With a large Senior class next year, Tech will be in a position to bring in 20-25 prospects (a full class) in the 2014 recruiting cycle. I have been thinking a lot lately about recruiting strategies, and whether we have the coaching staff to execute it. Given CPJ's feedback on NSD, the background of Tech's new AD, and the realization of the GT brand on a national stage...I can see big changes on the horizon in the all-important task of finding "GT" guys.
The state of Georgia will once again be ripe with HS talent. While they may not boast 4-5 of the 10 best HS prospects in the nation like they did in 2013...the 2014 model will be stacked with players in the top-100 and top-250 lists. Georgia Tech will always be in the mix for many Georgia HS athletes, and 8 of the current 14 players in the 2013 class were from in-state (Shamire Devine, Travis Custis, Harrison Butker, Justin Akins, Ty Griffin, Corey Griffin, Antonio Messick, PJ Davis). Devine, Custis, and Butker were all "GT" guys who happened to be elite prospects. However, several more higher-profile in-state names should have been in the mix.
First, there were the legacies. Carl Lawson, O.J. Howard, and Naim Mustafaa were related to former Tech players and elite 4-star+ level talent...and none gave Tech a serious shot (Lawson did as a very resort). Second, there were HS kids associated with Tech graduates. Tyren Jones (the #2 ranked RB in GA...and close to former Tech player Jon Dwyer), Trey Johnson (relationship to CTR, played in HS with Francis Kallon), and George Adeosun (hottest prospect in the state) was coached by a former Tech player. Lastly, the crop of 2014 prospects with GT ties run very deep, including Myles Autry (younger brother of Anthony Autry) and Adam Choice (related to Tashard Choice).
None in this elite group had/have serious interest in attending Georgia Tech. Now of course, there could be understandable factors such as grades, not wanting to be in someone's shadow, a major that Tech doesn't have, etc. But the underlying fact is that these kids most likely didn't/won't attend Tech because they've made Football-centered decisions. The state of Georgia has arguably one of the worst public school systems, and this is failing Tech as well because not only is it limiting the available talent pool...I would argue its de-emphasizing the importance of education, prioritizing Football in society's list of important endeavors, and perpetuating cycles of poverty.
Think about it. Why wouldn't the majority of HS prospects consider Tech? It's a school that plays big-time college football, has a storied and competitive history, it's a school that is highly ranked in several programs, it's located in one of the most culturally- and commercially-rich cities not only in the Southeast...but in America. As CPJ tries to tell recruits..."you can check every box" if you come to Tech. Yet...3 of Tech's 4 de-commits chose instead to play for academically inferior SEC programs in such vibrant metropoli as Starkville MS, Fayetteville AR...and Athens GA. The reason given in these instances..."the chance to play in the SEC". The 4th (JuMichael Ramos) actually didn't trade down as much, choosing NC State and Raleigh NC.
But what about our out-of-state prospects? The interesting part about these guys (Chris Griffin, Darius Commissiong, Kevin Robbins, John Marvin, Ricky Jeune, and Donovan Wilson) is that they were the most loyal and sure of their commitments throughout the process, which included 2 separate coaching changes on the defensive side of the ball that impacted many of them directly. Why did they stay loyal? (aside from good recruiting jobs from CJS, CAM, and CDW) Is it entirely possible that these kids valued the school they attend as much as the chance to play football there? Now there's a thought...finding "Tech" guys who are talented enough to play highly competitive football. We've found some of these kids regionally lately (Vad Lee, Justin Thomas, Devine, Custis)...but staying regional seems to address the quantity part of recruiting...but not the quality. Staying regional means, after the SEC gets its pick of the litter, we generally only find decent players (not game-changing ones). Much of it is budget-constrained, of course. But it's a strategy that limits the potential improvement of the top 1-8 players which Tech is in dire need of addressing.
CPJ alluded to it in his NSD address. GT's brand is better the further you get from Georgia, most likely because it means "top-notch education" instead of "can't beat the DWAGS" to the less football-centric HS mind. But where can you find good football players that truly value education? We've seen a smattering of success in recent times in states like Pennsylvania, which brought to Tech the Cox brothers (Mike and Lucas) and Derrick Morgan. Tech has had tremendous success lately recruiting the Washington DC Catholic leagues, which has brought to Tech such players as Jeremiah Attaochu, Lou Young, Rod Chungong, Kevin Robbins, and Darius Commissiong. Lastly, CDW has brought a buzz into Ohio with several top athletes in 2014 looking to give Tech a look.
The successful recruiting formula for Georgia Tech then may transitioning away from targeting regionally, and towards targeting a specific type of student-athlete. The Northeast and Midwest have historically better-ranked public and private school systems and concentrated academic centers in cities like Washington DC, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and others. While it may be easier to find "GT" guys in such places...these avenues are limited unless you are wiling to expand your net nationally. Doing that takes money...plane tickets, phone bills, selling/marketing, and lots of relationship-building to make it happen.
Enter new AD Mike Bobinski, a veteran of such academically-oriented schools like Notre Dame, Navy, and Xavier. In his current tenure at Xavier, he has shown a proficiency of not just making top-notch hires, but also reaching out to a large network of academically-oriented HS programs to field competitive teams while maintaining Xavier's academic reputation. Perhaps this track record is what makes him the perfect candidate for leading a football-oriented school such as Tech that also has tough academic standards. I think everyone is aware that this strategy is going to be pricier, and Tech is going to have to stray from its Georgia roots to continuously improve. But that's what it must do...take the brand to a national audience of HS kids and parents that can appreciate it more than the current regional network can offer us. Notre Dame, Stanford, and other prestigious academic schools with competitive BCS football programs try to do this as well.
For the 2014 class, expect to see lots of Georgia HS kids. After all, we're a local school to many great HS players and have good relationships with several local HS programs (Norcross, Lovejoy, Sandy Creek, etc.). I wouldn't be surprised to see 8-12 in-state kids sign with Tech. The coaching signings of CTR and CMP are great assets to recruiting the local region. However, I think the days of Georgia-dominated classes are over. Of course, we'll find the few kids in FL, AL, SC, TN, and NC who want to come to Tech. I think we're going to see a trend of Tech recruiting go to places like NJ, VA, MD, PA, OH, and in other places. CJS and CDW have done great in these areas in a short amount of time (this may be the best gift CAG left to the Tech program), and GT is on many elite 2014 players' short lists from these regions already. I expect Tech to go even further into Texas and California at some point once the train gets rolling.
So do you think a national strategy is best?