Today is National Signing Day, the first day high school football players are allowed to make their collegiate choices official and the day on which almost all of them will fax signed letters of intent to the schools where they will spend the next four seasons. Fewer than half the players the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets sign today will be homegrown talent.
While that’s the norm for Tech, it’s a shocking development for the Bulldogs.
Georgia is expected to sign 19 or 20 players today and already have verbal commitments from 18 of them. They hope to hear good news this morning from Duke Robinson, an offensive lineman out of Washington High School in Atlanta. Robinson also is considering Oklahoma and is expected to make his announcement today.
Georgia might get an ugly surprise from defensive tackle Jeffrey Owens out of Plantation, Fla. Owens has verbally committed to the Bulldogs but has since made a trip to Florida State and had very good things to say about the Seminoles. None of the Bulldog coaches will feel good about his status until they receive his letter-of-intent.
Peach County linebacker Darius Dewberry also may sign with the Bulldogs, taking their total to 20, but he is expected to spend a year at Hargrave Military Academy before he can be academically eligible.
The Yellow Jackets have 19 verbal commitments and are waiting on word from Florida linebacker Quentin Taylor, who is deciding between Georgia Tech and Ole Miss and may wait past today to make his intentions known. Tech is limiting itself to 21 scholarships this season as part of self-imposed penalties for minor NCAA violations.
Georgia’s projected class is considered the nation’s third best and Georgia Tech’s the nation’s 46th-best by Scout.com. Rivals.com ranks the Bulldogs class No. 8 in the nation, and the Yellow Jackets No. 59.
Eleven of Georgia’s 18 verbal commitments are from outside the state. That’s the same number of out-of-state players Georgia has brought in with the last three signing classes combined.
“I didn’t think it would happen that way necessarily,” Coach Mark Richt said. “That wasn’t our plan, but we’re very excited about the guys we have committed. They fit us exactly where we feel our needs are. The bottom line is we’re out there trying to get the best players we can get.”
Fourteen of the Yellow Jackets’ 19 come from outside Georgia.
“We didn’t recruit Georgia any less than we have in the past,” Tech recruiting coordinator David Wilson said.
Georgia didn’t either, but the numbers don’t prove that. Today’s class will be the first of Richt’s that has included more than five players who didn’t hone their game in the state. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets have made their living outside the borders. Including the players committed this year, Coach Chan Gailey has lured 78 players to Atlanta. Fifty-seven of those have come from outside the state.
“(Georgia) changed tactics a little bit, but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where they come from,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg said. “As long as they’re wearing the silver britches, nobody cares.”
Georgia expects to get five players out of Florida in today’s class, just two fewer than it’s getting out of its home state. If all the players who are expected to sign with the Bulldogs follow through, the number of Sunshine State natives on the roster will double by the end of business today.
“I think Florida should be a place where Georgia always pulls two, three, four kids,” Newberg said. “Florida always comes to Georgia. Why not the other way around?”
The players Georgia attracted from other states are not simply the leftovers. The team’s only two five-star commitments are out-of-towners – New Jersey’s Kade Weston and South Carolina’s C.J. Byrd. The non-Georgia players average 3.7 stars in Scout.com’s rating system.
Georgia Tech got four-star tight end Michael Johnson out of Alabama, along with three other players from that football-mad state. Several Tech coaches, including offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, a former Auburn quarterback, and Gailey, who coached at Troy State, have ties to Alabama, which helped them there.
“They know a lot of coaches around here, and those connections have helped them in the process,” Dallas County (Ala.) High School coach Ricky Bush said.
The Yellow Jackets signed two Alabama natives – David Brown and Nate McManus – last year.
“That’s certainly helped our exposure in Alabama,” Wilson said. “Anywhere in Alabama is convenient to Atlanta. If kids aren’t going to choose to stay in-state, then Atlanta is a great alternative.”
The Jackets also expect to sign two players from South Carolina and four from Florida this year.
But it’s not all good news. Several of the state’s top players did get away from both the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets. Houston County’s Kyle Moore heads that list. Moore is considered the No. 2 defensive end in the nation by Rivals.com but never seriously considered Georgia or Tech and is expected to choose between Oklahoma and Southern California today. Milledgeville wide receiver Nick Kyles, another hot commodity, will slip out the western border to Alabama. In fact, seven of Georgia’s top 10 players, as rated by Scout.com, will be signing with out-of-state schools today.
The Bulldogs didn’t go after Moore or Kyles very hard, but they did take their best shot – and miss -- on linebacker Tray Blackmon and offensive lineman Chris Scott. Blackmon is expected to sign with Auburn and Scott with Tennessee.
While the pattern suggests Tech will continue to build its team with out-of-state talent, Richt expects this year to be an aberration for the Bulldogs.
“I would say, in the future,” he said, “we’ll be a higher percentage Georgia.”