October 21, 2017 Atlanta - Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson instructs Georgia Tech running back Clinton Lynch (22) in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, October 21, 2017. Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest 38-24. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/Hyosub Shin/AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/Hyosub Shin/AJC

Paul Johnson approves of early signing period, signees

Georgia Tech continued to stake out turf in Tennessee, looked like it got stronger on defense, lost one commit and, at day’s end, was waiting to hear on a possible quarterback. That was the Yellow Jackets’ first experience with the early signing period.

“I like the early signing period,” coach Paul Johnson said Wednesday at a news conference. “I think it’s worked well.”

Tech received signatures from 17 committed players. The three most noteworthy were cornerback Jaylon King, a four-star prospect (247 Sports) from Nashville, linebacker Justice Dingle, a big, athletic playmaker from Bowling Green, Ky., and defensive tackle T.K. Chimedza, a disruptive 300-pounder from Dacula who will enroll early from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“I think that we fulfilled our needs well, got a lot of outstanding young men and some really good players,” Johnson said.

Both King and Dingle were recruited by safeties coach Andy McCollum, whose recruiting area includes middle Tennessee. Dingle lived just south of Nashville for his first two years of high school before his family moved to Kentucky. McCollum knew Dingle’s high school coach – he attended the same school as Tech safety Kaleb Oliver – and he suggested that McCollum recruit him. McCollum followed up, yielding a rare Tech signing from Kentucky

“We’ve started to get kids out of the Nashville area,” Johnson said. “Andy’s done a nice job in Nashville recruiting.”

At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, Dingle, who turned down Tennessee, Louisville and Kentucky for Tech, becomes the biggest Jackets linebacker and brings speed in the package.

“He could be your big linebacker inside, or he may grow up into something else,” Johnson said, “but he can run.”

Chimedza had scholarship offers to play at Georgia, Florida State and Oregon, but went with Tech. He joins another potential interior anchor, 6-foot-4, 295-pound Austin Smith from Ola High.

“They’re both big, physical guys, both good players,” Johnson said. “I think they’re both athletic enough to play end if you want them to. I felt like both those guys can have a chance to come in and compete early.”

Tech graduates six starters from the 2017 defense and after next season will lose another five who started at least seven games. There could be room for the incoming freshmen on the depth chart this fall.

The 17-signee class does not include at least three possible pieces, though.

It does not include Julius Welschof, a defensive end prospect from Germany who had been committed to Tech since October but received an offer from Michigan this past weekend. At the last moment, Welschof went with the Wolverines. Another commit, running back C’Bo Flemister of Pike County, elected to hold off on signing until the February signing period.

The Jackets also do not have a quarterback, however, and Tech needs one with only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster – TaQuon Marshall, Lucas Johnson and Tobias Oliver. Coaches are hoping for the signature of James Graham, a four-star prospect from Fitzgerald High. Graham is committed to Virginia Tech, but as an “athlete,” not as a quarterback.

Georgia Tech’s best hope for Graham, who visited campus for an official visit this past weekend, may be for him to sign before the early signing period ends on Friday. It’s conceivable that demand for Graham could pick up as the pool of available prospects dwindles following the early signing period.

Tech has space for perhaps four more signees. Johnson said that the staff may pay more attention to graduate transfers, as well, possibly looking for a kicker.

“I like the early signing period,” Johnson said. “It compacts everything and the kids probably don’t get to take as many visits, but the guys who’ve been committed, the way the process has gone, 80 percent of your class is committed, really, before the season, maybe more so. So it enables you to sign those guys, and those guys have a chance to sign.”

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