Ralph Bolden grew up in Charlton County, down by the Okefenokee Swamp near the Florida state line.
Those who wonder how Bolden, a running back at Purdue, is handling life in the Midwest can rest their worries.
Said Bolden, "Right now, I want to see the snow again. I kind of like it when it snows."
It takes a different sort to leave south Georgia for central Indiana and trade the SEC for the Big Ten. Bolden, a sophomore, is evidence of that. Bolden ranks seventh in Division I-A and first in the Big Ten in rushing with a 122.0 yards-per-game average.
Said Bolden, "I really didn't expect it, but I'll gladly accept it."
Charlton County High School, a Class AA power that supplied Georgia with Ronald, Champ and Boss Bailey, has become the unlikeliest of pipelines for the Boilermakers. Through a connection coach Rich McWhorter had with a former Purdue assistant, Charlton County has sent four Indians to West Lafayette. Including Bolden, three are on the roster now.
The Boilermakers' roster includes seven Georgians, six more than there are from neighboring Michigan.
"There's tons of great players down there," Purdue recruiting coordinator Don Coller said. "You go in there and do the proper evaluation and go through the process, and you can find good players down there, and it's abundant."
Georgians on Big Ten rosters is nothing new, but the conference's efforts to mine the state and the Southeast might be picking up.
Last February, Purdue's 20-player recruiting class had 14 players from Florida, two from Georgia and none from Indiana.
Indiana has three coaches who spend as many as four weeks in the state. Outside of the Midwest, the Hoosiers recruit only Georgia and Florida.
"I watched about five kids from Georgia last night [on video]," said Coller. "I don't see that [emphasis] changing."
There are 23 players from Georgia on eight Big Ten rosters, most notably Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward, a junior from Peachtree Ridge High who has started since his freshman season. Others include Minnesota cornerback Traye Simmons from Marietta High, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last year, and Purdue cornerback David Pender, another Charlton County product who ranks in the school's top 10 for career pass breakups.
"I do feel like I'm representing Georgia in a way that I can come up to the North and play football and do well," said Simmons, who passed up scholarship offers from Florida and California coming out of junior college to play for Minnesota.
Purdue's run on Georgia players began with former defensive coordinator Brock Spack, now the coach at Illinois State, who had a connection with McWhorter.
"Then [former] Coach [Joe Tiller] wanted me to stay in the state, so I did the state by myself for a long time," Spack said. "I told him, ‘Coach, we need to get more guys down here. There's so many players.' "
Georgia appeals to the Big Ten for a number of reasons. Most obviously, talented players are plentiful. Unlike Midwestern states, Georgia high schools have spring practice, meaning players are often more developed. Then there's the speed thing. While Big Ten coaches don't say that Southern players are faster, they do think there are more of those players available.
"The top guys here, there's a lot of competition for those guys," Indiana recruiting coordinator Mike Yeager said. "There's more guys that fall through the cracks down there that we're able to attract up here."
Yeager said his school chooses to focus on Georgia and Florida and pass on hotbeds California and Texas, the former because of distance and the latter because players are reluctant to leave. Yeager figures Georgia players are more recruitable because so many families are transplants, some from the Midwest.
That attention works out pretty well on the supply end, as well.
McWhorter tells his players, as well as coaching colleagues, to broaden their scope of potential destinations.
Said McWhorter, "Don't just think of Georgia, Florida or Georgia Tech, because all of the kids in the state that are good athletes can't go to those schools. There's just not enough room."
It worked out for Bolden, who said his reasons for going north were playing time and a desire to leave home. His advice for those who want to follow him?
"Bring some winter clothes."
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