Florida, Texas and California have well-deserved reputations for producing superior football prospects. They are challenged, however, by the most underrated talent-producing state in America … one that has provided dozens of Tennessee Vols through the years.
Scout national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg recently posted an illuminating article noting that the Metro-Atlanta area produced more 2015 NFL draftees (20) than any other segment of the country. South Florida was second with 17. Moreover, Newberg’s research showed that Georgia ranked second among all states with 30 NFL draftees. That was even more than Texas (28) and California (26). The only state to crank out more 2015 draftees was Florida (39).
This should come as no surprise to Vol fans who follow recruiting, however. Tennessee’s 30-man 2015 signing class includes eight Georgians – Andrew Butcher and Quart’e Sapp (Alpharetta), Austin Smith (Buford), Alvin Kamara (Norcross), Micah Abernathy (Atlanta), Venzell Boulware (Union City), Quay Picou (Sugar Hill) and Preston Williams (Hampton).
Head coach Butch Jones recently conceded that Georgia is a “very big” key in Tennessee’s recruiting strategy, adding: “And it should be. We obviously talk about the state of Tennessee (as recruiting priority No. 1) but we treat Atlanta, we treat Georgia, as another home territory for us.
“When you look at proximity, when you look at our alumni base here, when you look at all of it, it (Georgia) is very, very big. If you look at the history of Tennessee football, there have been tremendous players from the entire state of Georgia.”
He got that right. Cherry-picking in the Peach State is no recent development for the Big Orange. Tennessee owes much of its gridiron success to Georgia natives.
For instance, the Vols’ 1998 national championship team featured more starters from Georgia (six) than any other state. They were running back Jamal Lewis (Atlanta), right guard Cosey Coleman (Clarkston), left guard Mercedes Hamilton (Waynesboro), cornerback Steve Johnson (Powder Springs), plus safeties Deon Grant (Augusta) and Fred White (Griffin). Lewis, Coleman and Grant went on to distinguish themselves in the NFL.
Georgia also produced such gifted offensive players as All-America guard Bill Mayo and All-America kicker Ricky Townsend (Dalton), All-America guard/center Chip Kell (Decatur), All-America tackle Antone Davis (Fort Valley), All-America receiver/kick returner Willie Gault (Griffin), three-year starting guard Anthony Parker (Jonesboro), two-time All-SEC center and first-round draft pick Robert Shaw (Marietta), three-year starting tackle Chris Scott (Riverdale), three-year starting quarterback Bobby Scott (Rossville), three-year starting quarterback Dewey Warren (Savannah), four-year starting tackle and first-round draft pick Ja’Wuan James (Suwanee) and three-year starting guard/center Jason Respert (Warner Robins).
Tennessee also has received vital contributions from defensive studs who played their high school ball in the Peach State. These include pass-rushing whiz and NFL standout Chuck Smith (Athens), linebacker and all-time tackles leader Andy Spiva (Chamblee), two-time All-America safety Eric Berry (Fairburn), star linebacker and first-round draft pick Alvin Toles (Forsyth), three-year starting linebacker/end Ben Talley (Griffin) and four-year starting defensive back Terry Brown (Macon).
|Joshua Dobbs figures to be a difference-maker on Team 119's roster.|
The Big Orange has endured some lean years lately but they would’ve been a lot leaner if not a tackling machine at middle linebacker named A.J. Johnson, a native of Gainesville, Georgia. All he did was record consecutive 100-tackle seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He hit the milestone in ’14 despite missing the season’s final three games.
Counting a 2012 season reduced to three games by injury, Georgia native Brian Randolph ( Marietta) already is a four-year starter at safety heading into his redshirt senior year of 2015. He ranked third among all Vol tacklers last fall with 88 stops.
Tennessee’s finest defensive back is another Peach State product. Cameron Sutton (Jonesboro) has started all 25 games the Vols have played since he walked on campus two years ago. He projects to be an All-America candidate as a junior in the season ahead. He also doubles as the No. 1 punt-return specialist.
The Vols’ hopes for a big year in 2015 hinge in large part on the performance of two Peach State offensive players — quarterback Joshua Dobbs (Alpharetta) and running back Kamara (Norcross). Dobbs is a preseason All-SEC pick and Kamara is being touted as the league’s newcomer of the year.
Looking ahead, Tennessee already has a Georgian committed for its 2016 signing class in defensive end Chidi Okonya (Riverdale). He hasn't played a down of college ball yet but, based on Tennessee’s history with Peach State products, you’ve got to like his chances.