Pickin' from the Peach State

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In-state talent is the lifeblood of any college program, regardless of sport. Being able to hop in the car and go see a prospect and get back to campus without having to refill the gas tank is a valuable commodity for a recruiter.

Recent history has shown that while the State of Tennessee does produce a double-digit number of Div. I prospects each year, it doesn't turn out enough to keep the Tennessee Volunteers competing for Southeastern Conference and national championships.

Heading south on I-75 to Georgia looking for prospects has proven to be a valuable commodity for the Vols for several years.

The thing about it is that UT coaches aren't the only ones dipping into the well.

"There's a lot of players in the state of Georgia," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who went to high school in Athens, Ga. "It's an important state for us in recruiting, but it's an important state for about five other schools in recruiting who are close by. You look in there and not only do you have the home state who depends on all that talent that are going to make up probably 80-90 percent of their class, but then you have Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Clemson and South Carolina who are really closer to Georgia than Tennessee."

The current roster contains 19 Peach State natives. That number is likely to increase in 2012 with five Georgia natives committed already.

Recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph broke down his logic for tapping Georgia's talent tree.

"It's close first of all and they have a lot of great players and I think they have enough to go around for everybody," the second-year UT coach said. "There's just so many schools there so you can get bang for your buck when you send coaches in there. I think over the years, if you go back to the history of Tennessee, when we were playing pretty good ball here we had a roster loaded with some Georgia guys."

Indeed. The 1998 National Championship team leaned on starters like safety Deon Grant (Augusta), Cosey Coleman (Clarkston) and Mercedes Hamilton (Waynesboro).

The area in and around Atlanta on north is a region Dooley, Joseph and Co. are mining.

"A negative of Atlanta is it's overrecruited because everybody can get a direct flight there and recruit there," Joseph said. "As far as per capita number of players, who are major, major DI guys, you're probably not going to find anywhere else than Atlanta."

Regardless of the competition, the Vols have gotten verbals from three-star prospects Keithon Redding (Decatur), Justin King (Dunwoody), Khalid Henderson (Mableton) and Imani Cross (Gainesville). Four-star wide receiver Jason Croom resides in Norcross.

"Guys in Georgia like playing in the SEC. There's only one SEC school in Georgia. So, the rest of us can dip in there and get guys who are attractive to us as players. But, we're going to go in there and we'll fight with the rest of them," Joseph said.

"Probably one of the biggest draws is coach Dooley's name and ties to the state. We're going to be there but proximity obviously is No. 1."

Tennessee's current two-deep contains its fair share of Georgia products: cornerback Justin Coleman, wide receiver Vincent Dallas, right tackle JaWuan James, linebacker A.J. Johnson, wide receiver Rajion Neal, tailback Tauren Poole, safety Brian Randolph, wide receiver Da' Rick Rogers and linebacker Dontavis Sapp.

Those guys will get a chance to show the Georgia Bulldogs what they missed out on this weekend.

"Obviously it's a commercial for our program playing primetime on ESPN," Joseph said. "As far as recruiting, a lot of guys from the state of Georgia who we are recruiting will be here. It's good to put a good product out there and show them what we're about here at the University of Tennessee. At the end of the day, recruiting is a long process and we're still a good ways away from signing day."

The recruiting section behind the north end zone is sure to be full of official and unofficial visitors from the Peach State, including five-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton). Also expected to attend are Henderson, Redding, Kenderious Whitehead (Lithonia), Isaac Rochell (McDonough) and Keyante Green (McDonough).

The atmosphere for a night game in a football town like Knoxville is sure to be on the crazy side, especially if Tennessee is able to pull off the upset. Joseph isn't so confident that the victor will have much of an upper hand in gaining the signature of recruits.

"If Signing Day was Oct. 21, it would have huge, huge importance. But, it's not," he said. "So, I think in the next month or two months after the game it's not really a big deal what happens on Saturday because when we get down to February, it kind of wears off a little bit. Whoever wins the game and plays well is going to use it in recruiting the next month, two months.

"At the end of the day, for an official visit, nobody I don't think is going to bring up who won this game. I think it wears off over time."

We shall see. The SEC Eastern Division rivals kick off at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night at 7 (TV: ESPN2).

Linebacker A.J. Johnson, a native of Gainesville, Ga., was one of the jewels of Tennessee's 2011 recruiting class.


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