By Adam Van Brimmer
Morris News Service
February 20, 2007
ATLANTA Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey equates recruiting rankings to preseason polls.
"Who knows what is going to happen in the end?" he said.
It doesn't take an expert to make some assumptions, though, particularly as they have applied to the Yellow Jackets under Gailey. Every year he wins seven to nine games, with a team comprised mostly of middle-of-the-pack recruits.
Beginning this fall, Gailey will get to show what he can do with prospects the gurus considered among the best in the ACC, if not the nation.
The Jackets landed their most highly regarded class of Gailey's tenure on signing day. Of the 20 signees, including two who enrolled for the spring semester, eight were considered among the nation's elite at their positions.
"They say we're the best (class) in the ACC. Now we can't wait to win an ACC championship to prove it," said Kyle Jackson, a linebacker. "We want to contend for a national championship even."
Should they do so, Gailey and his staff will have proven wrong all of the critics including many within their own fan base who claim that Tech's academic standards will prevent it from ever becoming a perennial top-10 team again. The school's entrance standards go well beyond those mandated by the NCAA, and administrators are unwilling to grant some exceptions previously allowed because of recent NCAA sanctions.
Tech is in the midst of a two-year probation period stemming from the school inadvertently allowing ineligible athletes to compete. The sanctions also include scholarship restrictions that limit the program to 79 scholarship players, six below the NCAA maximum. The 2007 season will mark the team's last under the limits.
The restrictions may turn out to have helped Tech in a way. The 20 players were the most the Jackets have signed in three years, yet five fewer than most of their competitors sign each year. Fewer openings have forced Gailey and his staff to be more thorough and take fewer chances in recruiting.
"We just can't afford to make mistakes," Gailey said. "We have to make sure a guy can contribute somewhere. He might not contribute at the position that he's recruited at, but he has to be able to contribute somewhere, somehow."
With that in mind, Gailey revamped Tech's methods last winter, in an attempt to refine the program's recruiting model. He promoted Giff Smith, the Jackets' defensive line coach, to recruiting coordinator. He also hired a director of player personnel, whose main role is coordinating campus visits by recruits.
Smith simply took the forests of recruiting materials the Jackets already were receiving "It was so much you couldn't get through it," he said and pared it down. Then he set up a recruiting calendar, the idea being to identify prospects who fit Tech's academic and athletic profiles in time for their junior seasons of high school football.
"Everybody gets the same info. It's what you do with it that's the key," Gailey said. "To me, that's where we have stepped it up. We have done a better job of assimilating all the info and getting it in a useable form."
Another vital recruiting tool was set up by Smith's predecessor, David Wilson. He hired a company, Recruiting Radar, to design a website for recruits. The site, playatgatech.com, is basically a giant advertisement for the program. It also allows recruits password-protected access to interactive elements. The site allowed Smith to track recruits' visits and gauge their interest.
"You can track how long they log on, and if a kid is on it, he's interested," Smith said. "Conversely, it lets you know if he's losing interest. You can gauge where best to use your resources."
Smith's talents extend beyond the organizational realm. Tech's class included 12 players from Georgia and two more from the Jacksonville, Fla., area, as the Yellow Jackets went head-to-head and won in regional recruiting battles against rival Georgia, Florida State and Florida. Smith's vision for Tech recruiting is to turn the rural areas along the state's interstates, long the strongholds of rivals, into talent pipelines for the Jackets.
An Atlanta native who played college football at Georgia Southern for the late legend Erk Russell, Smith has the connections to make that a reality.
"We're getting kids from areas where we've never gotten kids before," Smith said. "I'm looking forward to, a few years from now, Tech having the pipelines up I-16, I-20, I-95 and I-75."
Tech obviously wowed its most recent class. Seventeen recruits committed before Nov. 1.
Even an uncertain final month of the recruiting season failed to scare recruits away. Gailey interviewed for two NFL vacancies in January, while Smith was rumored to be a candidate for the Georgia Southern job. Both coaches ended up staying with the Yellow Jackets, and so did the recruits.
"It was an unusual situation, but (Gailey) kept all of us informed about what was going on," offensive tackle Nick Claytor said. "He never lied to us or misled us in any way."
The recruits stayed in contact with each other as well. One of the accomplishments of the new director of player personnel, Geoff Collins, was putting recruits in position to bond during their campus visits.
They traded e-mails, phone numbers and MySpace sites during the visits and became what Claytor described as a "family." Spearheaded by Jackson, whom teammates nicknamed "The Ambassador" for his tireless efforts to keep everyone in touch, the class is unique in Gailey's experience.
"By far, this is the tightest I've ever seen," Gailey said. "I don't know if other places have this happen or not, but it certainly seems like something that would be unique."
Or, as Jackson said on signing day, "Everything about us fits."
More than half the 2007 class got together on signing day, for a welcoming party at an Atlanta-area restaurant. The celebration took on a family reunion aura, with the recruits laughing, hugging and mugging for countless still and video cameras.
One recruit, Tyler Melton, came all the way from Houston for the party, and Melton doesn't even expect to enroll at Tech this fall. He underwent knee surgery recently that will sideline him for the 2007 season. He plans to enroll in January 2008, to preserve a year of eligibility.
"We all met on our recruiting visits, and right away it was like, Man, you're cool,' and, Yeah, you're cool, too,'" Claytor said. "We've only grown closer since."
They should bond quickly with veteran teammates this fall, too, since many of the recruits fit team needs.
Claytor is among three offensive linemen in the class. Tech didn't sign any offensive linemen a year ago. Three wide receivers and four defensive backs add depth at those positions. The Jackets lost three receivers off last year's team, including Biletnikoff Award winner Calvin Johnson, and already were thin at cornerback.
The newest Jackets should have time to develop nonetheless. Tech will return 17 players who started in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.
"You're really looking two years in advance when you recruit," Gailey said, "because that's when most of the guys will play."
NESBITT JOINS CROWDED QUARTERBACK PICTURE
Josh Nesbitt is a "Tech guy all the way." He's also a Georgia Tech quarterback, not a defensive back, running back or H-back.
Nesbitt was the state of Georgia's most highly regarded high school quarterback last fall. He threw for 2,256 yards and ran for 493 more. Still, many college coaches liked the 6-2, 215-pounder as a safety. Not Georgia Tech.
"I have no concerns about not getting a chance to play quarterback," Nesbitt said. "That's the only thing they recruited me for."
Nesbitt will step into a crowded quarterback group in Atlanta this season. Junior Taylor Bennett is the incumbent, and he is coming off a 300-yard performance against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. Behind Bennett is junior Kyle Manley, sophomore Jonathan Garner, redshirt freshman Byron Ingram and Auburn transfer Marcus Booker.
The other quarterback in Tech's 2007 class, Steven Threet, will get a jump on Nesbitt as well. Threet, a 6-5 pocket passer from Michigan who threw for more than 9,000 yards in high school, enrolled at Tech last month and will take part in spring practice.
Nesbitt's mobility gives him a talent the others lack, though, and Tech coach Chan Gailey showed that he likes dual-threat quarterbacks four years ago, when he named Reggie Ball the starter as a true freshman.
Gailey said he has no plans to use Nesbitt elsewhere. In fact, the notion never came up between coach and player, one reason Nesbitt picked the Yellow Jackets over many other suitors, including defending national champion Florida.
"He never asked me about (other positions), because we wanted him as a quarterback," Gailey said. "We don't see him playing somewhere else."
Adam Van Brimmer
GEORGIA TECH 2007 SIGNEES
Name Pos. Ht./Wt. Stars High School/Junior College
Morgan Burnett* S 6-1/182 4/4 College Park (GA) North Clayton
SP-15 DB; 1st-team 4A all-state; over Aub., Fla., Ga. (!)
Mario Butler CB 6-2/180 3/3 Ponte Vedra (FL) Nease
SP-73 FL; all-region; early over Clem., Md., USC, VT
Nick Claytor* OT 6-6/312 4/4 Gainesville (GA) High
SP-18 OL; 1st-team 3A all-state; over Aub., FSU, OSU (!)
D.J. Donley* WR 6-4/218 4/4 Folkston (GA) Charlton Co.
SP-27 DB; 1st-team 2A all-state; over Fla., FSU, Ga., USC
Jonathan Dwyer* RB 6-0/197 4/4 Marietta (GA) Kell
Parade A-A; 1st-team 5A all-state; over Aub., Fla., FSU, Ga.
Joseph Gilbert OL 6-4/280 3/2 Cartersville (GA) High
ST-46 GA; HM 3A all-state; very early over Ivy interest (!)
Kyle Jackson LB 6-0/225 3/3 McDonough (GA) Union Grove
SP-47 GA; HM 5A all-state; early over UCF, MSU, WF (!)
Brad Jefferson LB 6-2/215 3/3 Wrightsville (GA) Johnson
SP-22 GA; 1st-team 1A all-state; early over Duke, Md.
Roddy Jones RB 5-9/184 3/3 Chamblee (GA) High
SP-19 GA; 1st-team 3A all-state; over Clem., Duke, Md. (!)
Tyler Melton WR 6-0/182 2/2 Houston (TX) Langham Creek
All-district; 46-518-8 as senior; early over Air Force, Rice (!)
Derrick Morgan^* DE 6-4/275 4/4 Coatesville (PA) High
SP-13 DL; 1st-team all-state; over BC, Miami, OSU, PSU (!)
Josh Nesbitt* QB 6-1/204 4/4 Greensboro (GA) Greene Co.
SP-9 QB; 1st-team 2A all-state; over Aub., Fla., Ga., USC
Jason Peters* DE 6-4/270 4/4 Baton Rouge (LA) Catholic
SP-35 DL; 1st-team 5A all-state (POY); over LSU, Neb. (!)
Michael Peterson DB 5-11/190 2/3 Tampa (FL) Jesuit
RV-87 FL; all-area; BC switch; also Clem., USF, Vandy
Albert Rocker LB 6-1/205 3/3 Harvest (AL) Sparkman
SP-8 AL; 86-17 (sacks) as sr.; over Louis., Pur., Vandy
Jerrard Tarrant S 6-0/187 3/3 Carrollton (GA) High
RV-43 GA; 1st-team 3A all-state; early over Duke, Vandy
Steven Threet^* QB 6-5/230 4/4 Adrian (MI) High
SP-12 MI; 4824-49 as sr.; over Ill., NCSU, Stan., Wis. (!)
Logan Walls DT 6-2/280 3/3 Dawsonville (GA) Dawson Co.
SP-29 GA; HM 2A all-state; Mormon; over BYU, Ga. (!)
Willie White WR 6-3/183 4/3 Kingsland (GA) Camden Co.
SP-14 GA; low sr. numbers; over Aub., USC, Tenn., VT
Clyde Yandell OL 6-5/304 3/3 Ponte Vedra (FL) Nease
SP-58 FL; 2nd-team 4A all-state; over Md., NCSU, NW (!)
*-All-American (top 250 by two/more services) ^-enrolled (!)-strong academics (?)-unconfirmed academics STScout.com RVRivals.com SPSuperPrep STARS: By Scout/Rivals.
WHO GOT AWAY?
The following prospects had firm scholarship offers from Georgia Tech and/or took official visits to Atlanta but signed with other programs: Orlando (FL) Edgewater LB Lorenzo Edwards (Fla.), Detroit (MI) Mumford CB Cedric Everson (Iowa), Greensboro (NC) Page DE Kevion Latham (PSU), Oxnard (CA) Rio Mesa LB Malachi Lewis (Ore.).
The following prospects also claimed scholarship offers from Tech but eliminated the Yellow Jackets early in the recruiting process: Miami Lakes (FL) High RB Armando Allen (ND), Mobile (AL) Davidson DE Damario Ambrose (Ark.), Darien (GA) McIntosh County DE Allen Bailey (Miami), Jacksonville (FL) White RB Eric Baker (USC), Jackson (GA) High DE Neland Ball (Ga.), Royal Palm Beach (FL) High RB Zach Brown (Wis.), Forestville (MD) High TE Devonte Campbell (Md.), La Porte (TX) High FB Quentin Castille (Neb.), Mansfield (TX) Summit QB John Chiles (Texas), Columbia (SC) Spring Valley OL Mason Cloy (Clem.), Snellville (GA) Brookwood LB Rennie Curran (Ga.), Denver (CO) Montbello WR Drew Davis (Ore.), Jefferson Hills (PA) Jefferson WR Dom DeCicco (Pitt), Lakeland (FL) Evangel Christian WR Art Evans (Tenn.), Indianapolis (IN) Warren Central DB Jerimy Finch (Fla.), Alexander City (AL) Russell LB Eltoro Freeman (Aub.), Mobile (AL) UMS-Wright WR Brandon Gibson (Ala.), Columbia (SC) Richland Northeast DB Gary Gray (ND), Statesboro (GA) High DE Justin Houston (Ga.), Batesburg (SC) Leesville DB Dontrelle Inman (UVa), Detroit (MI) Renaissance DB Derek Knight (WVU), Statesboro (GA) High DB John Knox (Ga.), Bloomfield Hills (MI) Lahser DB Quincy Landingham (Wis.), Powder Springs (GA) McEachern DT Ted Laurent (Miss.), Morgantown (WV) High DT Junius Lewis (WVU), Jeffersonville (GA) Twiggs County OL Chris Little (Ga.), Anderson (SC) Hanna RB Brian Maddox (USC), Westlake Village (CA) Oaks Christian LB Casey Matthews (Ore.), Jacksonville (FL) Jackson DT D'Angelo McCray (Ill.), New Orleans (LA) McDonogh DT Terrence Moore (Neb.), Hialeah (FL) High DE Adewale Ojomo (Miami), Hoover (AL) High OL Ryan Pugh (Aub.), Lakeland (FL) High RB Chris Rainey (Fla.), Daytona Beach (FL) Seabreeze DB James Scott (OSU), McAllen (TX) Memorial RB Bradley Stephens (Texas A&M), Canton (OH) South DB Devon Torrence (OSU), Tifton (GA) Tift County WR Israel Troupe (Ga.), Washington (DC) St. John's DE Tony Tucker (Pitt), Mountain Brook (AL) High OL William Vlachos (Ala.), Pontiac (MI) Northern WR Martell Webb (Mich.), Atlanta (GA) Westlake DB Addison Williams (USC), Little Rock (AR) Central TE David Williams (Ark.), Jacksonville (FL) First Coast DB Jamire Williams (USC), Pittsburgh (PA) Central Catholic OL Stefen Wisniewski (PSU), Marietta (GA) Walton TE Bailey Woods (Aub.).
Compiled by David Glenn