As Geoff Collins sells Georgia Tech, Atlanta, ‘kids are buying it’

Records of recent Georgia Tech coaches in their first season on the Flats.

From Winston Gordon’s vantage point, the success that Georgia Tech has achieved in coach Geoff Collins’ first full recruiting cycle isn’t difficult to understand. The coach at Hapeville Charter has paid attention to the work that Collins has done in and around Atlanta and the way that he and his staff have presented the team to recruits and high-school coaches through visits to campus and social media.

“I think they made a concerted effort to put a fence around the city and have done a tremendous job hiring former players and just building a culture that it’s cool to go to Georgia Tech, and I think the kids are buying it,” Gordon said.

When the commitments become official Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period, they will speak for themselves. As of Tuesday afternoon, Tech’s 23-player class rated 23rd nationally and fourth in the ACC by measure of the 247Sports Composite rankings. Should that rating hold, it would be Tech’s second highest national finish in the relatively brief history of online rankings (which can be tracked to about 2002), standing only behind the famed 2007 class.

Further, Tech has commitments from four players in the state’s top 50 – Dalton High running back Jahmyr Gibbs, North Gwinnett High defensive end Jared Ivey, Dutchtown High wide receiver Nate McCollum and Grayson High wide receiver Ryan King. (Gibbs, whose stock has skyrocketed this fall, will not sign until February after taking additional official visits.) The last time Tech had as many in-state top-50 signees was 2010, when it had six.

Gordon’s observations are similar to those shared by other high-school coaches shared around the state, that Collins and his staff have jolted Tech’s recruiting.

Clint Satterfield, coach at Locust Grove High in Henry County, said he would be the last one to be critical of former coach Paul Johnson and his staff. He had good relationships with two of Johnson’s assistants, Buzz Preston and Joe Speed.

But, said Satterfield, “I’ve noticed that energy that (Collins) brings. I’ve seen a change.”

He praised the hire of running-backs coach Tashard Choice, a Tech grad whom Satterfield actually coached against when Choice starred at Lovejoy High in Clayton County. Regarding the change in energy, a description often applied to Collins, Satterfield gave the example of his tight end Billy Ward, who in March was one of the first two prospects to give his commitment to Tech and Collins.

“He came back (from a visit) and told me that he was going to commit to Georgia Tech,” Satterfield said. “I was like, ‘OK, wow.’ I was happy for him. Then I asked him (why) and he said, ‘I met coach Collins and that’s where I want to be.’”

Stanley Pritchett, a former NFL player now coaching at Arabia Mountain High in DeKalb County, likewise had a positive relationship with Johnson and his staff. But he recognized the work being done by Collins and his staff.

“Coach Collins brought a new style of being on the internet, being on Twitter and the things that kids like to do these days,” Pritchett said. “He’s brought that to the program and you can really tell that they’re trying to integrate that into building a fence around the city.”

By NCAA rule, head coaches have restrictions on their ability to make off-campus visits. Collins has maximized his visibility and contact time by being proactive in bringing coaches and their players to Tech’s campus to visit with him and his staff.

“He has a charisma about him, and he has a likeability factor,” said Gordon, the coach at Hapeville.

Gordon happens to live in Midtown near Tech’s campus. This past spring, he was having to get around on a broken ankle. To bring him to a spring practice, a team staff member went to pick him up in a golf cart.

“That just tells you the type of person he is, and how welcoming he is to high-school coaches and wanting us to be at his practice,” said Gordon, who has three juniors (defensive ends Zavier Carter and Nick Hunter and wide receiver Jaquez Smith) that Tech has already offered scholarships.

Being proactive and accessible is simply good business practice, Collins said, “because we want to build relationships with high-school coaches, because if they feel good about us, then they’re going to talk good about us to players. And, it’s the right thing to do.”

Collins’ emphasis on creating local ties has notably paid off with commitments from Creekside High linebacker Tyson Meiguez and Mays High defensive end JaQuari Wiggles, though Wiggles may be on the fence after a recent official visit to Illinois. Tech could also sign Meiguez’s teammate Khatavian Franks, a linebacker who took an official visit to Tech this past weekend.

Tech has not had a signee from a Fulton Public Schools high school south of I-20 (such as Creekside) since 2013 and has not had a signee from an Atlanta Public Schools high school (of which Mays is one) since 2005. Tech signed players from throughout the state in Johnson’s successful tenure, but Collins has made Tech’s backyard a priority.

“We’re very blessed to have a great institution right in the heart of one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country with some of the best coaching in the country – high-school coaching,” Collins said. “And so we take it very seriously and try to evaluate every prospect in all the areas, starting from right here in downtown Atlanta, which is the epicenter of some of the best football in the country. And we value it and we try to make good on it.”

Even in the more far-flung reaches of the state, Collins’ message has been heard. Collins said that he sent a coach to visit every high school in the state. That included Johnson County High, a Class A school about 65 miles east of Macon. Until this fall, the school perhaps best-known as the alma mater of Georgia great Herschel Walker had not made the GHSA playoffs since 2015 and does not boast any notable prospects. (Brad Jefferson, a captain of Tech’s 2010 team, also graduated from Johnson County.) Yet, Trojans coach Don Norton received a visitor from Tech this spring.

“The kids, when they walk in and they have on all their gear and they see Georgia Tech is there, that’s just a really big deal for them,” Norton said. “You’re talking about one of the top programs in the country.”

And while Johnson County leans heavily to the Bulldogs, Norton said he has heard his players share how they liked Tech’s uniforms and their amusement over Collins’ obsession with Waffle House.

“Just little things like that that they think is cool,” Norton said. “Word gets out about the neat things that they’re doing.”

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