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Georgia Tech Recruiting Flashback: DB Tolando Cleveland Commits to Yellow Jackets, Flips to Mississippi State

There's one major recruiting connection between Georgia Tech and their 2014 Orange Bowl opponents Mississippi State in the past few years, and it lies with Toland Cleveland.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

In the summer of 2012, Georgia Tech got its third commitment in four years from a player from Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, GA. The class that signed in February 2010 yielded high three-star (5.7) athlete Synjyn Days, while the class that signed a year later yielded his brother, four-star linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days. Next in line appeared to be Tolando Cleveland, a mid-level three-star (5.6) cornerback prospect who had plenty of other FBS offers and interest from a few Power-5 schools, and committed to Georgia Tech over an offer from Mississippi State —- his only other Power-5 offer.

Cleveland remained solidly committed to Georgia Tech through the college football season, and took his official visit a week after Georgia Tech’s near-miss against Florida State in the 2012 ACC Championship. After his visit, he was quoted as saying, "My dad, mom and younger brother came down with me for the official visit and they loved it. It was a really great experience for them. They really love the family feel of Georgia Tech just like I do and we all feel really locked in now to Tech." Things were going great, and Cleveland was ready to put pen to paper to get his Georgia Tech career started.

Then, things got a little…shaky. In the month leading up to signing day, the class more or less fell apart. That’s the one that saw the Jackets lose the commitment of QB Damon Mitchell (to Arkansas), RB Brendan Douglas (to georgia), and WR Jumichael Ramos (to N.C. State). Cleveland actually was the first of all of them to jump ship.

While committed to Georgia Tech, Cleveland was tempted with an offer to just take a visit to Mississippi State — no harm in that, right? Coach Johnson’s policy on commits taking visits was relaxed in an effort to keep Cleveland committed. It would end up backfiring. The visit wowed Cleveland so much that he, too, flipped his commitment, instead pledging to go to school in Starkville and play football at Mississippi State. Just like that, Georgia Tech had lost its highest-rated defensive back recruit.

This season at Mississippi State, Cleveland has 26 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 5 passes defended in 10 games (he missed the Kentucky and Ole Miss games). Last year, playing as a true freshman, Cleveland had 8 tackles and 1 pass defended. He is currently a second-string cornerback for the Bulldogs.

In retrospect, the class would end up the basis for change at Georgia Tech that will make a major difference in the program’s success in the future. Even after losing a number of players prior to Signing Day, the Jackets missed on 4-star A-Back prospect Corn Elder. It was the same class that has since lost Travis Custis (academics), Justin Akins (transfer), Darius Commissiong (dismissed), Ty Griffin (transfer), Kevin Robbins (transfer), and Donovan Wilson (transfer) — nearly half of the class. (To be fair, in their second year, Georgia Tech got significant contributions from 5 of the 8 players remaining from the class, including Harrison Butker, PJ Davis, Shamire Devine, Chris Griffin, and Corey Griffin.) Coach Johnson made it clear to the administration that one of the major reasons for the struggles with the class was that he was severely understaffed with personnel specifically assigned to support in recruiting efforts. Where other schools had a dozen or more such assistants, the Georgia Tech coaching staff had no such support. It was shortly after that Johnson’s staff got that assistance, with the hiring of two individuals (including Joe Hamilton) to focus on recruiting support.

Since then, the quality of recruiting has improved noticeably, with last year’s class seeing only one player drop his commitment and this year’s class seeing a ton of players locked up well before Signing Day. This improvement in recruiting could turn out to be the lifeline that saved Paul Johnson’s job at Georgia Tech, and one that helps him to take the program to levels of consistent success it hasn’t seen in quite a while.