Following the Central Gwinnett spring game on Thursday, the No. 55-ranked Thomas released his top five of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame.
More than 30 offers came in fast in recent months, but dissecting verbal offers from programs that are making the most effort was key for Thomas.
“I’ve got a lot of offers, but not every team was showing a lot of interest in me even though they offered me,” he said. “The teams that offered me that I talked to the head coach, talked to the defensive coordinator and got to know the linebackers coach were seriously considered.”
At the end of the day, that led Thomas, an Under Armour All-America selection, to an SEC-heavy top five. Here were his thoughts on each of his five finalists:
Alabama: "[Defensive coordinator] Coach [Kirby] Smart and I have a good relationship now. They see me as a great fit in the defense. They see me playing 3-4 inside linebacker and a 4-3 SAM linebacker."
Florida: "Florida still sees me as a hybrid linebacker [who] can play any position. I like the coaching staff."
Georgia: "[Defensive coordinator] Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt sees me as one of those linebackers [who] he had at Florida State last year because I’m athletic and long."
LSU: "LSU likes me as a 4-3 multiple linebacker [who] can play anywhere."
Notre Dame: "[Defensive coordinator] Coach [Brian] VanGorder and I have a good relationship now, too. He sees me as a ‘SAM’ in his scheme."
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Thomas still wants to take a closer look at the five schools remaining on his list, as a final decision is just 10 weeks away.
“I’m going to ND June 20, Florida and Georgia again. [I'll visit] LSU sometime in July and Alabama again in June. I’m going to announce my decision August 1. I want to get it out of the way before my season starts," Thomas said.
UCLA, Oregon and Oklahoma were on the list that just missed the cut. Thomas said the Sooners staff was very impressive.
Since last September, Smith has quickly ascended to the cream of the crop in the Class of 2015 and is now ranked No. 32 in the ESPN 300.
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound playmaker with strong instincts and athleticism has more than 30 offers to date, but he is still trying to slow down a fast-moving process.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” Smith said. “I’m not letting [recruiting] get overwhelming."
A major key in Smith’s recruitment will happen this summer. The Under Armour All-America selection has designs on trimming his list by July, but he wants to step foot on several campuses to make sure about his final list.
“I’ll definitely be taking a few visits to places this summer," Smith said. "I know I’m going to be taking a visit to UCLA, hopefully USC, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida and Clemson. I’m probably going to get over to Auburn on [May] 31st. Alabama is trying to get over June 1. After I see every school I’m interested in, I plan on narrowing it down to six, if not five, around the first of July. I’m looking for a place I can feel at home at, a place I feel like I can be developed, great academics of course and a great family atmosphere."
One thing Smith is sure of is that two programs are recruiting him harder than anyone else.
“Georgia, man. They are coming after me hard," Smith said. "[Linebackers] Coach [Mike] Ekeler is a great guy, man. I love his spirit, his energy and he attacks the day. They want me to come in to come in and compete. They lose two senior linebackers, so whoever comes in and competes and wins the job will get on the field.
“With Florida, Coach [D.J.] Durkin is a great guy. Coach [Will] Muschamp is a defensive head coach. They have had a top-10 defense since Coach Muschamp has been there, so I know they will play great defense."
Smith plans to major in sports management and minor in business.
Defensive tackle prospect David Marshall hasn’t received the early fanfare of other 2016 prospects in Georgia, but that is about to change.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive lineman and tight end has made Upson-Lee High a popular spring stop for college coaches, with a handful of offers in the books.
“I have five offers: Ole Miss, Auburn, North Carolina, Louisville and Mississippi State,” Marshall said.
While it’s early in the recruiting process for the soon-to-be junior, the SEC champion Tigers have quickly jumped to the front of the pack.
“Auburn, they have a big lead," Marshall said. "They show love. I love the campus, and it feels like home. I went there for the spring game and another time. I talk to coach Rodney Garner almost every day. He likes me because I run to the ball and use my hands."
For in-state program Georgia, the chance to close the gap will come in June.
“I’m going to be going to Georgia soon (for a June 12 camp)," he said. "I’m probably going to Auburn in a couple of weeks (Big Cat Weekend), too."
Marshall lists Georgia, Clemson and Georgia Tech as schools close to offering and Alabama as the one school he hopes offers. Auburn and Alabama are the programs he has followed the most in recent seasons.
On the field, Marshall finished his sophomore season with 57 tackles and 20 sacks, earning all-region honors. He also found success on the hardwood, averaging nearly 20 points and 12 rebounds per game.
E.J. Price is quickly becoming one of the top prospects nationally in the 2016 class.
While the 6-foot-6, 270-pound offensive tackle has only played one season of high school football, his high-ceiling potential has led to more than 20 schools verbally offering.
In May alone, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, native, who now lives outside Atlanta, has been offered by SEC powers Florida, Texas A&M and Alabama. Clemson threw its hat in the ring on the last day of April.
“It’s been a great spring,” Price said. “A lot of coaches have been out to see us this spring. We are looking good this year, and I’m just working hard in the weight room. Of course, I have had some big-time schools come offer me like Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, Florida State and a lot of others. I’m appreciative for all my offers and am keeping my options open."
This summer will be a big one for Price as he sees a number of universities for the first time.
“Our whole O-line will be going to Georgia for camp (June 12)," Price said. "I plan on going to Auburn this summer, maybe Florida and some of the schools that are closer to the area. I may try to get up to Ohio State or Michigan because I have family back home in Michigan. I want to see schools for the first time."
While Price now lives more than 700 miles from Ann Arbor, the home state's influence is still strong.
“I grew up a big Michigan fan, and I’m still a big Michigan fan and root for the Maize and Blue," Price said. "But as far as my college options, I’m keeping them open. Of course, Michigan is up there for me."