By Mark Schlabach, Washington Post
August 23, 2004
Talent-Rich State Appears Loaded With Linebackers This Season
ATLANTA The state of Georgia has produced its share of star linebackers in recent years. NFL stars Kendrell Bell, Takeo Spikes and Keith Brooking all played at Georgia high schools before going on to college and the pros. Other star linebackers from the Peach State include former college All-American Boss Bailey of Georgia, Keith Adams of Clemson, Daryl Smith of Georgia Tech and Dontarrious Thomas of Auburn.
If the recruiting experts are right this year, a few colleges again will find All-American linebackers and future NFL stars within Georgia's borders. Most recruiting services rank four or five linebackers, led by Tray Blackmon of LaGrange High, among the state's top 15 prospects.
As I was putting the list together, it struck me just how many great linebackers there are in the state of Georgia this year, said Scott Kennedy, the Southern recruiting analyst for TheInsiders.com. Blackmon is a one-man wrecking crew on defense. He plays the game at a completely different speed than those around him. He uses his whole body on hits and has tremendous instincts. He is a difference-maker, and he's maybe the best defensive player this state has seen since Takeo Spikes.
Georgia also has its share of top prospects at other positions, including Duke Robinson, arguably the South's top offensive tackle; Carlos Thomas, one of the nation's fastest receivers; Matt Dunham, one of America's most versatile athletes; and Tony Wright, one of the region's most coveted tailbacks.
But Georgia, which produced college quarterbacks David Greene and D.J. Shockley of Georgia, Reggie Ball of Georgia Tech and Charlie Whitehurst of Clemson, doesn't have a top-ranked passer this year. Tray Rutland of East Point Tri-Cities, the state's No. 1 quarterback prospect, may end up as the only QB in the Peach State's top 50.
Here's a closer look at some of Georgia's top seniors:
Blackmon, who is ranked the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation by Rivals.com, was named the Class 3A state player of the year by the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association as a junior. He led LaGrange High to the Class 3A state championship game, finishing the season with 116 tackles (16 for loss) and 12 sacks. He runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds and benches 325 pounds.
Blackmon had more than a dozen scholarship offers by late summer, and that list is expected to grow rapidly. He camped this summer at Auburn, FSU and Georgia, and those schools are among his leaders, along with Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State and Nebraska. He also has offers from Southern Cal, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
Florida State really stood out, Blackmon said. They have really cool coaches. They work you, but at the same time, they coach you. They don't let you sell yourself short. I met some of the players there, too. They were real cool. As far as campus and facilities and stuff, I'd give the nod to Florida State, too. I had a good time at all three places, though.
Jeffersonville Twiggs County linebacker Antonio Clay has a cousin, Tony Coley, who played at Miami in the mid-1990s, and Clay seems ready to become a Hurricane, too. Clay said Miami leads LSU and Oklahoma, and he also has offers from Clemson, Georgia and Alabama. He said the Miami campus blew him away while he was attending one of the Hurricanes' summer camps.
Miami oh, man, the scenery and everything, Clay said. I like that it's a private school. Miami is the place I wanted to be when I was a little kid. That's the program I watched on TV and up to this point. They're always going to have a shot at the national title, and that's really good. They put people in the NFL. And you can get a good job after you graduate from Miami. So that's all-around.
Clay had 115 tackles (14 for loss) and 12 sacks as a junior. He benches 315 pounds, squats 475 and runs the 40 in 4.65 seconds.
Dunham, called the most versatile player in Georgia and ranked the nation's No. 12 athlete by Rivals.com, committed in April to FSU. He chose the Seminoles over Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech and Maryland. But the Gators haven't stopped recruiting Dunham, and they turned up their efforts after his Columbus Pacelli teammate, linebacker Kalvin Baker, committed to UF. In late August, Dunham seemed to be listening to Florida's overtures, indicating that he may make an official visit to Gainesville this fall.
I'm still a verbal commitment (for Florida State), Dunham said. I'm still keeping my options open, but I'm committed.
Dunham could play a variety of roles for the Seminoles, or whichever team he chooses. He ran for 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, and he intercepted seven passes, returning one for a touchdown, as a safety. He runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds and bench presses 400 pounds.
Defensive end Justin Mincey said Florida is No. 1 on his list, but don't be surprised if he ends up in Athens. Mincey plays at Folkston Charlton County, which produced Georgia All-Americans and current NFL players Champ and Boss Bailey. The Bulldogs have had a pipeline from Folkston in place for several years.
Still, Mincey said he favors the Gators, after camping at Florida this summer. He also has Georgia, FSU (no offer), Miami and Alabama in his top five. Clemson, LSU and Penn State also have offered Mincey, who said he has a 3.0 GPA and is awaiting an SAT score. Mincey benches 285 pounds, squats 525 and power cleans 320. As a junior, he was named Class A all-state by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after posting 89 tackles and nine sacks.
If FSU offers me, that would definitely bump them up, Mincey said. If I had to name a leader right now, it would probably be the Gators, more so because I camped in Gainesville and had an unofficial visit to campus.
Decatur High defensive end Corey Moon is perhaps the best pass-rusher in Georgia, after totaling 140 tackles (23 for loss) and 12 sacks as a junior. A tremendous athlete, Moon would like to play basketball and football in college. He averaged 18 points and 15 rebounds in hoops last season. Auburn and Georgia apparently are offering him that chance, and that's why the Tigers and Bulldogs are at the top of his list.
Georgia and Auburn are my top two, but Georgia has a pretty big lead, Moon said. They covered every base. When they asked me if I had any questions, I didn't because they covered everything.
Moon also is considering Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina and Tennessee. His stock improved tremendously after he performed at the Nike Combine in Atlanta last spring. He ran the 40 in 4.78 seconds and displayed a 28-inch vertical jump. He's also a solid student who won't have any problems qualifying.
Warner Robins Houston County defensive tackle Kyle Moore already is an imposing interior lineman with good quickness and explosiveness, and college coaches believe he'll continue to grow into a true heavyweight. Moore put on quite a show at the Nike Combine in Atlanta this summer, running the 40 in 4.73 seconds, benching 310 pounds and displaying a 26-inch vertical jump. Last season, he had 89 tackles and 15 sacks, forced four fumbles and broke up 12 passes.
I'm real powerful and explosive off the ball, real quick, and I'm good with my hands, Moore said. Ever since I came up (on the varsity), I've had the best speed of any defensive linemen, offensive linemen or linebackers at my school.
Suitors are lining up for Moore, who said he plans to visit Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Michigan. (He has relatives in Detroit.) Auburn, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State and Tennessee also are among the 20 schools that have offered him scholarships. Mincey has a 2.8 GPA and scored 960 on the SAT, so qualifying almost definitely won't be a problem.
Robinson, rated the South's No. 1 offensive tackle by Rivals.com, is a dominating blocker who caught a lot of recruiters' attention when he drove big-time Florida signee Michael Brown off the ball during a game last year. Robinson has good feet for his size, benches 325 pounds and squats 445. He said he favors three schools: Alabama, Georgia and Oklahoma. He has more than 50 offers and also is considering Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee, LSU and UCLA.
With Georgia, they're the home-state school, and if you live here, you kind of can't help but pay attention to them, Robinson said. With Alabama, it's a great program, and I have had a chance to get to know their coach very well also.
Thomas, who is best-known for his explosive speed, plays receiver and cornerback in high school but is being recruited by most schools to play wideout. He favors Florida, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Maryland. He attended one of the Gators' summer camps and may favor them because of the team's exciting, young quarterback. Florida also is in desperate need of receivers, after its top four pass catchers from 2003 exhausted their eligibility.
I like Florida because they can offer early playing time, Thomas said, and I also like the fact that (sophomore quarterback) Chris Leak is there.
In May, Waynesboro Burke County linebacker Marcus Washington became the first member of the Class of 2005 to commit to Georgia. He chose the Bulldogs over offers from Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Washington was a Class 2A all-state selection as a junior, after totaling 119 tackles, one sack and two blocked kicks. He also ran for 371 yards and one touchdown on 55 carries in the final two games of the season. Washington runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds, benches 275 pounds and squats 400. He has a 2.9 GPA and is expected to qualify academically.
Mark Schlabach, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, previously covered college athletics and recruiting for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.