Friday, March 4, 2011

How The 2007 Georgia Tech Recruiting Class Came To Be

The 2007 signing class was one of Georgia Tech's best ever. After several mediocre classes in a row, the Yellow Jackets signed a consensus top 20 class that proved to be even better. How it came together was part aggression by the staff, part position fits, and part laziness from rivals.

Not Being Afraid
In his four previous signing classes, Chan Gailey had largely recruited outside the state of Georgia selling his NFL ties to players in Texas, Florida and the mid-Atlantic Region. At the time, the Georgia Bulldogs were winning at a pace not seen since the early 80s and largely because of the talent they recruited in the Peach State. Gailey decided not to go head to head on many in state players with the Bulldogs figuring the school in Athens would win nearly every battle.

Maybe it was the seat warming up, maybe it was bringing on new assistants with more ties to Georgia, but the Yellow Jackets set their sights high very soon after signing day in 2006 offering as many of the top players in the state as they could that would qualify academically.

In 2006, Giff Smith was named Tech's recruiting coordinator. Smith was from Mableton and played college ball at Georgia Southern. Another key member, Geoff Collins, was hired in 2006 as Director of Player Personnel. Collins grew up in Conyers and was also a member of Tech's staff during three very good seasons in 1999-2001.

Even with more emphasis in state, Tech was not afraid to go against heavyweights out of the state. The Jackets continued to recruit players like Derrick Morgan, one of the top players in Pennsylvania. Normally when schools like Ohio State, Miami, and Penn State are in the fold the Yellow Jackets would bow out figuring their chances were slim. But Tech's staff kept on the eventual NFL First Round Pick and secured his commitment after Morgan had visited all four.

Smith and Collins spearheaded much of this class, but they needed help from someone who could truly connect with high school players.

Kyle Jackson from Union Grove HS was one of the first players to commit to the 2007 class, but his recruiting did not stop until signing day.

Jackson set out to help the staff in any way he could to sign the best possible players connecting with other recruits on visits to the Tech campus nearly every weekend as well as continuing the communication away from Atlanta.

Every recruiting season you hear of players saying they are recruiting other guys to join them in places like Athens, Tallahassee, or Tuscaloosa and finally Tech had one of their own doing the same. You can never underestimate the help a current high school player can have in influencing other players to join him.

Position Fits
High school football is full of great athletes who end up playing different positions in college. But sometimes you get players who are set on playing a particular position at the next level, especially with quarterbacks. Such was the case with eventual starter Joshua Nesbitt.

The 2009 All-ACC 1st Team QB grew up Greensboro, Georgia deep in Bulldog Country. UGA offered Nesbitt, but as a defensive back a position he also played at Greene County High.

It is not very often the second rated QB in the state (some guy named Cameron Newton was #1) looks hard at Georgia Tech, but the dual threat ignal caller saw an opportunity to play QB and history showed Gailey would play freshman which Nesbitt liked very much.

Another highly touted player Tech landed was D.J. Donley who again hailed from a stronghold in UGA recruiting, Charlton County. Donley played at the same high school as the Bailey brothers who went on to fame in Athens and the NFL. Though a prolific WR, most schools saw Donley as a defensive back with serious pro potential. But Donley was only interested in playing offense despite the likes of FSU, Florida, and UGA all offering as a DB. Tech offered the chance to play wide receiver which he did his freshman year.

Thanks Neighbor
Recruiting is not easy for Tech. I could make a list of all the perceived negatives including academics, lack of majors, lack of girls, small stadium, etc. When your neighbors give you some help then you better take advantage and Tech certainly did.

Caleb King was all the rage in 2006 with some saying he could be the next Herschel Walker. Naturally, Georgia was recruiting King and due to depth on the current roster at the running back position was going to take just one player here.

That left the number two rated running back in the state, Jonathan Dwyer, up for grabs. Rivals and Scout will tell you that Georgia offered Dwyer but his recruitment was haphazard at best by the Bulldogs staff who had their eyes set on King.

Tech's biggest competition for Dwyer was FSU. The Seminoles prowess on the recruiting trail was far from what it was in the 90s with constant rumors of Bowden's retirement every season. That lack of effort in recruiting showed up in their records over Bowden's final seasons.

Morgan Burnett was another player the Bulldogs did not put full effort into. Part of it may have been that his brother Cap played in Athens and the UGA staff figured Morgan wouldn't dare go elsewhere. The other part may have been that another stud safety named Reshad Jones had arrived the previous year.

The rumor has been floated in subsequent years that the Georgia relaxed in their recruiting the state after huge successes early in Richt's tenure combined with a recent ability to attract top talent nationwide like Matt Stafford, Knowshon Moreno, and Kade Weston.

Another four star player Jason Peters had an unlikely recruiting battle erupt between LSU and Georgia Tech. The defensive end was from Baton Rouge and long favored the Tigers, but when Les Miles told Peters he would have to gray shirt, Jason turned his eyes to Tech. Miles has since learned his lesson on shoving kids away before National Signing Day.

And with Nick Claytor, whom Rivals ranked as the 10th best in the state, Georgia never really seriously pursued the Gainesville lineman.

The 2007 class was the centerpiece of the 11 win, ACC Champion team in 2009. Rivals originally ranked this class 18th nationally while Scout ranked it 15th nationally. But in a recent re-ranking ESPN gave Tech their 6th best class of 2007 ahead of heavyweights like Ohio State, USC, and LSU.

While this staff deserves credit for the 2007 class by changing their recruiting tactics they also got some help from others and timely luck in the process. It should not be surprising recruiting fell off some after Geoff Collins left for Alabama (and now co-defensive coordinator at Miss State) and is still recovering from the loss of Giff Smith after last season. New recruiting coordinator Andy McCollum showed some promise in year one, but better results should be expected going forward with a full recruiting year under his belt.

This is part two of a five part series examining Georgia Tech's recent recruiting classes. Part One looked at the 2006 class.

This article was originally featured at ChuckOliver.net

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