What if a Georgia high school led the nation in major-college football recruits and none of them signed with UGA or Georgia Tech?
This could very well happen at Stephenson High School.
The Stone Mountain projects to have between 14-16 seniors sign D1 football scholarships in February. A dozen Stephenson stars have already pledged to colleges, including seven to SEC schools. But none to UGA. And none to Georgia Tech either.
With so much talent at a Georgia high school and none of it headed to UGA or Georgia Tech, it’s only natural to ask: What’s going on?
“We don’t steer our kids one way or the other to any schools,” said Stephenson’s Ron Gartrell, one of the state’s most well-respected football coaches. “Our coaches work hard to give the kids plenty of options, and then each young man makes whatever decision is best for him and his family.”
That’s the simple answer, but not enough to satisfy some UGA and Georgia Tech fans. They’ve come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories that would make JFK jealous on why the Stephenson pipeline does not exist this year.
We’ll start with UGA.
“Somebody came to me and mentioned that there may be some issues between Mark Richt and myself,” Gartrell said. “I can set the record straight there. Coach Richt and I are very good friends. My son played at Georgia. I’ve been a Georgia fan just about all my life. I grew up 30 miles east of Athens.
“We try to stress to our kids ‘You need to go through the recruiting process. Even that school that you may dream about going to at an early age, it may not be the school you want to go after you make your visits.’ My thing is that I’m against early commitments and that kind of thing because you have kids committing at 16 years old — and they don’t even have driver’s licenses yet. We’ve got all these guys committed early, and I’m against it unless the NCAA creates an early signing period, because what is happening is that colleges are putting a lot of pressure on these kids to commit early. Now I don’t know if Georgia is doing that, and that might be why they are not getting as many kids as they probably should. Georgia does a great job of evaluating guys and when they make an offer, it’s a serious offer. They stand by it.
“You’ve got some other people making offers and after they make an offer, they will come back and say to a linebacker, ‘OK, we’ve offered you but we’ve offered four total. We’re only going to take two, and one of them has already committed to us. So if you really want to come to our place, you’ve got to commit before this other guy.’ It’s a game that colleges play with these kids that I’m not a fan of. Recruiters know I don’t like them playing those kinds of games with my kids. When you offer them, you need to let them know up front if you have someone else in mind. Recruiting is what it is. It makes or breaks colleges coaches, lots of them moving around [to different jobs] … so who knows?”
Back to UGA: The assistant in charge of recruiting Stephenson is none other than Rodney Garner, Georgia’s recruiting coordinator. The Bulldogs extended scholarship offers to two Stephenson players. One was defensive tackle Jafar Mann, who said this after committing to the Florida Gators:
“Georgia, I feel like Georgia waited too late. They offered me two weeks after Florida, so I didn’t feel like they were as interested. Tech actually offered me before Florida, but I wanted to get out of Georgia. They’re both good teams but I really wanted to go out of state.”
The other UGA target at Stephenson was linebacker Raphael Kirby, who committed to Miami. Kirby said UGA was in his initial Top 5 but dropped because “they didn’t recruit me as hard as other schools.”
The Stephenson player that UGA probably had the best chance at landing was defensive end Jarontay Jones, who is considered by some to be the team’s No. 1 prospect. Jones was a lifelong Georgia fan and — along with Mann — had been attending UGA football camps since he was a ninth-grader. Jones said UGA showed some interest but wanted him to attend camp again before discussing a possible offer. “At that time, I had 28 offers,” Jones said. “No disrespect to Georgia, but I had too many good options by then. I wanted to use my time getting to know the coaches better and visiting the colleges where I knew I had offers.”
What about Georgia Tech? Stephenson hasn’t had any of its players sign with Georgia Tech since Reggie Ball played QB for the Yellow Jackets. There’s speculation that a rift was created between Stephenson and Tech after the rocky finish to Ball’s college career. Reggie’s father is a longtime Stephenson assistant.
Gartrell addressed that, too. “Reggie played for Chan Gailey. Chan is now gone and my relationship with Chan was never disturbed. What kids go through after they leave us a lot of times don’t have anything to do with us. If Reggie or another kid has issues at any college, those are issues that they need to work out. I can’t go into a college coach’s office and say ‘I don’t like the way you’re treating this kid.’ No, he’s not mine anymore. I never had any problems with Georgia Tech. I think Reggie’s situation at Georgia Tech was that he didn’t walk to talk to the media and I think that disturbed some people. Reggie has ironed all that out now.
“When [current Tech coach] Paul Johnson was at Georgia Southern, in our first year at Stephenson we took our kids to his camp at Georgia Southern. We don’t have any problems with Paul Johnson. I don’t know him that well. I don’t know why our kids don’t go to Georgia Tech. We’ve got a lot of kids with really, really good grades this year. I would’ve thought Georgia Tech would’ve been after more of them. I don’t if it should be ‘Are we upset with Georgia Tech?’ Maybe it should be ‘Is Georgia Tech upset with us?’”
Tech offered three Stephenson seniors: Mann, Jones and tailback Mike Davis (signed with Florida), the younger brother of former Clemson tailback James Davis. The younger Davis said, “Georgia Tech came at all of us very hard. I went over there a couple of times to visit and really liked it. I just wanted go off somewhere for college.”
Back to our question: What if a Georgia high school led the nation in major-college football recruits and none of them signed with UGA or Georgia Tech? No doubt, it’s a little unusual but it’s not the end of the world. No one is saying that. The state of Georgia is plentiful with football talent, producing nearly 200 D1 recruits on an annual basis, giving UGA and Georgia Tech more than enough to consider. And you can bet that both UGA and Georgia Tech will be back at Stephenson recruiting again very soon. Who knows? None of the seniors have signed the dotted line yet. Anything can happen in recruiting. Also, Stephenson’s 2013 class looks promising, as the DeKalb school will likely continue to be a hotbed for college football prospects for many, many years to come.
Stephenson Class of 2012:
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– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog Got a recruiting item? firstname.lastname@example.org
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