When Jatavis Sanders spoke with new Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins last week, the Norcross High assistant coach and recruiting coordinator heard a ball of energy.
“You can feel it through the phone,” Sanders said.
It was one of a number of conversations that Collins has had with high-school coaches in the state since taking the job Dec. 7. Perhaps the more memorable thing that Collins impressed upon Sanders was this – he had come from Temple to compete with Georgia for the state’s top recruits.
“‘I’ve got to take it away from Georgia,’” Sanders said Collins told him. “That’s his plan to win the state back, as far as recruiting.”
If Collins is to surpass the accomplishments of coach Paul Johnson, he’ll have to do so by first winning in the living rooms, Twitter feeds and text-message threads of the top recruits in this fertile state. Collins, who has built a reputation as an energetic recruiter, has drawn the support of state high-school coaches, who believe he can boost Tech’s recruiting. Johnson’s final batch of recruits are expected to sign Wednesday on the first day of the early signing period.
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“(Collins) does a great job recruiting the kids,” said Jermaine Smith, coach of Class AAA state champion Cedar Grove High. “I think he’ll do well. I really do.”
Coaches believe the change from Johnson’s option offense to Collins’ pro-style scheme will appeal to a higher tier of prospects. Smith, at Cedar Grove, said that some recruits weren’t receptive to Johnson’s offense and their roles in it.
“I think more kids, skill guys, are pretty excited about it,” said Sanders, the Norcross assistant coach.
John Reid, coach at state powerhouse Rome High, was careful to note that Johnson recruited and won with players who weren’t four- and five-star prospects.
But, “hopefully it’ll keep more of our top-notch players in-state because there’s so many good ones, if we keep them at Georgia Tech,” Reid said.
Reid is the coach of one such player, running back Jamious Griffin. Committed to N.C. State since May, Griffin took an official visit to Tech this past weekend and is now considering becoming a Yellow Jacket. Reid said Griffin, a four-star prospect ranked 40th in the state, will sign in the February signing period.
Sanders’ head coach at Norcross, Keith Maloof, said that Tech’s recruitment of defensive players could improve because of the negative recruiting that Tech absorbed from rival coaches.
“The biggest thing that I think is going to help Georgia Tech now is the other schools can’t come in and say, ‘Well, you’re going to get cut (blocked) your whole career on defense,’” Maloof said. “I think that’s going to help, if Tech plays their cards right. That’s going to help Tech get that pro-style defensive player that they haven’t been able to get in recent years, especially at linebacker and D-line.”
Coaches also noted Collins’ personality and his ability to connect with recruits.
“I think he’s going to be one of the guys that comes in and is high energy and really excited about the future of Georgia Tech,” Reid said.
Smith, at Cedar Grove, has known Collins from when he recruited his players when he was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida. He recruited two of Smith’s players, signing one. Both responded well to Collins, Smith said.
“I think coach Collins will really do a good job,” Smith said. “He’ll find somebody to get the job done in DeKalb (County) like they really need to.”
Collins even drew the praise of Georgia coach Kirby Smart. The two worked together at Alabama in 2007 on coach Nick Saban’s first staff. Collins was director of player personnel and Smart was defensive backs coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator. Collins left after the year to take a position at Central Florida. Smart called him a “bowling ball of energy” and a “go-getter” in recruiting.
“He was very instrumental in that year (2007) at thinking outside the box from a recruiting standpoint,” Smart said this week. “He enjoys that part of it. He’s also a good football coach.”
At Tech, Collins got off to a strong start in holding together the class put together by Johnson and his staff, which had remained intact as of Tuesday afternoon. Two more high-school commitments have joined the recruiting class since his hire plus a graduate transfer.
The real test will start in the 2020 recruiting class. The grip that Georgia and Smart have on the state, particularly in comparison with Tech, is undeniable. Last year, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking, there were 12 in-state players ranked above Tech’s highest-ranked in-state prospect (quarterback James Graham). In 2017, there were 17 Bulldogs-to-be ahead of the first future Jacket (linebacker Jaquan Henderson).
Collins will also have to fend off Clemson, Alabama and the many schools that come to Atlanta and Georgia to recruit. Johnson’s position on his recruiting at Tech is that it hasn’t been much different than what previous coaches did, and that recruiting remains fairly static.
Collins will try to put that assertion to the test.
“Kirby’s pretty relentless, too,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be a tough job, but he’s up to the task, it sounds like.”