ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s recruiting classes under Paul Johnson have tended to shrink rather than grow in the days leading up to signing day.
Johnson is playing more offense than defense down the stretch this year.
The Yellow Jackets’ 19 early commitments are showing few signs of wavering – four are already enrolled, in fact – while Johnson is closing in on two heralded recruits, including highly sought after wide receiver Myles Autry. Throw in the NCAA clearinghouse blessing 2013 blue-chipper Travis Custis to play, and Georgia Tech could be looking at a much-needed infusion of talent.
Safety/tailback Mike Rogers is Johnson’s newest target. Rogers is hailed by his high school coach as the best player Cobb County has seen in 40 years. Cobb County includes Atlanta’s northwest suburbs, including Marietta and Kennesaw.
Rogers has kept a low recruiting profile largely because he had yet to take the SAT. He took the test Jan. 25. He rushed for 1,700 yards and 23 touchdowns and recorded 85 tackles, three interceptions and five forced fumbles in 10 games last fall. He was initially committed to Central Florida.
Autry, meanwhile, remains uncommitted. The multipurpose player who finished his senior season strong coming off knee surgery, took official visits to Georgia Tech and Florida State in late January. His brother plays wide receiver for Georgia Tech.
The recruit who could change the face of Georgia Tech’s 2014 class is defensive tackle Michael Sawyers. A four-star player long committed to his hometown team of Vanderbilt, Sawyers reopened his recruitment following coach James Franklin’s resignation and move to Penn State.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof took his entire defensive staff for an in-home visit to Sawyers. The 300-pounder will visit Notre Dame and Ole Miss in the days leading up to signing day and also has drawn interest from Oregon.
A stellar recruiting class would appease a fanbase made restless by a weak finish to the season and the announcement that starting quarterback Vad Lee was transferring. Lee’s departure was a “football decision,” according to Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski, and his lackluster performance in his first year as a starter was frustrating for Johnson. Lee was to face stiff competition for the job in the spring from understudy Justin Thomas and early enrollee Matthew Jordan.
Lee left Georgia Tech immediately upon his transfer announcement and is now enrolled at James Madison, a FCS school.
Johnson needs to find the right formula for a turnaround soon. Georgia Tech posted video of an interview with Bobinski on its website, and a postseason “state of the program” discussion between the athletic director and his football coach was the main topic.
Bobinski, who took over as the Yellow Jackets’ athletic director last April, said he took “10 pages of notes” into the meeting with Johnson. He called the discussion “healthy” and said he and Johnson had no philosophical disagreements regarding the direction of the program.
Bobinski, however, made it clear he would not settle for mediocrity in the football program.
“I didn’t come here to have average or mediocre performances,” Bobinski said. “That’s not in my DNA. That’s not in Georgia Tech’s DNA.”
Bad Breaks Continue For Gregory
Georgia Tech’s breakout season is being undone by bad breaks.
Injuries and individual slumps sidetracked the Yellow Jackets in the early weeks of ACC play. They lost the ACC’s leading rebounder, Robert Carter Jr., likely for the rest of the season and guard Solomon Poole, a sparkplug off the bench, indefinitely because of migraines and other medical issues. Sharpshooters Chris Bolden and Stacey Poole remained mired in season-long slumps.
Head coach Brian Gregory tried three different starting lineups in Georgia Tech’s first seven ACC games. The Jackets’ 2-5 mark during that stretch puts the postseason hopes of a team that returned its top-six players in jeopardy.
All the adversity has led Gregory to broaden his focus beyond leading his team to its first NIT or NCAA appearance in his tenure.
“We’re being put through these tests, and you need to stay strong, you need to stay positive,” Gregory said. “These are the times you build your character. These are the times you’re actually building the strength of your program.”
A trio of veterans, meanwhile, is keeping Georgia Tech competitive. Senior Trae Golden, a transfer from Tennessee, is averaging 16 points a game in ACC play and is delivering in the clutch. He scored eight of his 24 points in the final minutes against Boston College, helping stave off an Eagle comeback.
Center Daniel Miller is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding and shooting percentage. Gregory wants to get the fifth-year senior more than five shots a game and sees greater production by Miller opening up the offense for others. Miller had a career-high 23 points in the Jackets’ overtime loss at N.C. State on Sunday.
Another fifth-year senior, Kam Holsey, has stepped into Carter’s spot and brought the same energy and leadership he did a year ago as the ACC’s best sixth man.
Their play, and hints that Bolden could be poised to break out of his three-point shooting slump, have some in the Georgia Tech faithful feeling cautiously optimistic about the season’s stretch run. Four straight home games in early February could provide the momentum for a strong finish.
“We felt we were moving in a positive direction and we still think that way,” Bobinski said. “The expectations haven’t changed. This is a postseason team. We are moving in that direction.”