Has Georgia lost its footing in South Georgia?
There are indications that could be the case, in Valdosta in particular. Tyler Hunter became the latest major-college prospect to go south rather than north out of Lowndes County. The defensive back from Lowndes High — and son of former Bulldog receiver Brice Hunter — recently committed to Florida State.
Should Hunter’s commitment hold up — he says he’ll still take visits — it will continue a rich southward flow of talent from Valdosta to Tallahassee. The Seminoles beat Georgia head-to-head for Greg Reid in 2009 and Telvin Smith in 2010. FSU also signed Gerald Demps out of Lowndes in 2009.
Conversely, Georgia currently has just one player on its roster from Valdosta — sophomore linebacker Mike Gilliard — and none from Lowndes High. The Bulldogs currently have just 10 players on their roster from South Georgia. There was a time it seemed the Bulldogs got most any player they wanted out of that area.
“They’ve lost their stronghold,” said former Georgia quarterback and sports radio talkshow host Buck Belue, a Valdosta native. “Once Ray Goff lost his job I’ve heard more complaining about the Georgia coaches just not working that area as hard. I’m not saying that’s the case right now with Mark Richt. But beginning with Jim Donnan I started get a lot of phone calls asking where are the Georgia coaches?”
Geography and population explain some of it. Valdosta is only about an hours drive from Tallahassee (79 miles from city centers). It’s a solid four-hour drive (279 miles) to Athens. It’s also closer to the University of Florida in Gainesville (108 miles).
Meanwhile, Metro Atlanta is now home to 5.5 million people. That provides a very deep pool of talent within two hours of UGA, which spends a great deal of time and effort fighting off the whole of the ACC and SEC for prospects in the area.
But the Bulldogs definitely need to pick it up in Valdosta, which continues to produce top-shelf talent.
“They’re fighting Clemson and Florida and Florida State for [Valdosta High tight end] Jay Rome and [athlete] Malcome Mitchell is blowing up at Valdosta as well. They’re going to be fighting Alabama and Florida as him,” said Chad Simmons, South recruiting manager for Scout.com. “They definitely don’t have the command they had a decade ago where they could just go there and pick who they want and sign them. It’s a little different there now. FSU has a big presence there, especially at Lowndes High School.”
The battles extend beyond Lowndes County. Georgia is already competing with the Seminoles — and many other schools — for defensive end Ray Drew (Thomas County Central), quarterback Nick Marshall (Wilcox County) and offensive lineman Xzavier Ward (Colquitt County), among others.
As for Hunter, Simmons doesn’t think that was major loss for the Dogs.
“They never really targeted and offered Tyler Hunter,” Simmons said. “They recruited him on and off and were still in the process of evaluating him like some other schools were.”
As for the Bulldogs’ overall footing in South Georgia, that tale is still being told. How they do this year could say a lot about how they do in the future.
NOTE: One person wrote in to complain that I wrote in the comments section that “best I can tell” signee Tony Zenon of Albany is the only true South Georgian on Georgia Tech’s roster. I was indeed wrong about that and have since added offensive lineman Antonio Foster of Valdosta (I just overlooked his name running my finger down the roster). But I disagree with this reader’s suggestion that I should have incuded Jemea Thomas of Fitzgerald and J.C. Lanier of Stillmore. Both those guys are from Middle Georgia based on my map.