ATHENS, Ga. -- With the recruiting chase growing exponentially more national than it is local, keeping Georgia boys in line to wear red and black still counts.
The reaction to Trenton Thompson’s decision Tuesday night on Twitter and message boards, hashtags full of overwhelming approval and relief, proved as much.
Increasingly, college football’s best programs are infiltrating the Peach State’s high schools, an indicator that the best recruits are in the Bulldogs backyard.
We’ve known for years the getting was good in our state. It’s getting better.
Guess the state that produced the most SEC signees in classes spanning from 2009-13. Most of you familiar with the recruiting scene said Florida. It’s Georgia (309 to Florida’s 253).
With Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Tennessee constantly crossing borders to lure talent away, securing nearby prospects has become harder and harder.
Of the top 10 seniors in-state this year, three are currently aligned with the Bulldogs. Oregon, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Clemson each have one pledge.
With competition like that, there is no margin for error on the recruiting trail. Lose there and you’ll lose when it really matters in the fall.
That’s why Thompson is so important. The best player in the state, sure he’s only one target. But he’s the biggest and best.
Should the 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive lineman from Albany keep his word and sign in February, the Bulldogs will have landed the top player in the state four of the last five years (Thompson, Lorenzo Carter, Jordan Jenkins, Isaiah Crowell; Robert Nkemdiche opted for Ole Miss).
In a recruiting landscape where home-state and region allegiances are shrinking, that’s an impressive haul.
By comparison, Texas inked only two of the last five top-ranked, in-state recruits (missing on the last three consecutively).
In other words, long gone are the days where you can take kids just down the road as a given.
And that’s OK.
Georgia doesn’t have to get the best quarterback in the state each year if the staff can go to Texas for Matthew Stafford or steal Aaron Murray from Florida.
In the current cycle, of the Bulldogs 17 players verbally committed, 10 of them don’t play high school ball in Georgia.
Finding talent in Louisiana, like wide receiver Michael Chigbu, is just the same as traveling down Route 16 to grab Griffin’s Christian Owens.
Both are four-star recruits. Both are committed to Georgia. Once they enroll on campus and put the pads on for the first time, where they came amounts to little more than a conversation starter.
That’s not to discount recruiting the state. Not at all. Thompson is important because A) he’s supposed to be really good and B) perception, though it does little to change the scoreboard on Saturdays, still means a great deal.
Fans want to see wins. Period. Pile up the victories and everything is gravy. But in the event 10-win seasons stop happening, people quickly (and publicly thanks the rise of social networking) start wondering why. In that scenario, it’s always the head coach’s fault. It’s recruiting that encompasses most of the evidence used against the person in charge. The aforementioned recruiting struggle at Texas is one reason Mack Brown was replaced this offseason.
Recruiting on the home front still means everything to Georgia born and bred Bulldogs fans. You know, those people who still talk about seeing Herschel Walker run wild in Wrightsville, Hines Ward star for Forest Park and Jarvis Jones lead Carver-Columbus to a state title. That’s your core fan base.
Sure, that same bunch will root as passionately for Todd Gurley (from North Carolina) and Knowshon Moreno (New Jersey), but there’s something special about a kid like Nick Chubb or Garrison Hearst staying home to play for the good guys.
Alabama and Florida will get a good share, be sure of that. So will the rest of the conference and country. Georgia will go to other state’s to steal a few, too.
In recruiting these days, state borders don’t mean as much as they use to. You don’t hear about it being as important. Except, that is, when a kid like Trenton Thompson goes elsewhere. That’s why when you can win in perception and reality (the line, as we know, is especially blurred in recruiting), it’s all the more fulfilling.