By Mark Schlabach,
August 25, 2003
Loaded Peach State May Be Ripe For Invasions From Outsiders
ATLANTA Georgia's football program is on the rise. Georgia Tech's seems to be on the decline. But don't look for the defending SEC champion Bulldogs to lock up the state's top high school talent as they did a year ago. For starters, there probably isn't enough room on their young roster. With only 12 seniors on the 2004 team, the Bulldogs can't expect to sign more than 20 freshmen in February. Ditto for Georgia Tech, which appears to be focusing its recruiting on out-of-state prospects and, in particular, players with very strong academic credentials under second-year coach Chan Gailey.
ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said this is an outstanding year for high school talent in Georgia.
It'll be interesting because the state of Georgia is loaded, Lemming said. My Super 25 for each position is going to be loaded with a lot of Georgia guys.
Lemming said the state has plenty of talented quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, defensive ends and linebackers. But he said he doesn't see nearly as many quality defensive backs or impressive offensive linemen.
Here's a closer look at some of the Peach State's elite seniors:
Colquitt Miller County star Brandon Miller, arguably the top prospect
in the state at any position, is being recruited to play either defensive end,
outside linebacker or wide receiver. He is ranked the No. 7 prospect and the
No. 3 outside linebacker nationally by TheInsiders.com, and
Rivals.com ranks him the No. 1 weakside defensive end in the nation.
Miller had 106 tackles and seven sacks as a junior, while hauling in 27 catches for more than 500 yards and five touchdowns at split end. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds and has a 37-inch vertical jump. He has offers from Florida State, Georgia, Duke, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky, LSU and dozens of other schools. He camped at Auburn, Georgia and Georgia Tech this summer.
Most of the schools are recruiting me at linebacker or wide receiver or defensive end, Miller said. I like playing linebacker and wide receiver the best right now.
Some college coaches who have combed the state in recent years will tell you that Hawkinsville High defensive end Charles Johnson has even more long-term potential than Miller.
Johnson did it all for Hawkinsville last year, scoring touchdowns rushing, receiving and on punt, fumble, kickoff and interception returns. He is ranked the No. 21 prospect and No. 1 defensive end nationally by TheInsiders.com. Johnson committed to Georgia in February, after receiving interest from nearly every major program in the South.
He always wanted to go to Georgia, so when they offered there wasn't any hesitating, Hawkinsville coach Lee Campbell said. I asked him before he committed, ëCharles, what happens when Miami and FSU come along later?' He said, ëCoach, I want to go to Georgia.' If I was in his shoes and got an offer from my favorite school, I'd go ahead and take it, too.
Tyrone Sandy Creek wide receiver Calvin Johnson is the top receiver in the state and maybe in the entire South. Ranked the No. 23 prospect and No. 5 wide receiver nationally by TheInsiders.com, he had 34 catches for more than 600 yards and 10 TDs as a junior. He's a good blocker with solid hands and runs crisp routes.
Johnson said he's wide open as far as the schools he's considering, and he's receiving a lot of interest from Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Miami. The Yellow Jackets could be the early favorite because Johnson wants to major in engineering and wants to stay close to home. Georgia doesn't have a very diverse engineering program.
I'm not sure if I want to major in mechanical or electrical yet, but engineering is what I want to do, Johnson said. I would like to stay close to home so my family can see me play, but if the best school is far away, I will go there. I haven't narrowed it down yet.
Vidalia High defensive tackle Eric McLendon might have been ranked the No. 1 prospect in Georgia, but concerns about academics have caused some schools to stay away. McClendon, ranked the No. 29 prospect and No. 5 defensive tackle nationally by TheInsiders.com, had 57 tackles, six sacks, eight tackles for loss and 15 quarterback pressures as a junior. He lists Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Miami as his top five, but he may have to start his college career at a prep school.
Georgia and Auburn are my favorites, McLendon said. I'm familiar with both schools, and I want to stay close to home. I've liked the Bulldogs for as long as I can remember.
Tucker High tailback Thomas Brown was featured on the cover of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's high school section in August while wearing a costume of the super hero Flash. He certainly has plenty of speed. He rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 30 TDs as a junior for Tucker, which produced SEC running backs Patrick Pass (Georgia) and Jabari Davis (Tennessee) in recent years.
Brown, ranked the No. 2 running back nationally by SuperPrep, could play either tailback or cornerback in college. He committed to Georgia in July after considering Auburn, Arizona State, UNC, Penn State, FSU, Maryland and Wake Forest. He has a 2.8 GPA and a 900-plus SAT score, so qualifying won't be a problem.
Every starting tailback who's come through here the last 12 to 15 years has gone on to be a Division I kid, Tucker coach Bill Ballard said. It's been a pretty impressive run, and Thomas could be as good as any of them. He's just got blazing speed and the ability to cut and make people miss.
Fort Valley Peach County quarterback A.J. Bryant committed to Georgia exactly one year early so his father could take part in the festivities. Alonzo Bryant, 42, was dying of renal cancer and was told he had three to six months to live. After his son announced in February that he would play for Georgia in 2004, Alonzo Bryant died three days later.
A.J. Bryant passed for 1,605 yards and 11 TDs last season. He impressed Georgia's coaches by running the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds at a camp in 2002. Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech and Texas also showed interest in Bryant, who is ranked the No. 62 prospect and No. 8 quarterback nationally by The Insiders.com. Rivals.com ranks him the No. 1 athlete in the country. With a 3.0 GPA and a 900-plus SAT score, he is on track to qualify academically.
I think my strengths right now are being able to see the field well and being able to make plays when things go wrong, Bryant said. I'm working on my footwork, my accuracy and all of the technical aspects of being a good quarterback.
Stone Mountain Stephenson linebacker Josh Johnson, ranked the No. 5 linebacker and No. 55 prospect nationally by Rivals.com, had 151 tackles and six sacks as a junior. He has scholarship offers from Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, Miami and Oklahoma, among many others. He camped at Auburn and Georgia and said he favors the Bulldogs and Miami, but both of those teams signed a lot of linebackers this year. Johnson said he will be watching the depth charts at his favorite schools very closely.
Josh has everything you would want in a college linebacker, Stephenson coach Ronald Gartrell said. I think every school that has come by here has offered him a scholarship, except maybe some of those that didn't think they had a shot at him. We have a great tradition here, with lots of kids who have been highly recruited, but that kind of thing doesn't happen every day.
Grayson High defensive tackle Lorenzo Washington is only 16 years old, but he has the shoe size to match. Washington, from tiny Grayson High, came out of nowhere this summer, but his stock is shooting through the roof. He had 70 tackles and 10 sacks as a junior, but coaches caught wind of his talent after impressive performances during camps at Alabama and Georgia this summer.
Washington said the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide are his leaders, but North Carolina, South Carolina, Duke, Ohio State, Maryland and Auburn are in the picture, too. TheInsiders.com ranks him the No. 17 defensive tackle in the nation. With a 2.9 GPA and an 860 SAT score, he projects as a full qualifier.
Georgia and Auburn are great programs with excellent football traditions, Washington said. I also like North Carolina, because it's a good school and they've put a lot of linemen into the NFL. If Ohio State offers, they could be right in there, too.
Hartwell Hart County linebacker Jae Thaxton is one of the top linebackers in the South. He had more than 300 tackles (combined) in his sophomore and junior seasons, despite battling ankle injuries last year. A prototypical middle linebacker and a tenacious hitter, he said he has more than 15 offers and favors Florida State and Georgia. He also lists LSU, Miami and Notre Dame among his leaders.
Kennesaw Mountain offensive lineman Jeremy Ciulla surprised a lot of folks in Georgia when he committed in July to play for Michigan. He had a final four of Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame and Stanford, and the locals were hoping he would pick the hometown Bulldogs. But Ciulla hopes to follow the path of the last Peach State offensive lineman to play for the Wolverines: tackle Jeff Backus, a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2002 NFL draft. Ciulla, who has a 3.6 GPA and scored 1,100 on the SAT, hopes to attend medical school, and he liked Michigan's pre-med major during his unofficial visit to Ann Arbor this summer.
Canton Sequoyah quarterback Cullen Harper passed for 1,123 yards with 14 TDs as a junior, with just three interceptions. He committed to Clemson this summer, after also receiving offers from Duke, Middle Tennessee State and South Carolina. He benches 260 pounds, squats 385 and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. He has a 3.5 GPA and a 910 SAT score.
Fayetteville Landmark Christian quarterback Alex Mortensen, the son of ESPN pro football analyst Chris Mortensen, will be fun to watch on the recruiting trail because he and his family thus far have stuck to their policy of not confirming any scholarship offers. Alex, who compiled 2,270 yards on 151-for-241 passing with 25 TDs and six interceptions as a junior, said he favors Arkansas and Hawaii (Chris is a close friend of Rainbows coach June Jones) over Alabama, Arizona State, Georgia, LSU, UNC and N.C. State.
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