"In the past, Peach County sent kids to Florida, they sent kids all over," Perry head coach Andy Scott said. "There have been kids come out of Middle Georgia and go to Nebraska and Michigan and Middle Tennessee. I just think more of them are going to Georgia now."
The Bulldogs signed 12 Middle Georgia products in Mark Richt's first four signing class and should bump that number up to 16 today. Dewberry, offensive lineman Ben Harden, who played for Scott at Perry, Stratford defensive lineman Michael Lemon and Houston County safety Quintin Banks all have made verbal commitments to Georgia. Today is National Signing Day, the first time they can make those commitments official.
Although Georgia had most of its recruiting class finished a month ago, there still is some excitement left heading into the final day. New Jersey running back Knowshon Moreno and Atlanta safety Reshad Jones, two of the best players in the country, both are believed to be favoring the Bulldogs and will announce their decisions today.
"Last year there was absolutely no one we were expecting to say anything on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. I mean it was done," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "This year, there are still a few guys out there. I guess that adds a little drama and excitement. Hopefully, it'll be a positive thing in the end."
Woodstock linebacker Danny Carmichael, Lilburn running back Cam Smith and Carver's Bay, S.C., offensive lineman Clifton Geathers all have expressed an interest in the Bulldogs and could sign today, although all three are longshots.
Georgia currently has 25 verbal commitments (Lilburn offensive lineman Greg Billinger has been taken off Georgia's commitment list and is now committed to Vanderbilt, according to Scout.com.) The Bulldogs can bring in 28 new players in August but could sign more than that today to guard against academic casualties.
All of Georgia's new Middle Georgia products have been committed since October.
"I don't think there will ever be a year where there are not some Division I ball players coming out of there," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I think the coaching is good. I think the kids are not a whole different than anywhere else in the state. In any given year, you'll have more than others."
Tight ends coach David Johnson recruits Middle Georgia for the Bulldogs.
"As soon as I met Coach Johnson and Coach Richt and (defensive coordinator Willie) Martinez, there was an instant comfort zone," Banks said. "It was like they were already my coaches."
That comfort level didn't always exist at some places with Georgia's previous staff, Scott said. When Scott was an assistant coach at Coffee County, he tried to get Georgia to sign offensive lineman Danny Lindsey. Scott had a relationship with some coaches on Jim Donnan's staff from his time as a graduate assistant at Middle Tennessee State and also knew then-Georgia assistant Doug Marrone, who was related by marriage to Coffee County's head coach.
"So we took (Lindsey) to camp down there," Scott said. "He was a half inch shorter than Russ Tanner, he was a good 15 pounds heavier, a good half second quicker on his 40-yard dash time. He was quicker, stronger, everything than Russ Tanner, and they said they were going to sign Russ because he was taller. At that point, I just laughed and said, ‘Y'all aren't looking for football players.' You have to build relationships, and one thing David Johnson has done is he's developed relationships here."
(Tanner made a verbal commitment to Georgia before Donnan's firing, and then became a member of Richt's first signing class. Lindsey went on to be a starter for Auburn.)
The Bulldogs didn't lock up Middle Georgia, or Peach County for that matter, this season. Trojan standout Antonio Henton, a quarterback, is expected to sign with Ohio State, and teammate Chris Slaughter is committed to Auburn. Baldwin County offensive lineman Maurice Hurt already has enrolled at Florida, and Twiggs County running back Joe Joe Cox is set to sign with Clemson.
Still, it's clear Georgia has as firm a grip on Middle Georgia as it has had in years.
"Every dealing I've ever had with Coach Johnson and Coach Richt, they've been real honest with us and up front," Houston County coach Doug Johnson said. "That makes a big difference for us."