By Jamari Jordan
It is 11a.m. on a Saturday in Athens, and the Georgia Bulldogs will face the LSU Tigers in a top-ten SEC matchup in just a few hours. The top defensive back in the state of Georgia, narrowing his commitment decision between UGA and LSU, just walked through the doors of the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall for his official visit. Sophomore gameday host Jasmine Johnson is assigned to host this top recruit and his family for the game.
After the registration is complete, Johnson shows the recruit and his family around the facility. They tour the weight room, defensive team meeting room, and Georgia football accolades. She even introduces the family to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. As his hostess, Jasmine assumes part of the responsibility and the pressure of recruiting this top defensive back to the University of Georgia.
In 1982, UGA assistant coach Ray Goff created the student recruitment organization of the Georgia Girls, which is now called the Georgia Gameday Host Program as it now features men as well. The program now features over 50 current students that host recruits on gamedays.
“The host program provides current students the experience to meet with prospective student athletes and their families,” said program director Bryant Gantt. “Our hosts enlighten them on what the university has to offer, and they answer any questions they may have pertaining to football and our academics.”
Jasmine, as well as the other hosts, serves as an ambassador for the football department on gamedays when coaches focus on their team. When recruits enter the facility for their visits, one of the first faces they see is their host.
The enormous pressure of ensuring that each recruit enjoys their visit is a responsibility that each host signs up for in the beginning. Jasmine believes that this experience is fulfilling.
“It is a great privilege to know that you are a liaison between the University of Georgia and nationally-ranked recruits,” she said.
“These recruits can be a make or break player on a team for a season.”
Jasmine is not much of a fan of any sport, let alone football. Jasmine’s cousin, former defensive line coach Rodney Garner, set up an interview for Jasmine to get involved in the recruiting office her freshman year.
Connie Connelly, the recruiting program coordinator, offered her the opportunity of hosting incoming recruits on gamedays. Jasmine accepted the position and became a gameday host that fall semester.
While Johnson and other hosts love the experience, female hosts find themselves in uncomfortable situations sometimes with incoming recruits, who are only teenage boys.
“Being a female and you are sitting with a nationally ranked recruit, you can get hit on,” she said. “It can be really embarrassing because sometimes you are trying to keep your cool.”
During her second season as a gameday host, Jasmine encountered her most uncomfortable situation to date as a member.
“Once, a player gave me an ultimatum that if I date him, he would come here,” she said. “I turned him down. I’m a woman who respects herself and does not accept being treated like an object.”
The University of Georgia Gameday Host Program is well aware of the possibility of these situations occurring. Therefore, the coordinators instituted a policy that if the host is uncomfortable in any situation, whether it be from harassment by players or recruits, to remove themselves from that person and quickly inform Gantt, Connelly, or another program director in the area.
“The University of Georgia football department does not tolerate any player or recruit that harasses our hosts,” Gantt said. “That person will be dealt with in the correct, appropriate manner.”
While those situations do occur, they are a rarity for the Gameday Host Program. However, other top programs have been accused of using their hostesses as bait like Tennessee, Oklahoma State, and Arizona State. Georgia’s top priority is making sure these recruits have an enjoyable, memorable experience while visiting.
Defensive lineman Ray Drew looks back on his recruiting experience with fond memories and appreciation to the program.
“The recruiting process [at Georgia] was good,” Drew said. “I chose UGA over other schools because of the academics and the family atmosphere here. I missed my senior prom just so I could take my official visit.”
The program provides a helpful service not only to the incoming recruits, but also to its hosts as Jasmine said.
“Working with the university’s recruiting department actually made me change major,” Jasmine said. “The program showed me that I can use my personality and my strengths in communicating in my future profession.”
Now a pre-Public Relations major, Jasmine hopes to pursue a future as a director of player personnel or athletic director for a major institution. Jasmine had one last piece of advice for females weary of becoming a gameday host because of the stereotypes.
“Just be confident in who you are,” she said. “Even if you are not the most football-savvy female, the atmosphere on gamedays and the networking possibilities provided by the program makes this experience worthwhile.”