How Georgia football moves on after top RB prospect Justice Haynes commits to Alabama

McClain Baxley
Athens Banner-Herald
Blessed Trinity's Justice Haynes (22) is sent flying by Oconee County's Liam Lewis (6) during the GHSA high school football AAAA state championship game between Blessed Trinity and Oconee County on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Atlanta.

It was a shocking Sunday afternoon.

Just after 5 p.m., four-star running back Justice Haynes sent a tweet, a 27-second video with footage of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Nick Saban giving a speech and Haynes wearing an Alabama uniform. The running back’s smile was huge.

Haynes, a UGA legacy and believed lock to be in the Bulldogs’ 2023 recruiting class, verbally committed to Saban and the Crimson Tide. Haynes spent his first three seasons of high school football playing at Blessed Trinity, but will play his senior season at Buford. 

He told Alabama running backs coach Robert Gillespie and head coach Saban of his decision Saturday and they, like the rest of the recruiting world, were “shocked.”

“Coach Gillespie was like ‘You just made my day,’” Haynes told 247Sports. “He was shocked. Coach Saban said the same thing. His reaction was, ‘Wow’.”

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Justice's father is Verron Haynes, a running back at UGA drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002. Between growing up just over an hour from Athens and the proven development of running backs by UGA running backs coach Dell McGee, Haynes was listed as a lock to play football in the red and black since before he suited up at BT his freshman year. 

But on an official visit to Tuscaloosa, Haynes saw a greater potential for himself and his future.

"Bama’s had a bunch of great running backs and I can be the next great back to come out of Bama,” Haynes told Rivals. "They’re going to get a baseline test, figure out where your weaknesses are, and they’re going to make that your strength.”

Haynes was one of the highest preferred prospects for Georgia this recruiting cycle, not just at running back but across the board. He was likely above quarterback Arch Manning, who didn’t choose UGA earlier this summer.

More:Arch Manning committed to Texas over UGA. What does that mean for the Bulldogs?

Haynes is also another in-state prospect going elsewhere. Of the Top 10 prospects in the state of Georgia, only one has currently committed to the Bulldogs. Five-star safety Caleb Downs, who was already looking like a miss for UGA, is good friends with Haynes and the likelihood of Downs going to Alabama or Ohio State seems higher at this point.

The quarterback position is fine for now, and they have their fair share of defensive backs from the 2022 class and more prospects in 2023. 

But running back is a different story. UGA is looking to get at least one and ideally two ball carriers in this class. They’ll still try to sway Haynes to stay in his home state, but that feels like an uphill battle. 

Lehigh's Richard Young cuts through Lely defenders. Action from the Lely at Lehigh spring football game.

So where does UGA turn to fill their running back needs?

Richard Young

High School: Lehigh Senior

Hometown: Lehigh Acres, FL

Ranking: Five-star; No. 24 overall; No. 2 RB

Recruitment Status: Young released a Top 3 of Alabama, Georgia and Oregon on July 5. He’s been viewed as an Alabama lean for some time, but perhaps Haynes’ commitment shifts the tide. McGee and the UGA coaches will certainly be recruiting Young harder. 

Rueben Owens

High School: El Campo

Hometown: El Campo, TX

Ranking: Five-star; No. 16 overall; No. 1 RB

Recruitment Status: The 5-foot-11 back committed to Louisville June 20 over a host of Texas schools. There was a time when Georgia led in his recruitment, so don’t expect the coaching staff to stop trying to recruit the Texan to Athens. 

Jeremiah Love

High School: Christian Brothers College

Hometown: St. Louis, MO

Ranking: Four-star; No. 74 overall; No. 4 RB

Recruitment Status: Though he doesn’t have an offer from Georgia, Love went on official visits to Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas A&M. It’d be somewhat of an outside shot to reel in this guy, but crazier things have happened in the recruiting world.

Roderick Robinson II

High School: Lincoln

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Ranking: Four-star; No. 340 overall; No. 20 RB

Recruitment Status: A UCLA commit, Robinson was just offered by Georgia in May. Per multiple outlets, Robinson was seen as the Bulldogs’ No. 2 running back prospect. Now, he may move into their top choice. 

McClain Baxley is a recruiting reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at mbaxley@onlineathens.com or on Twitter at @mcclainbaxley.