By Dave Glenn, ACC Sports Journal
October 4, 2004 Through much of coach Chan Gailey's first three seasons in Atlanta, many Georgia Tech football fans have complained about the Yellow Jackets' relatively unheralded recruiting results. Indeed, Tech's last three classes generally were rated in the bottom third of the soon-to-be 12-team ACC, and the Jackets' shaky start on the field this fall had some fans wondering if the team will finish in a similar place in the standings. But one thing that should be beyond dispute is that Tech has been looking in the right places on the recruiting trail in recent years. The states of Florida, Georgia and Texas are football hotbeds by any definition, and those areas have been the focus of the Yellow Jackets' recruiting efforts under Gailey.
Tech's last three classes were ranked seventh out of nine (2002), seventh out of nine (2003) and ninth out of 12 (2004) in the conference by the ACC Sports Journal. But those same classes included 22 signees from Georgia, 13 from Florida and 10 from Texas, adding up to almost 75 percent of the Jackets' signees under Gailey.
"When you're at Georgia Tech, you go to wherever the best players are with the best grades," said Tech offensive coordinator Patrick Nix, previously the Yellow Jackets' recruiting coordinator. Special teams coach David Wilson serves in that capacity this year. "That doesn't always mean you go to the same places every year, but those states (Florida, Georgia, Texas) have served as a strong foundation for us. There's a lot of very good football being played in those places every year."
The Florida-Georgia-Texas trio represents three of the top four producers
of Division I-A football talent in the nation. California and Texas generally
finish first and second in the annual rankings. Florida (with more than 250
I-A signees per year) and Georgia (with 125-150) usually are third and fourth, respectively. According to a review of pro football rosters, those same states also rank one through four in producing NFL players.
The Georgia Tech coaching staff certainly has plenty of contacts in Georgia, Florida and Texas. Gailey is a Georgia native (Gainesville), attended high school in the Peach State (Americus) and recently worked as the head coach of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys in 1998-99 and as the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins in 2000-01. Linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary is a Florida native. Running backs coach Curtis Modkins, formerly a star running back at Texas Christian, recruits Texas for Tech. Tight ends coach Tommie Robinson served as an assistant at TCU from 1994-97 and with the Cowboys from 1998-2000. Defensive line coach Giff Smith is a native of suburban Atlanta, attended Pebblebrook High in Mableton, then played and later coached at Division I-AA power Georgia Southern. Wilson, an Atlanta native, coached at the high school level in Florida from 1986-91 and 1994-95 and at Florida State in 1992 and 1996.
This year, Tech's first nine commitments from high school seniors came via prospects based in Georgia (three), Texas (three), Alabama (two) and Florida (one). Among the Yellow Jackets' most prominent remaining targets, most come from those same states.
Below is a review of Georgia Tech's commitments from the Class of 2005, including several prospects whose information capsules were not included in previous editions of the Sports Journal:
Garden City (GA) Groves DB Tony Clark, rated one of the top 75 seniors in Georgia, committed to Tech over Clemson, East Carolina and Middle Tennessee State in May. Former Groves star Leon Robinson is a senior offensive lineman for the Yellow Jackets this fall, and Clark toured the Tech campus while participating in a Nike Camp in the spring. A four-year starter, Clark had eight receptions for 300-plus yards as a junior and scored three touchdowns, two on returns. Also a track star, he was the region champ last year in the 100 meters and the long jump. He benches 280 pounds, squats 390 and runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds. He has a 3.2 GPA and a 920 SAT score and wants to major in computer engineering. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is defensive line coach Giff Smith.
"The first thing I really liked (about Tech) was Coach Smith, because he's a really good guy who's easy to talk to," Clark said. "The funny thing is, I grew up as a big Georgia fan, so this has been a big adjustment for my whole family. But Tech is perfect for me. I love the city of Atlanta, and you can't beat their engineering program. The football team goes to a bowl every year, and I liked everything I saw when I went to campus. I don't know where I'm going to play yet, probably cornerback or maybe safety, but that's not a problem. I'll play wherever they want me to play."
Plantersville (AL) Dallas County TE/DE Michael Johnson, rated one of the top 25 seniors in Alabama, selected Tech over Clemson in August. He also had offers from Bowling Green (basketball), Louisville, Southern Miss and Troy (basketball), plus heavy interest from Auburn and Duke. Through three games this fall, he had eight receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown, with 22 tackles and five sacks on defense. A Georgia Tech summer camper, Johnson also is a basketball standout and hopes to play both sports at Tech. He benches 260 pounds, squats 470 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 4.1 GPA and a 27 ACT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is offensive coordinator Patrick Nix.
"I've always been taught that academics come first, and that's one of the things I kept in mind during the recruiting process," Johnson said. "Tech's engineering program is one of the best in the nation, and that's very important to me because that's what I plan to study. My family was really happy with my decision because Tech is a great school and it's not too far away, but they were mostly happy because they know I'm happy. I'm not sure how the basketball situation is going to work out yet, but I'll sign (for football) in February and think about (basketball) later."
Dallas (TX) Lincoln LB Antonio Jones, rated one of the top 200 seniors in Texas, chose Tech over Baylor, Tulsa and Vanderbilt in August. LSU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State also showed interest, and some programs continue to recruit Jones, who recently said he may visit other schools this fall. As a junior, he had 105 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions. He benches 300 pounds, squats 410 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and a 920 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is running backs coach Curtis Modkins.
"I'll probably forget something if I list all the reasons I like Tech," Jones said. "Just everything, really. It's a great school, and they have a high graduation rate and a great reputation. Living in a big city, I like the idea of being in Atlanta. The ACC is one of the best conferences. Coach Modkins is great, and I think it's pretty cool that Coach Gailey used to coach the (Dallas) Cowboys. It's a situation where I'll be getting a great education and learning from someone who knows what it takes to get to the NFL. That's a pretty good combination."
Jacksonville (FL) Sandalwood LB Marvin Sapp, rated one of the top 50 seniors in Florida, opted for Tech over UNC in September. He also had offers from Central Florida, Clemson, Duke, Florida, Louisville, Memphis, Mississippi, NCSU, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tulane and Vanderbilt. Sapp has two cousins in the NFL, one (Patrick Sapp) who played at Clemson and another (Warren Sapp) who played at Miami. A third-team Class 3A all-state selection, Marvin had 120 tackles and three interceptions as a junior, then transferred within Jacksonville from The Bolles School to Sandalwood, reportedly because of friction with the Bolles coaching staff. He benches 370 pounds, squats 470 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.1 GPA and a 980 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is receivers coach Buddy Geis, the father of Sandalwood head coach Adam Geis.
"(Sapp) is just about ready for college football right now, and if he keeps progressing you're going to see him playing on Sundays (in the NFL) some day," Adam Geis said. "Some people talk about his size (6-1, 215), but pound for pound he has to be one of the strongest (high school) players in this state right now, and that's just the beginning of what he has to offer. He's a great young man, he has an outstanding work ethic, and on the field he has such great instincts that every time you look up he's right around the football."
Arlington (TX) Bowie DE Brad Sellers, rated one of the top 200 seniors in Texas, chose Tech over Duke and Toledo in July. Oklahoma State also showed interest. An honorable mention all-district selection, he had 40 tackles and four sacks as a junior. He has a 3.8 GPA and a 980 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is running backs coach Curtis Modkins.
"I like the academics and the location most of all (with Tech), and playing in the ACC gives you an opportunity to go against great competition every week," Sellers said. "I went to (Tech's) summer camp and I had an unofficial visit there this summer, and all of that worked to Tech's advantage. The coaches, the academics, the facilities ... everything was great, and seeing it all in person was very important. I also met some of the players from Texas, and they said the travel isn't bad at all. I just felt very comfortable there, so I went ahead and made my decision so I could enjoy my senior year."
College Park (GA) Banneker WR Carlos Thomas, rated one of the top 25 receivers in the nation, selected Tech over Clemson, Florida, LSU and Ohio State in September, although he recently said he still may visit his other four finalists. He also had offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and others. His brother Levon is a senior wide receiver for the Yellow Jackets this fall, and his family lives 10 minutes from the Tech campus. As a junior at Banneker, which is located in the Atlanta suburbs, Carlos had 20 receptions for 411 yards and scored seven touchdowns. He also had 34 tackles and two interceptions on defense. In his first three games this fall, he had 17 catches for 278 yards and four TDs, and he averaged more than 35 yards on kickoff returns. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds. He has a 2.5 GPA and an 870 SAT score.
"Tech has everything I wanted in a school," Carlos Thomas said. "My brother has had a very good experience there. He told me to make my own decision, and he didn't push me at all to any school, but I like what he has to say. It's a great school with a great coaching staff, and I like being close to home. We've been able to see Levon play a lot, and now everyone will be able to see me play. I was real excited when I saw some of the (other) schools that were offering me, and they have a lot to offer, but I think I can stay right here and get everything I need."
Atlanta (GA) Westlake LB Taalib Tucker, rated one of the top 50 seniors in Georgia, picked Tech over Auburn, ECU and Florida in August. Clemson, UNC, Mississippi State, Ohio State and Oklahoma also showed interest. His cousin Scoonie Penn played basketball for the Buckeyes. As a junior, Tucker had 96 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions despite missing several games with a knee injury. Through five games this fall, he had 46 tackles and an interception. A Georgia Tech summer camper, he benches 400 pounds, squats 650 and runs the 40 in 4.7 seconds. He has a 3.3 GPA and an 840 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is tight ends coach Tommie Robinson.
"I looked at every school that offered me a scholarship, for football and for academics, and Tech kept coming up as the best fit for me," Tucker said. "They have a great program in my major (architecture), and the coaches think I have a good chance to start in my first year there. The more I looked it, there wasn't anything about Tech I didn't like. Some other schools wanted me to wait, so they could watch me play this year, but I was definitely glad to get my decision out of the way before my senior year. I still might take some visits, but I feel really good about my decision."
Hoover (AL) High DB Jahi' Word-Daniels, rated one of the top 40 seniors in Alabama, chose Tech over Duke, Louisville and Vanderbilt in July. Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Illinois, Memphis, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Notre Dame also showed interest. He has several family members who live in the Atlanta area, including a brother who recently transferred to Tech from nearby Morehouse. As a junior, Jahi' (pronounced Juh-HEE) had 25 tackles and four interceptions for a 14-1 Hoover team that captured the program's second straight state championship. He benches 220 pounds, squats 340 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 3.6 GPA and a 21 ACT score. His main recruiter with the Yellow Jackets is offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris.
Others Select ACC Programs
Hampton (VA) Phoebus DE Steven Friday, rated one of the top 25 seniors in Virginia, committed to Virginia Tech over UNC and Syracuse. He also had offers from Maryland, Virginia (early) and West Virginia. His teammate at Phoebus, prep All-American tailback Elan Lewis, pledged to the Hokies earlier in September, immediately after the two players visited Blacksburg. Two former Phoebus stars, linebacker Xavier Adibi and defensive back D.J. Parker, are freshmen at Tech this fall. A first-team Group 3A all-state selection, Friday had 112 tackles (32 for loss) and 17 sacks as a junior. He benches 310 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He has a 2.5 GPA but needs a qualifying test score. His main recruiter with the Hokies is outside linebackers coach Jim Cavanaugh.
Barnesville (GA) Lamar County DT/DE Clifford Respress, rated one of the top 50 seniors in Georgia, picked Duke over Auburn and Vanderbilt. Clemson, Purdue and South Carolina also showed interest. His brother Clarence plays football at Alabama-Birmingham. Clifford, the MVP of Auburn's one-day camp for rising seniors this summer, had 47 tackles and six sacks as a junior for a 5-5 team. He benches 350 pounds, squats 410 and runs the 40 in 4.9 seconds. He has a 3.0 GPA and a 930 SAT score. His main recruiter with the Blue Devils is assistant head coach Glenn Spencer.