ATHENS — Isaiah Crowell sealed Georgia's highly rated recruiting class on Wednesday with an English bulldog puppy.
The top-ranked running back from Columbus pulled out the small version of the Bulldogs mascot when he announced on national television that he had selected Georgia over Alabama.
Crowell, from Carver High, put on a red Georgia cap and then was handed the white English bulldog puppy, which he held as he said Georgia "just felt like home."
By using a live prop, Crowell took signing-day antics to another level.
Though he didn't know the dog's name and it wasn't clear whether he planned to keep it, that didn't matter to coach Mark Richt. He was able to rebound from his first losing season at Georgia and solidy his shaky hold on his job by signing his "dream team" recruiting class — anchored by Crowell.
Crowell (6-0, 210) is ranked as the nation's top-ranked running back by ESPN and Scout.com.
He joins two Valdosta High players — tight end Jay Rome and receiver/defensive back Malcolm Mitchell — along with defensive end Ray Drew of Thomas County, one of the nation's top-rated defensive ends, as the cornerstones of Georgia's signing class.
The addition of Crowell lifted Georgia to the top six in the rankings by Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN of the nation's signing classes. Georgia signed 25 players.
Richt said he expects Crowell to contribute "heavily" as a freshman, including in the 2011 opener against Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
"I expect him to come in and compete right away," Richt said. "I wouldn't be shocked to see him run that rock in the Dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he's supposed to do."
Richt has had other highly ranked signing classes, including a 2006 class that included quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Knowshon Moreno and defensive back Asher Allen.
Richt said he hopes this class "will end up being the largest and most talented and the best bunch" of his 11 years as coach.
This was an especially important class for Richt after a 6-7 finish in 2010, his first losing season. The coach also had to cope with several off-the-field incidents with player arrests and suspensions.
Richt said the recruits "held firm" during the poor season.
"It would have been real easy to run and hide about halfway through our season, and they didn't do that," Richt said. "Over the course of their career, I'm hoping this is the best class I've ever signed at Georgia."
Crowell won't be the only freshman who has a chance to play or start in 2011.
"I think everybody better hook it up and get ready to compete," Richt said. "We're not giving anybody a 100-percent guarantee they have a job."
Crowell and linebacker Kent Turene of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., were Georgia's only signees who had not given a previous verbal commitment.
Crowell is the only running back in the class.
Drew, Rome, Mitchell and others helped push the idea of Georgia landing the "dream team" of top in-state prospects.
In a year the state of Georgia was considered to be especially deep in top recruits, Richt signed six of the state's top 10 players, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, including the top three: Crowell, Drew and Rome.
"This is my dream team," Richt said. "This is our dream team at the University of Georgia.
"We had targets we could shoot for and actually we nailed it pretty good. You never get them all but we came pretty close."
Georgia's class includes 19 in-state players.
"This happened to be a top year for recruits in our state," said recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Rodney Garner.
Rome joins an already deep tight end position. Richt said Bruce Figgins, who will be a senior, is moving from tight end to fullback.
Christian LeMay, the only quarterback in the class, and receiver Chris Conley enrolled for spring semester before the "dream team" idea gained momentum.
"I think it's a great concept," LeMay said, "but we have to actively make that dream become a reality once we get here."