Missouri gains recruiting foothold in Georgia

When Missouri plays for the SEC championship Saturday at the Georgia Dome, it will represent the second time this season that the Tigers have been inside the state’s borders. The first, of course, was its 41-26 win over Georgia at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Oct. 12.

However, Tigers assistant coach Alex Grinch has made multiple forays to Georgia and has something to show for it. Missouri has won commitments from three Georgia high school players for the 2014 signing class.

“It means a lot,” said North Gwinnett High wide receiver Nate Brown, one of the three, of being targeted by Missouri. “At the same time, I feel like they realized that, playing in the SEC, you have to recruit some talent from some big-time football states like Georgia, Alabama, Florida, states like that.”

Joining the SEC before the 2012-13 academic year has meant a lot of different things for Missouri, not the least of which is the whopping infusions of cash from ESPN and ticket buyers. Another significant one is the recruiting gateway it has opened into the Southeast.

“There’s a lot of great players in the SEC states,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Sunday on a teleconference. “We’re actively recruiting there, too, now. It takes a little bit of time to earn trust, but hopefully a season like this will help us and earn some respect, which you have to earn. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that.”

Brown, whose North Gwinnett team plays in the Class AAAAAA state semifinals Friday, said that, a year ago, he would never have even thought of committing to Missouri. But the relationship that developed with Grinch, Missouri’s business school and his visit to campus in Columbia, Mo., helped win him over.

“I also wanted to play in the SEC,” he said. “Combining all those factors, they were the best fit for me.”

The SEC card is not an insignificant one.

“Anytime you’re in the SEC, it helps you in terms of recruiting, just because the kids, they like the SEC,” said Tucker High coach Bryan Lamar, whose team is one of the more consistent producers of Division I talent in the state.

Missouri’s roster consists primarily of players from Missouri and Texas. The Tigers have three players from Georgia — freshman quarterback Eddie Printz from Lassiter High and two walk-on offensive linemen, Justin Grava and John Reid, both from Johns Creek. The commitment list for the 2014 class gives a sense of the impact of the school jumping from the Big 12 to the SEC. The 25-player list, according to recruiting service Rivals, includes 12 players from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee. The Tigers’ entire roster has eight players from those three states.

What coach has influenced Missouri’s success in the Southeast?

Nick Saban, naturally. Since making the decision to join the SEC, Pinkel has fortified his recruiting staff, following the example set by the Alabama coach.

Outside of the coaching staff, Alabama has no less than 12 staffers whose jobs are entirely or partially related to recruiting, a labor force that permits coaches to devote more of their energies to actual coaching instead of finding and evaluating prospects. Pinkel, who was a college teammate of Saban’s at Kent State, said that Saban has taken the model of NFL teams’ player-personnel departments “and kind of brought it into college football at a different level than anybody’s ever seen before.”

The rest of the conference, and college football in general, has tried to follow suit.

Auburn, Missouri’s opponent Saturday, has a recruiting director, a player personnel director and six analysts, including former Lassiter High coach Chip Lindsey.

In 2012, the year Missouri joined the SEC, Pinkel added an assistant recruiting director and three recruiting graduate assistants in 2012 and added another recruiting GA this year.

Said Pinkel, not joking, “We’re understaffed.”

Being in the SEC has made such additions not only necessary, but possible.

The athletic department’s budget for the 2013-14 year is $73 million, executive associate athletic director Tim Hickman said. In the school’s final year in the Big 12, it was in the mid-$50 million range. The biggest impact was increased giving and ticket purchases, Hickman said.

For the 2012-13 school year, the Big 12 schools actually received more TV money — $22 million compared with $20.7 million. However, Hickman said, “the potential going forward is much greater than the immediate impact” because of the 2014 start of ESPN’s SEC Network and the increased revenues from the college football playoff.

With the extra dough, projects such as the renovation of the press box and luxury-suite tower at Faurot Field (completed for the 2013 season) were accelerated. Before next season, about 5,000 club seats will be added.

With the additional revenues, Missouri can afford to spend more on recruiting, which will enable the Tigers to win more, which will enable them to make more money. And more and more, the Tigers will do it with athletes from the Southeast.

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