For the glory of Georgia Tech, Jakiah Leftwich makes time to play online video games.
Leftwich, an offensive tackle at Westlake High who is committed to Tech’s 2021 signing class, matches up in Madden NFL against Cameron Ball, a defensive tackle at Tri-Cities High whom Tech coaches are recruiting.
Leftwich uses the popular game as a way to connect with Ball and perhaps sneak in a word on behalf of coach Geoff Collins.
“That’s my guy,” Leftwich said of Ball. “I’ve been knowing him for a long time.”
There’s nothing new about high-school prospects who have made their college commitments trying to recruit others to join them. Perhaps, though, in a recruiting cycle when campus visits and face-to-face meetings with college coaches have not been possible since mid-March, recruits’ relationships built with committed players may carry more weight than they would in a normal year. Either way, Tech’s growing class of commits has enthusiastically endeavored to carry out Tech coaches’ instructions to buttress their own recruiting labors.
Whether it’s tweeting bumblebee emojis at uncommitted recruits, playing video games, getting on Zoom calls, texting or talking on FaceTime, Tech’s 17 commits have been eager recruiters.
“All our commits play a part in recruiting,” Leftwich said. “We recruit everybody. In-state, out of state, everybody.”
Leftwich serves a useful role, as he has actually been to Tech’s campus for visits. Because of the NCAA’s restrictions on recruiting because of the coronavirus pandemic, several of Tech’s commits have made their decisions without having set foot on Tech’s campus.
“I tell them how the campus is, the education,” he said. “Because the education’s key.”
Wide receiver James BlackStrain, a four-star prospect from Cocoa, Fla., has been among the more active players in recruiting since he committed in May. He said that, among fellow commits, Dacula High safety Kaleb Edwards, Westlake High tight end Leo Blackburn, quarterback Chayden Peery from Sierra Canyon in southern California and Leftwich were all prospects to whom he helped sell Tech.
BlackStrain said that after he committed to Tech, he texted Peery.
“I was like, ‘You and me can do some crazy things in Atlanta,’” BlackStrain said. “He looked into it more and after a while, he came to the conclusion that Atlanta was best for him, so he committed.”
Peery said that BlackStrain’s commitment to Tech and his encouragement were influential.
“Definitely a big impact, seeing how many big schools wanted him and he chose Georgia Tech over all of them,” Peery wrote in an email. “It showed that the guys in our class have a different type of character. We don’t need to follow the trend of going to a top-10 school. We’ll make a school a top-10 and build it up throughout our careers. We all bought in and wanted to be a part of something special.”
Before BlackStrain himself committed, he had another Tech commit – Malik Rutherford, a wide receiver from Champagnat Catholic in Hialeah, Fla. – in his own ear. BlackStrain said that Rutherford, who was the first prospect to accept a spot in Collins’ 2021 signing class, invited him to “come be great” at Tech with him.
“At the time, I was already thinking about coming to Tech, so it just added to the fire,” BlackStrain said. “It made me more anxious to pull the trigger.”
Peery is another who has been an involved recruiter. By email, Peery wrote that he talks with members of Collins’ staff to get recruiting updates and to find out who they’re pursuing. Sometimes, he and other commits get on videoconference calls with Tech coaches and targeted prospects. FaceTime and video games are other means of connection.
The influence that he and others are providing is far from the only reason that the class is ranked 33rd nationally by 247Sports Composite, a few ticks behind Tech’s 27th-place finish with the 2020 class, which was the team’s highest rating since the 2007 signing class.
But the fact that coaches seek out their committed recruits’ assistance is an indication of its value. Leftwich, the Westlake High lineman, shared that defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker sent him a text of thanks after the staff received its most recent commitment, from Grayson High linebacker Sebastian Sagar.
“(Tech coaches) love it because that little bit of help could be the difference of getting a guy to commit to Tech instead of another school they were very high on,” Peery wrote.
Peery sees the role he and other commits play as “very beneficial and different” as they can speak peer to peer, being essentially in the same spot as the prospect that Tech is recruiting.
“We just hit up players, tell them about the family culture and try to bring them in because they can already feel the family atmosphere from talking the coaches every day,” BlackStrain said. “I know the coaches stay on the recruits a lot.”
Besides Ball, Leftwich has also tried to reach out to Weston Franklin, a guard from Wayne County High who included Tech in his top six in early July. (Peery described Franklin as “a guy I want to block for me very badly.”) Kamari Lassiter, a cornerback from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Jordan Dingle, a tight end from Bowling Green, Ky., and the younger brother of Yellow Jackets defensive lineman Justice Dingle, are two others that Tech’s commits are trying to help reel in. Lassiter also included Tech in his top six in early July, a list that also includes Alabama and Georgia.
“I try to communicate how we’re different, and how we all bought in to something bigger than us,” Peery wrote. “I try to relay the message like ‘Hey, if you want to build something great, come here. If you want to get lost in the shuffle and be just another guy, go over there.’”
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