls and decisions on my side of the field that is critical to our success. I've said after the [Missouri] game that I think in the last two or three weeks he's taken a little more ownership in that.' 'He's taken a little more initiative to watch [game] tape and not just think I can go out there and ball. I've got to go understand and play within the defense to make plays and he's doing a better job of that.' That's the present for LeCounte. It is a pretty good one at that. But it doesn't change the fact he will always be a bookmark recruit of the Kirby Smart era at Georgia. RELATED: Did you ever know the background story about Richard LeCounte III? He was driving a car at what age? Richard LeCounte III: When he chose to be a Bulldog There will be a time when Kirby Smart's first teams come back to celebrate their success between the hedges in Athens. There is already going to be a definite one with that SEC championship team from 2017. LeCounte was on that team. When he's taking another dip in the cheers of Sanford Stadium, the astute DawgNation fans will be able to point down to the field or to the Jumbotron and say the following: That was the first big-time recruit to take a chance and invest in Kirby Smart's Georgia. DawgNation broke the news Smart was hired by Georgia on Dec. 6. That was a Sunday. Smart earned the commitment from his first 5-star recruit less than a week later. LeCounte wanted to play for a coach like Smart. But he also wanted to play for that winning formula which was firmly in place at Alabama. But he wanted to do it for Georgia. When Smart was hired, it was all he needed to know. His thoughts about Alabama and Ohio State didn't last much longer than that week. When he chose Georgia, LeCounte was rated as the nation's No. 1 ATH and the No. 22 overall prospect for 2017. It was just after he finished his junior season. COUNT one for #SicEm17 #homeGrown #CommitToTheG Coach Kirby Smart (@KirbySmartUGA) December 13, 2015 Smart even flashed some creativity with that 'COUNT' reference in his tweet that signaled Georgia just landed a major recruit. From there, LeCounte was a monster for Georgia on the recruiting trail. He became the type of recruiter that every year fans now wish for another 'LeCounte' in that cycle. He was that future Bulldogs who cared so much and bleeds so much for his home state. LeCounte's message was simple. He just wanted all of the 'Dawgs' in the state to stay home. When he showed up at the Rising Seniors game in Atlanta later that month, he started walking up to guys and calling them Dawgs, too. He was proclaiming them a part of 'SICEM17' before those guys fully realized they were going to sign with Georgia, too. There was also that time at the 'Rising Seniors' game when he lost a tooth, threw it to a defensive coach and never missed a practice rep. It will never be forgotten in the history of that game. When asked about it the next day, it suddenly dawned on him that he never bothered to ask that coach for his tooth back. LeCounte showed up at the Opening clad in Georgia gear that next February. He even had a Georgia cell phone case. He did backflips at the Opening finals out in Oregon. LeCounte was working fellow 2017 RB targets, Toniel Carter and D'Andre Swift, on that trip. Those two both chose Georgia. So did Andrew Thomas that week. When he visited for the games each week, he celebrated and cheered for his future teammates as very few recruits have done so before. Or have since. When December rolled around, he was Santa in a pair of DawgNation 'Christmas Commitments' videos. With the 'My Savages' hit from Future playing in the background, he coined the 'we ain't done yet' phrase that still stands in the hearts and minds of the Georgie fan base. It makes a lot of sense to hear Smart say those things about LeCounte now. That's because he has been constantly evolving. Backup and special teamer as a freshman. Full-time starter and leading tackler in 2018. Yet with that, he showed his passion and aggressiveness a little too much in 2018. It might have been he had too much of that 'Hit Stick' he always carried with him as a talented and passionate kamikaze defender a year ago. Those big hits are still there now, but so is the realization he has to be a full-time safety net or an eraser to cover his teammates more for a unit that is putting up some special weekly performances in 2019. Looking back, straight ahead and looking forward When he was on campus that first year, he laid a lot of bricks for the 2017 class in Athens. That one, his class, finished No. 3 overall in the 247Sports Team Composite ratings. But what was that phrase that LeCounte liked to say on the trail? Well, he had a 'we ain't done yet' for the 2018 class, too. He once spoke to a group that included Justin Fields, Kearis Jackson, Jamaree Salyer and Zamir White, among others. The phrase 'national championship' was used while the future core of the 2018 class was on campus, too. 'I guess there was like I don't know maybe 15 guys in the room,' Fields said back in 2017. 'He was just like If we get all you guys then we definitely have a shot at winning a national championship while we are here.' That line caught some ears. 'Then he said If you come in here there might be a guy above you on the depth chart that's pretty good but every day in practice we're going after each other and making each other better,'' Fields said. 'He said We're going 100 percent and full-throttle' in his message to us.' Shooters do like to shoot. LeCounte is one of those. 'I told them that we needed all of those guys to stay home or come here,' LeCounte said after the Rose Bowl win in 2018. 'I told all those Georgia guys that we needed them to stay home and stay in-state. Just to give us a try. I am never going to be the guy to tell anybody where they need to go. But I just wanted them to know that this program could really be something special if we could get every one of them to come.' This seems the perfect time to catalog all the marquee moments for LeCounte in Athens. He's already experienced quite a lot. He enrolled early in January of 2017 as part of Smart's first big class. There was that big reception at the UGA basketball game. Georgia beat Notre Dame in Notre Dame that fall The Bulldogs rolled Florida in 2017 Georgia won the SEC championship and the Rose Bowl during his freshman year The Bulldogs played for their first national title since 1980 The two memorable games with Alabama where the Bulldogs stood toe-to-toe in the reigning dynasty in college football Georgia now has two straight SEC East titles and three straight wins over Florida It means a lot for LeCounte to have been a part of this renaissance of the Georgia program. 'It is something special man,' he said last month. 'Every day I thank God for being in the position that I am,' he said. 'I come out there with a great staff. A great group of teammates and I do the thing that I love. I go to school and I play football.' 'So it is always a blessing when I wake up in the morning.' There has been a flurry of moments with DawgNation for LeCounte. Can he even believe that his first three years at Georgia have included all of that? 'I couldn't even imagine things like that and it happening back then,' he said. 'I'm so blessed to be here with this great group of guys.' Georgia's Homegrown Talent: The DawgNation series Homegrown: From Rodrigo Blankenship to 'Hot Rod' status at Georgia Brian Herrien: Why he embodies the Georgia Bulldog spirit Trey Hill: From Homegrown to the center of the Bulldog offense Homegrown: The twists and turns in Quay Walker's road to UGA Eric Stokes is more like 'UGA grown' Charlie Woerner: Homegrown from a Bulldog family Jake Fromm: From the Little League World Series to duck holes to the face of a program Andrew Thomas develops quickly into a hometown here at UGA Warren McClendon: Family roots run 44 years deep for this Georgia family D.J. Daniel: Likely impact defensive back took a longer route to Athens Travon Walker: Expect big things on the line from 5-star freshman Dominick Blaylock: Talented freshman WR found a homegrown fit in Athens Nolan Smith: From 'Baby Boy' to a long-awaited Bulldog in Athens The post Homegrown: Richard LeCounte III is a unique placesetter for the Kirby Smart era appeared first on DawgNation.