Mississippi State looks in Georgia for talent

ATHENS — Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom made quite a splash this summer when he took linebacker Jamar Chaney after Georgia denied Chaney's admission.

What most red-and-black Bulldogs fans don't appreciate is that Croom and his Bulldogs have been quietly slipping players out of the state for years.

"They've got so many players in the state of Georgia that Georgia and Georgia Tech can't get them all," Croom said Monday. "They might as well let us have some."

When the No. 7 Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) take on Mississippi State (2-1, 0-1) Saturday at 9 p.m. they will be playing against 16 players recruited out of Georgia, not to mention Chaney, a Florida product.

Chaney was set to enroll in school in Athens until a UGA admissions committee denied his application because the SAT testing committee presented information suggesting Chaney cheated on the test. Chaney finally found a spot at Mississippi State after Georgia coach Mark Richt called Croom to vouch for Chaney's character.

"He's doing well for us," Croom said. "He's a very fine young man. He's been a very solid person on and off the field, and we're very pleased to have him."

Chaney, Mississippi State's top reserve at weakside linebacker, acknowledged Monday it will be strange playing across the line of scrimmage from Richt's team.

"You know it is, but I'm a Mississippi State Bulldog now so it don't matter. I'm feeling real good. I'm always ready to play no matter who it is," he said. "I want to have a good game every game I play, but you know I had this game kind of circled on the calendar."

Chaney, who remains close with some Georgia players and said he talks to UGA defensive tackle Jeff Owens at least every other day, has 10 tackles this year and has been a key special teams contributor.

"Everything is working out for the best," he said. "I'm getting a lot of playing time. (Croom) is a pretty good coach. He's going to get you ready for the NFL. That's what you really play college football for."

Croom doesn't expect Chaney to be rattled by playing against Georgia, he said.

"He seems to be very well adjusted," the coach said. "I don't know exactly what'll go through his mind, but I want him to stay focused on playing the game and playing well. Based on what I've seen, I don't think that'll be a problem. He's handled the entire situation with a lot of class and a lot of mental toughness."

Chaney should feel right at home in Starkville, Miss., considering so many of his teammates are familiar with Georgia's program just because of proximity. Only Mississippi natives outnumber players from Georgia on the Bulldogs' roster.

This year alone Croom signed seven players from the state, including Milledgeville's Jarvis Kyles, in a class of 26. Croom recruited Georgia for Alabama during the nine years he was a Crimson Tide assistant.

"I've been all over the state of Georgia," he said. "I've got a great deal of respect for the coaches in that state. It's a great, great atmosphere for high school football in that state. Georgia high school football is some of the best in the country."

Richt agrees with Croom's assessment that there are too many good players in Georgia for the in-state schools to sign them all. That was particularly true last season, when Georgia could bring in a class of just 19 new players.

"I wish we could keep them all in the state," Richt said. "Last year was an especially small class for us so a bunch of them got away."

Croom built his coaching staff with recruiting in mind, he said.

"I wanted guys who had coached in this area and knew about the high school players throughout this area, particularly in Georgia," he said. "Everyone in the conference recruits Georgia."

Three Bulldog starters are Georgia natives -- offensive lineman James Redmond, free safety Jeramie Johnson and defensive end Michael Heard. The easy access to Atlanta via the interstate system or through Hartsfield-Jackson airport is another factor in Mississippi State's successful recruiting in the state, Croom said.

"It's very easy for us to get players in and out of there," he said. "We will continue to recruit Georgia very hard."

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