On signing day, ‘Georgia Tech drove a stake in the ground’

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. In the photo, counterclockwise from left: cousin Ah’triniti O’Neal, great uncle Daniel Wyche, aunt Carla Carmichael, great aunt Cassandra Wyche (with phone), mother Neka Willis, aunt Mia Willis, Gibbs and grandmother Angela Willis. (Photo by Ken Sugiura/AJC)

College football’s brand names came in pursuit of Dalton High running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Alabama and Ohio State made scholarship offers, as did LSU, Michigan, Florida, USC and Texas.

In October, as his transcendent senior season reverberated in recruiting offices across the country, Gibbs even found himself, nervous and sweating, in the office of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, listening to his sales pitch. But when it came time for Gibbs to make his college choice, he stuck with the school that identified him earlier than most of its power-conference competition, developed a strong relationship with him and made him a priority.

On Wednesday, in a signing-day ceremony in his school’s auditorium, Gibbs confirmed it by tugging a white Georgia Tech baseball cap on his head, telling assembled teammates, classmates and the college football world that he would “further take my education and my athletics to Georgia Tech,” picking Tech over Florida and LSU.

“I think, certainly, Georgia Tech drove a stake in the ground and said, ‘We’re here,’” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “’And this is local talent, it’s one of the best players in the country, we want him early, we want him often, we want him at the end.’”

Gibbs’ decision to stand by the commitment he made to Tech last May, back when he was a mere three-star recruit, completed with a flourish the first signing class that coach Geoff Collins and his staff have assembled over a full recruiting cycle. The class of 23 high-school seniors and two grad transfers signed by Collins, general manager Patrick Suddes and the Tech staff boasts five high-school prospects who earned four-star ratings (247Sports Composite), including the late Bryce Gowdy.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the class was 26th nationally, the second-highest ranking for a Tech class in the era of online recruiting rankings. The ranking testifies to the recruiting prowess that Collins vowed to summon to build the Jackets into an elite outfit. Gibbs, ranked No. 75 nationally and No. 10 in the state, became the first top-100 national prospect and first top-10 in-state prospect to sign with Tech since 2007 – defensive end Derrick Morgan (No. 72 nationally), safety Morgan Burnett (No. 77 nationally, No. 5 in-state) and running back Jonathan Dwyer (No. 87 nationally, No. 7 in-state) – a class that Collins helped organize as director of player personnel.

“We’re going to change it,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to get a lot of wins.”

Gibbs, 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, was joined by two others Wednesday officially joining ranks with the Jackets. One was offensive lineman Cade Kootsouradis of Crestview, Fla, a 6-4, 295-pound lineman who had been committed to Tech since last April. A three-star prospect, he was ready to sign in the December signing period, but the announcement was held until Wednesday as the number of roster additions remained fluid and a spot for him was uncertain.

The other was grad-transfer offensive tackle Devin Cochran (6-7, 320) from Vanderbilt and Greater Atlanta Christian, who will bring 32 career starts and a powerful and agile frame to the Jackets’ front.

Collins also saw Metter High defensive end T.J. Davis, a late-rising prospect who had narrowed his choices to Tech and Florida State, go with the Seminoles.

But the headliner was Gibbs, whose mix of speed, vision and ability to change direction helped him gain 2,554 rushing yards in 11 games this season, earn a fourth recruiting star and be named a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated.

In a video produced by the football team for signing day, Collins said that he was the team’s No. 1 priority at running back from the start.

“I think he’s going to be a household name in the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia for a long time,” Collins said on the video.

Both Collins and Gibbs noted the work done by running-backs coach Tashard Choice in developing a relationship with him early on in the process.

“He recruited me when I wasn’t that high-ranked, and he just stayed recruiting me through the whole time,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs returned multiple times in his post-announcement media interviews to Choice and the role he played in convincing him to become a Jacket.

“His personality, he’s like no other,” Gibbs said. “He’s a great dude. He cares about everybody. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met.”

As his suitors grew in number in the fall, Gibbs gave Tech fans, conditioned to losing recruiting challenges against the game’s elite, unease when he decided to take additional official visits and sign in February rather than sign in the December signing period. Collins and his staff rolled with it.

“They told him, ‘You earned those,’” Land said. “‘You’re committed to us, you go on those. But just let us be the last visit. Let us have the last say.’ And I thought that was outstanding the way they did it.”

Still, Gibbs said his certainty about Tech was “shaky” as he took the visits, including to LSU and Florida. He particularly liked Gators coach Dan Mullen and running-backs coach Greg Knox.

“It’s a big decision,” said John Ross, a teammate and close friend of Gibbs’ who will walk on at Tech. “It’s kind of like if you were getting married, but then you had five different women always yelling at you about, ‘You need to come to me.’”

Gibbs said that he didn’t make up his mind until Tuesday night. As he answered questions Wednesday, flanked by family, he was asked what the biggest factor was in his decision. Gibbs didn’t hesitate.

“Coach Choice,” he replied.

For Gibbs, he now graduates to competing for playing time in a backfield already populated by All-ACC back Jordan Mason and last year’s four-star recruit, Jamious Griffin. He’ll be guided by Choice, who made the same Tech-to-NFL journey that Gibbs now seeks to trace.

“Obviously, he knows how to get there,” Gibbs said. “He can teach me the way.”

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