Perhaps the biggest hit was the last one to arrive. Norcross High running back Myles Autry announced his decision to become a Yellow Jacket on Wednesday afternoon, picking Tech over Florida State. He will join another Gwinnett County running back, North Gwinnett High’s Christopher Leggett, as well as Lovejoy’s Travis Custis, as the Jackets move forward without B-back David Sims and A-back Robert Godhigh. Custis signed last year, but never enrolled because of NCAA clearinghouse issues and enrolled in January as a member of the 2014 class, although he was not included in Tech’s list of signees Wednesday.
Another is defensive end Kenderius Whitehead, signed from Georgia Military College. He spent his freshman season at N.C. State before transferring to GMC for the 2013 season.
Cornerback Step Durham was the only four-star prospect, by Rivals’ assessment, and could step in to play immediately with holes in the secondary. Even better for Tech, he enrolled in January and will take part in spring practice.
Quarterback Matthew Jordan, deemed by Rivals the No. 25 prospect in Alabama, is another early enrollee. He’ll try to push in the spring to get on the field in the fall. Coaches like his work ethic and athletic ability — he played cornerback and wide receiver in his first two years of high school before moving to quarterback.
Tech brought in defensive tackle Mike Sawyers (Nashville, Tenn.) for an official visit after he had backed off a commitment to Vanderbilt, but he signed with Tennessee. Safety Miles Taylor (Washington, D.C.) backed off his commitment to Tech in January and signed with Iowa. Taylor took a visit to Iowa after he had committed, which Johnson has cited in the past as grounds to revoke an offer.
Taylor “just wanted to take a visit and went somewhere else, and we didn’t care,” Johnson said. “It worked out good.”
Campbell High athlete Mike Rogers was recruited by Tech, but signed with Central Florida.
Defensive end KeShun Freeman was offered a scholarship by Boston College, soon-to-be ACC member Louisville, Miami, North Carolina and N.C. State. Durham received offers from Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State. Syracuse offered offensive lineman Trey Klock of Pennsylvania. Offensive lineman Michael Preddy also received offers from Louisville and Wake Forest. Linebacker Terrell Lewis chose Tech over offers from Miami and Syracuse. Wide receiver Qua Searcy had offers from Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Tech had recruited Durham since his sophomore year. He committed in June “and didn’t waver all,” A-backs coach Lamar Owens said.
The loss of starters Ray Beno, Jay Finch and Will Jackson and Morgan Bailey’s decision to not return for his senior season left Tech with nine scholarship offensive linemen, about half the desired number. Johnson and offensive line coach Mike Sewak went shopping and came back with six. Jake Stickler was a three-year starter who chose Tech over Missouri and Baylor. Klock mostly played tight end, but projects as a tackle, although Johnson said he could be used as an eligible tackle “if that’s his cup of tea.”
Defensive back was another area of need. Tech picked up four players for the secondary. That includes the Austin twins, Lance and Lawrence from Lamar County. Linebackers coach Andy McCollum noted that the two are both short — Lawrence is 5-foot-9 and Lance is 5-foot-10 – but “when you watch ’em play, they’re like piranhas.”
Tech also added three defensive ends — Freeman (already enrolled), Tyler Merriweather and Whitehead — because of the departures of Jeremiah Attaochu and Emmanuel Dieke, but also because players brought in as ends like Francis Kallon and Justin Akins have bulked up to the point where they’re now tackles.
By Rivals’ rankings, Tech landed seven of the top 75 in Georgia — offensive lineman Andrew Marshall (No. 36), Leggett (46), Lawrence and Lance Austin (54 and 55, respectively), Freeman (61), Autry (63) and wide receiver Qua Searcy (66).
A year ago, Tech had two of Rivals’ top 80 in Georgia.
Rivals ranks Marshall as the No. 9 center prospect in the country. Leggett led North Gwinnett to the Class AAAAAA state finals — where the Bulldogs lost to Norcross — and ran for 1,784 yards (most in AAAAAA) and 23 touchdowns on 280 carries last season.
Ten of the 21 signees are from within the state’s boundaries. The number was eight of 14 last year, eight of 17 in 2012 and 11 of 23 in 2011. Johnson said Wednesday that the ideal is to take half or more of the class from Georgia.
Defensive line coach Mike Pelton used his connections in Alabama (he grew up in the state, played at Auburn and coached at Troy and Auburn) to procure three signees from the state that has previously sent to Tech quarterbacks Tevin Washington and Justin Thomas and A-back Orwin Smith, among others. Pelton worked at Troy with the high school coach of safety Jalen Johnson. A high school coach whom Pelton knows insisted that he go to Jackson High to see Jordan. Another coaching contact alerted Pelton to defensive end Tyler Merriweather.
Owens and Sewak went into South Carolina to bring the first signees from that state since the 2009 class, offensive linemen Preddy and Jake Whitley.
“We’re thrilled to have another guy from South Carolina to open up that pipeline again for Georgia Tech,” Owens said.
Five players came out of Florida, the most that Tech has signed from that state since the 2008 class (six).