“So I wasn’t concerned one bit,” Collins said. “I knew the relationships that we had established, I knew what kind of high-character young man he was.”
Dalton High running back Jahmyr Gibbs celebrates with family after he announced Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020 that he will play football for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. (Photo by Ken Sugiura/AJC)
That, Collins said, was why he didn’t mind Gibbs taking other official visits even as he was committed; Collins knew what he had to offer. Among other things, Tech was among the first power-conference schools to offer a scholarship to him, identifying him as the coaching staff’s top priority at running back “from day one,” Collins said. Coaches, principally running backs coach Tashard Choice, had a strong relationship with the staff, and they continued to pursue him as interest in him skyrocketed during his senior season. It all paid off. When Gibbs announced his decision on signing day, he cited his relationship with Choice as a primary reason.
Said Collins, “I’m very confident in what we’re selling, I’m very confident in the culture that we have building in this locker room, I’m very confident in the coaching staff that we have that, once these recruits get around us, get around this vibe that exists in our locker room and they see what is the possibility — one of the top five academic schools in the country and on the football field. I don’t think we should be worried about anyone.”
Another roster addition announced the same day as Gibbs reinforced the impact that Collins' culture-building efforts are having. Offensive tackle Devin Cochran will enroll at Tech as a grad transfer from Vanderbilt, following offensive lineman Jared Southers, who was a grad transfer from Vanderbilt this past season. Beyond the fact that Cochran has size (6-foot-7 and 320 pounds), started 32 games at Vanderbilt and has a "desire to want to be great," in Collins' words, Collins exulted in the fact that the endorsement from Southers came from inside the operation.
Southers “told him exactly what this culture is, told him exactly what this coaching staff is, told him every single thing that we believe in and how genuine it is and that’s why (Cochran) chose to come here,” Collins said. “Because one of our players in our program told him the truth and, based on the truth, that’s why he wants to be here. That’s pretty cool.”
With the nation’s No. 26 signing class (247Sports Composite) complete — Collins said that “there are still pieces in play” to receive another player through the transfer portal — the focus has shifted more intensely to the 2021 class. Collins already has two commitments, which is two more than he had for the 2020 class at this time last year. (The first two commitments of the 2020 class were made March 7.)
After putting his coaching staff together in the weeks following his hire in December 2018, Collins said that “all of last season we’ve been able to recruit the 2020 class but get an even further head start on the ’21 and even the ’22 and, in some cases, the ’23 class and the prospects and those kind of things,” Collins said. “We feel good, but it’s a long process, but we feel like we’re ahead.”
As for Gibbs, Collins said that a long conversation with him two days before signing day gave him more confidence.
Dalton running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) avoids Harrison's defense as he gains yardage in the first half of their game Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, at Harrison High.
Credit: Daniel Varnado
Credit: Daniel Varnado
Gibbs “said it was done, he had already told the other schools,” Collins said. “But I’ve been on the other side of the coin. You keep recruiting all the way until the papers are signed. That’s the way you’re supposed to do it. We understand that the schools we’re battling against are going to do that as well.”
So it was, on the morning of signing day, Tech players had an offseason “mat drills” workout inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As Choice was helping lead the workouts, Suddes held on to Choice’s phone in order to get him the phone in case Gibbs called or texted.
“And then at one point — I think on the fourth rotation, and was about 7:13 a.m. — Suddes, as I’m doing the mat drills, came over and gave me a fist bump,” Collins said. “We were good, and just waited until 12:30 (p.m.) for him to tell everybody else. It was a great moment.”
Gibbs will join a backfield that already includes All-ACC selection Jordan Mason, Jamious Griffin (a four-star prospect in the 2019 class) and Jerry Howard, who split carries with Griffin last season after rushing for 564 yards in 2018 as a sophomore.
“We’re excited to work with him and develop him, and the best thing is, we do consider ourselves a developmental program,” Collins said. “He wants to come here, he wants to work, he wants to be challenged, he wants to be made and helped be developed into the great player that he can be.”