Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin isn’t the only coach who has declared a recruiting war in Georgia.
The state produces more than 200 major-college prospects on an annual basis, with every BCS conference represented.
Georgia and Georgia Tech can’t sign them all, and even if they wanted to, they couldn’t, because of well-established pipelines from colleges in neighboring states.
Three starters from Alabama’s newly crowned BCS championship team hail from Georgia.
What’s so appealing about Peach State players to the out-of-state schools? Many things, including the state’s caliber of high school football, the cluster of teams within an hour’s drive of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and a quick glance at NFL rosters.
“The biggest thing I hear about kids in Georgia is that they are well-coached, ” said Scout.com’s Chad Simmons. “I see that with my own two eyes and hear it not only from coaches in the South but across the country.
“College coaches see the Georgia kids on TV, or in 7-on-7 tournaments in Oregon and California. While kids from the state of Florida are known for speed, Georgia kids seem to be known more for being ‘college ready’ because of the coaching and competition they get in high school.”
Here are three teams gaining ground with recruiting efforts in Georgia:
Stanford: It’s a long way from California to Georgia, but Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh apparently thinks it’s worth the time and effort. The Cardinal had three players initially committed last year, but ended up signing only one — Henry County wide receiver Jamal Patterson, who turned down an offer from Georgia Tech. This year, Stanford’s reputation is spreading, with three commitments from the state, led by Centennial offensive tackle David Yankey, who also considered offers from Georgia, North Carolina and UCLA. One thing is for certain: Harbaugh and his staff are racking up frequent-flyer miles.
Clemson: The Tigers have recruited the state as well as any outside school over the years. Last year was a disaster, though, as new coach Dabo Swinney didn’t have much name recognition in Georgia. However, the Tigers have regained their swagger, landing seven commitments, including Heritage cornerback Garry Peters. Clemson also swayed Carver-Columbus teammates David Beasley and Corey Crawford, which puts the Tigers in good position for Carver’s star-studded juniors.
Miami: In the golden days, the Hurricanes rarely had to leave south Florida for any major recruiting efforts. However, times are changed, and Miami might have a bigger presence in the future after successfully recruiting Loganville tailback Storm Johnson (No. 6) and Stephenson linebacker Tyrone Cornelius (No. 28).
Here are three schools not quite making the same impact in Georgia as past seasons:
Oklahoma State: You would think this would be a banner year for the Cowboys in the state. Last year, the Cowboys signed three Georgia players, including Walton defensive end David Paulsen, who declined a last-minute offer from his childhood favorite, UGA. Oklahoma State had the momentum going, with coach Mike Gundy publicly stating last spring that Georgia was his No. 3 recruiting priority, after Oklahoma and Texas. And the Cowboys increased their Q rating by defeating the Bulldogs in the season opener. However, Oklahoma State might have changed priorities after a lot of early recruiting success in Texas this year.
Notre Dame: In the early part of the last decade, the Irish could be counted upon to swoop down South to steal away at least a couple of the state’s elite prospects, particularly from metro Atlanta. However, Notre Dame has had virtually no presence in Georgia in recent years, signing only one recruit in its past three classes. This year, Notre Dame has a commitment from Gainesville wide receiver Tai-ler Jones (No. 22), but a lot of that has to do with family connections to the Irish.
North Carolina: Maybe the Tar Heels have a bad taste in their mouths after last year. North Carolina signed three players, but two never enrolled. Cartersville quarterback Donavan Tate was selected in the first round of the baseball draft, and Perry offensive lineman Johnnie Farms enrolled at prep school. UNC has no commitments from Georgia this year.
Here are three outsiders that are leading the pack for Georgia players, less than one month away from signing day:
Tennessee: Kiffin has turned the state into his playground. He appears on billboards around Atlanta and arrived in a helicopter to a game televised on ESPNU between DeKalb County schools. After defeating Georgia, Kiffin surprised reporters by revealing that the Bulldogs — not Alabama or Florida — are Tennessee’s biggest rival in the new regime.
“I know there are a lot of great teams in this conference, ” Kiffin said. “But I told [the team], to me, this is the biggest matchup, Georgia. Because of what we do recruiting. For this staff, this is the biggest matchup.”
Kiffin’s gimmicks appear to be working: Tennessee has five Georgia commitments, including Westlake linebacker Michael Taylor, the state’s No. 10 prospect who was awarded defensive MVP honors at the Under Armour All-America game. North Gwinnett offensive lineman JaWuan James (No. 18) switched from Alabama to the Volunteers.
Kiffin’s confidence is sky high, as the Volunteers are fearless in recruiting several elite prospects who are longtime pledges to other schools, including Calhoun wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers (Georgia), Southwest DeKalb defensive end T.J. Stripling (Georgia) and Gainesville quarterback Blake Sims (uncommitted).
Vanderbilt: Kiffin isn’t the only coach from Tennessee striking it rich south of the border. Vanderbilt, with Bobby Johnson at the helm, changed its recruiting strategy for Georgia this year, and it has paid huge dividends, with 10 locals committed.
What did Vanderbilt do differently? They made offers to juniors earlier than normal, rather than waiting for summer camps or final evaluations of senior film. With the new approach, Vanderbilt was able to land several “hidden jewels, ” including Peachtree Ridge wide receiver Bradley Roby (state’s No. 12 prospect), before bigger SEC schools made firm decisions.
Then there are players such as Walton defensive end Kyle Woestmann, who turned down both Georgia and Georgia Tech for the Commodores.
“I think a lot of it had to do with Vanderbilt’s 2008 season, when they went to a bowl game and won seven games, ” Woestmann said. “Vanderbilt has world-class academics, and once they proved they could win in SEC, that was a big factor with many of us.”
However, it remains to be seen if Vanderbilt can hold off other schools pursuing its commitments between now and Feb. 3.
Kentucky: The Wildcats have set up a pipeline with prospects from LaGrange High and appear to be trying to do the same thing at talent-rich Stephenson High, where three seniors, including tailback Raymond Sanders (state’s No. 41 player), are headed to Big Blue. The Wildcats have eight commitments from Georgia.
If anything, last week’s retirement of Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and the promotion of Joker Phillips to the top job has only helped the cause.
“With our guys, Joker Phillips was pretty much in control to begin with, ” said Corey Johnson, a Stephenson assistant coach who handles recruiting for coach Ron Gartrell. “He came down to look at Raymond and ended up offering those other guys. He was assistant head coach, coaching in waiting and recruiting coordinator as it was. He was pretty much the end-all and be-all anyway.”
Kentucky also has a commitment from Greenville offensive lineman Kenarious Gates (No. 41), and is a finalist for McEachern tailback Rajaan Bennett (No. 25).