Regional Recruiting Reaps Reward
The state of Georgia is now statistically the third best state for top-tier high school football, trailing only Florida and Texas but actually ahead of California in four and five star recruits over the past few years. Georgia is the geographically largest state east of the Mississippi River but significantly trails the other three states in the top four in terms of total state population. Georgia is simply a great football state.
While many regional programs have long recruited Georgia well, the state flagship consistently gets plenty of in-state football talent. As evidence look no further than the so-called Georgia Dream Team, a group of dynamic from-Georgia freshmen that heavily contributed to UGA winning the SEC East in 2011 for the first time since the great D.J. Shockley team upset LSU for Mark Richt’s second conference crown.
As Georgia soared back to national prominence early in Mark Richt’s eleven-year coaching career, UGA broadened its recruiting options. Matthew Stafford chose Georgia from Texas and Knowshon Moreno came way on down from New Jersey. But outside a few big national recruiting scores, UGA relies consistently on a more regional footprint.
The Dawgs dipped into Tampa, Florida to grab high school teammates: quarterback Aaron Murray and NFL-bound tight end Orson Charles. This year the top offensive lineman in the nation opted to join the winning side of the Jacksonville Cocktail Party, as John Theus looks to be an opening day starter. Everyone recruits Florida and Georgia, especially in the eastern half of the USA.
Though the schools rarely compete in any sport, a rivalry exists between the University of Georgia in Athens and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Both great schools stake claim to being the nation’s oldest state chartered public university. The fact remains that way back in 1785 Ol’ Georgia chartered first. Carolina opened her doors early, but the public state college system was invented around the University of Georgia.
All Georgia fans should enjoy Tobacco Road basketball, because it is of unusual importance to UGA football recruiting. Our neighboring state of North Carolina boasts some of the best public and private universities in the country. UNC, Duke, Wake Forest – basketball schools. N.C. State, basketball. Basketball measuring up so much in the state – ala Kentucky of the SEC – equates to a lack of strong interest and therefore top quality in American College Football, the sport of most importance in the state of Georgia. And Mark Richt and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner annually swoop in for the state’s top talent. South Carolina has also been good to us.
As example, just a few years ago the bulk of Georgia’s deep receiving core were from North Carolina, including the productive Mohamed Massaquoi. Massaquoi teamed with and was succeeded as primary target by South Carolinian A.J. Green. After a dominant partial junior season at UGA following a suspension, A.J. was drafted high by the Cincinnati Bengals and recently played in his first Pro Bowl as a rookie in the NFL. Most consider him Georgia’s greatest receiver of all time.
Emerging-in-intensity rival South Carolina and historic/geographic rival Clemson both currently have fairly strong football programs. Clemson returned to the big bowls after a prolonged absence, and the Gamecocks had their best year ever with eleven wins. North Carolina has long been regarded as a sleeping giant in football, with plenty of resources and good facilities. They took a major step back from an already less than lofty position with the departure of embattled coach Butch Davis amidst rampant agent issues with his players. ACC schools N.C. State, Wake Forest and Duke rarely recruit the same caliber of athletes as UGA.
Two of the tip-top high school running backs in America played in the Tar Heel State in 2011, and both will play in the same backfield at Georgia. Speedster and straight-A student Keith Marshall of Raleigh is already enrolled and should be on display in the G-Day Game. Marshall, regarded by most recruiting services and publications as the top running back in all of high school football, gives UGA a rare back-to-back fete: Isaiah Crowell was ranked first of all high school runners last recruiting season before winning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Crowell seemingly had the award in the bag three quarters of the way through the 2011 season, as his production slipped way off while he battled injuries, immaturity and suspension. His relative ineffectiveness and a lack of quality depth at running back open the door wide for Marshall to be a major factor in his first season Between the Hedges. But the thinking of another N.C. runner must have been that there would be plenty of touches available in Athens over the next few seasons, as State Champion Todd Gurley surprised some by joining the Georgia Bulldogs. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo may finally have the dominant running game he covets for his heavy running and deep play-action pass oriented offense to excel.