How a connection with this Georgia football assistant helped Nebraska land 3 UGA transfers

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It was no small coincidence that three Georgia football players who went in the transfer portal this cycle ended up at Nebraska under new Cornhuskers coach Matt Rhule

“That’s a dear friend of mine,” Georgia defensive backs coach Fran Brown said before the Peach Bowl in late December.

Rhule recruited the Camden, N.J., native to Western Carolina in 2003 where the cornerback was a standout punt returner for the then special teams coach. Brown was on the support staff at Temple when Rhule was there and then got his first full-time college coaching job as defensive backs coach with the Owls under Rhule in 2013 and worked with him for six seasons including two at Baylor until 2018.

Rhule is even the godfather of Brown’s son, Fran Jr., who is finishing up his senior year of high school in Medford, N.J.

So Rhule turned to Brown, who came to Georgia a year ago from Rutgers, to get a read on tight end Arik Gilbert, outside linebacker MJ Sherman and offensive lineman Jacob Hood after the Bulldog players entered the transfer portal.

“As guys were going in, ‘Hey, coach this is a guy who fits you,” Rhule said Wednesday at a signing day press conference in Lincoln. “He kind of knows who I am and the way I want to do things, the process we want to have, the character of the guys that we want, the work ethic. He was able to tell me about them and then also tell them about us and what we’re doing here and then kind of let us recruit from there.”

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Gilbert played in only three games at Georgia — all last season — after transferring from LSU before the 2021 season. Sherman played in every game last season as a junior, making 5 tackles. Hood, a three-star 2022 signee, redshirted last season.

“Obviously they played until late so they had a limited window,” Rhule said. “Those guys went into the portal except for Arik after it was over with. … All those guys to me are really good players and they have a chance to help us.”

Georgia didn’t sign any players on the second national signing day on Wednesday, but Brown helped pull in a commitment from 2024 five-star cornerback Ellis Robinson IV from IMG Academy who is from New Haven, Conn. to go along with 2024 four-stars in safeties Peyton Woodyard and Jaylen Heyward.

Gilbert was a five-star from Marietta High in 2020 but transferred to Georgia after his first college season.

Los Angeles Rams assistant coach Jake Peetz, a Nebraska alum who was on Rhule’s staff with the Carolina Panthers, was LSU offensive coordinator in 2021 after Gilbert left. Rhule talked to Peetz about Gilbert.

Gilbert had two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown, but personal issues kept him from seeing the field or practicing more at Georgia.

“He’s as talented a player as there is,” Rhule said. “What we want to do with all of our players is I want him in 10 years to say his life is better for having played for us at Nebraska. … I’m just getting to know him. I want him to have elite success in the classroom. I want him to go be involved in the community and I want him to have great relationships and I want him to go play well in football.”

Georgia’s secondary will return starters in nickel back Javon Bullard, cornerback Kamari Lassiter and safety Malaki Starks, but loses cornerback Kelee Ringo and safety Chris Smith.

“I just wanted to learn and grow to trust each other,” Brown said. “Trust comes with time. Getting to spend time with them and try put countless hours in them. …Those guys had been through three different coaches in the last few years so it was important for me to earn their trust.”

Brown worked with a defensive minded head coach in Kirby Smart and co-defensive coordinators Will Muschamp, who also works with the secondary, and Glenn Schumann.

“I’m a big vertical alignment guy,” he said. “As long as I was able to fit in with the staff, man, just make sure the staff and players enjoyed what I was doing with them and being a part of the team.”

Brown turns 40 on Friday and Rhule sees big things ahead for him.

“Now he’s really one of the top assistants in the country,” Rhule said. “He should be a head coach and will be a head coach.”

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Connection with UGA football's Fran Brown paid off for Nebraska