When the offensive linemen who signed letters of intent Wednesday with Georgia Tech arrive on campus, they’ll show up with the benefit of a head coach who has worked them out at a camp or seen them at their own teams’ practices.
“It’s exciting to know that you’ve seen these guys, you know what their strengths are, you know what their weaknesses are that we need to work, to develop,” coach Brent Key said.
Going forward in Key’s tenure, the prioritization of close-up evaluation will be a significant element of Tech’s recruiting process. Key addressed it Wednesday as he held a news conference to discuss the team’s signees from high school and the transfer portal, a total that was at 25 with a late-afternoon addition.
“Having actually been able to put our hands on these guys and see them in one-on-one situations and see them move through drills, I think that’s an added bonus, and that’s where we want to move through our entire roster in recruiting,” Key said.
Offensive lineman Benjamin Galloway of Hillgrove High attended a one-day camp at Tech in June at the team’s invitation, one of more than 300 campers, and impressed Key enough to leave that day with a scholarship offer.
In Key’s approach, that won’t be enough.
“You would like to sit up here and say, every single person you have has multiple layers of evaluation,” Key said. “Not just seeing a game tape, not just seeing ‘em at a camp, not just seeing ‘em at a practice. Seeing them play other sports, seeing them do different things, seeing them weight-lifting in their high school. You want to build multiple layers in that evaluation. And then the evaluation is not just a one-time thing; it’s not just a watch a tape one time or grade a kid one time.”
Key brought up another aspect of his evaluation procedure that he wants to emphasize in his tenure, a detail that suggests a more organized approach than had been used by former coach Geoff Collins. Key said he stressed to his staff to evaluate players not only on their abilities, but also to assess them for their fit into Tech’s offensive or defensive scheme. New general manager Errin Joe, a former Jackets offensive lineman and later a graduate assistant and recruiting staffer, has made that a focus for the coaching and recruiting staff as they evaluate prospects.
Key offered some glimpses into those traits as he assessed some of the signees. He’s looking for running backs that can play every down, as opposed to being fit to play on first and second down or come in as part of a third-down package.
“You want guys that can do it all, and I think (Louisville transfer Trey Cooley) is one of those guys that can do all of it,” Key said.
Of South Atlanta High safety Taye Seymore, who was committed to East Carolina until Dec. 8 but signed with Tech, “He’s a back-end guy,” Key said. “He fits in really well with what we do with our safeties and the scheme of our defense.”
In defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker’s scheme, safeties play “flat-footed,” meaning they don’t instantly backpedal at the snap, instead assessing the play before moving, which gives them a better chance to run towards the line in run support.
“If you turn his tape on, the first thing that jumps out, he will come strike you,” Key said of Seymore. “He will come downhill. He can run. He’s got legitimate track times in the 100, and it shows up on tape.”
Yet another priority – bringing in transfers who have more than one season of eligibility remaining. Of the six players coming to Tech through the portal, four have more than one year left to play. In Collins’ tenure, that did not appear to be of importance.
The two transfers with one season of eligibility remaining are linebackers, Andre White (Texas A&M) and Braelen Oliver (Minnesota). Both arrive as the Jackets lose Charlie Thomas and Ayinde Eley, who both started at linebacker for the past two seasons.
“When you’re developing a football team, you develop a team to win and win as soon as you can, but at the same time, you’re not going to forsake that for Year 2, Year 3, Year 4,” Key said. “So there’s got to be a process, and there’s got to be a way of doing things, and you can’t change.”
White was one of three transfers to come from Texas A&M, joining quarterback Haynes King and wide receiver Chase Lane. King’s interest in Tech stemmed from his relationship with Tech quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke, who recruited King out of high school when he was at Tennessee. (Incidentally, Key announced Wednesday that Weinke will have the title of co-offensive coordinator alongside new offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner.)
“There was a relationship there in the beginning, and one of them (King) started talking to another (Lane),” Key said. “And to be honest, the third (White) was not even in the conversations of the other two. It was by chance that it ended up happening.”
It is not a class that recruiting analysts graded highly. Tech’s 19-player high-school class was ranked 58th in FBS by 247Sports Composite, 12th in the ACC, as of Wednesday afternoon. The highest-rated player is one of those offensive linemen whom Key scrutinized in person, North Cobb Christian School offensive lineman Gabriel Fortson, a three-star prospect ranked the No. 77 senior in Georgia. If Tech doesn’t add a four-star high-school signee, it will be the first time since 2016 that Tech’s high-school class doesn’t include at least one four-star prospect. Tech’s transfer class was rated 19th in FBS and fifth in the ACC.
The class also has three players who do not have a 247Sports Composite rating. Other signees were not pursued by many, if any, power-conference schools besides Tech.
Key didn’t make an attempt to diminish the significance of recruiting rankings or to highlight the cases of two-star recruits who went on to play in the NFL.
“In the situation we’re in right now, the most important thing was the evaluation,” he said. “Evaluating the right guys to be able to come in and to fit the needs, whether it was a developmental position for us, a guy that can come in and get on the field quicker in an immediate-needs spot.”
The ranking of the class, Key said, “is for everyone else to debate. For us to debate is bringing the right guys into the program and developing them the right way throughout the year and in the course of the year, and let’s see two, three years from now where those guys end up being for us. Hopefully one year in a lot of them.”
GEORGIA TECH SIGNEES (25)
Name, Pos., Ht., Wt., Hometown
Nacari Ashley, LB, 6-3, 205, Marietta
Elias Cloy, OL, 6-3, 280, Alpharetta
Jacob Cruz, LB, 6-3, 215, Kennesaw
Evan Dickens, RB, 5-11, 180, Roswell
Bryston Dixon, DL, 6-3, 330, Leroy, Ala.
Bryce Dopson, WR, 6-2, 180, Snellville
Nico Dowdell, DB, 6-0, 175, Loganville
Gabe Fortson, OL, 6-3, 285, Kennesaw
Benjamin Galloway, OL, 6-3, 300, Powder Springs
Ashton Heflin, LB, 6-0, 220, Newnan
Shymeik Jones, DL, 6-5, 265, Camden, S.C.
Steven Jones, DB, 6-1, 195, Gadsden, Ala.
Ethan Mackenny, OL, 6-4, 280, Marietta
Ezra Odinjor, DL, 6-3, 220, Kennesaw
Malcolm Pugh, DL, 6-4, 215, Leroy, Ala.
Patrick Screws, OL, 6-5, 300, Eufala, Ala.
Taye Seymore, DB, 5-11, 200, Atlanta
Eric Singleton, WR, 5-11, 170, Douglasville
Zion Taylor, WR, 5-11, 195, Norcross
Trey Cooley, RB, 5-10, 200, Raleigh, N.C. (Louisville)
Haynes King, QB, 6-3, 205, Longview (Texas A&M)
Chase Lane, WR, 6-0, 185, Houston (Texas A&M)
Jackson Long, TE, 6-3, 230, Hendersonville, Tenn. (South Florida)
Braelen Oliver, LB, 6-0, 230, Douglasville (Minnesota)
Andre White, LB, 6-3, 235, Harrisburg, Pa. (Texas A&M)
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