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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Texas branching out, recruiting in Georgia

By William Wilkerson

AUSTIN, Texas -- There has never been a football player from the state of Georgia that started his college career as a Longhorn. At least not dating back to 1947, which is the first year Texas started keeping track of its players’ hometowns on its official website.

The list of players from Georgia who transferred in isn’t much bigger -- you can count them on one hand with a few fingers to spare -- making former Longhorns punter Greg Johnson part of a very small fraternity.

Andrew Williams
Four-star defensive end Andrew Williams, who has offers from across the country, wants to visit Texas this summer.
Johnson, who grew up in Lilburn, Ga., transferred to Texas from Vanderbilt in 2003. He had the opportunity to go to an array of national powers but chose the Longhorns in part because of the weather in Austin and the opportunity to be one of the few non-Texans on a roster dominated by them.

“As you know, 95 percent of the roster is Texas kids,” said Johnson, who also considered Texas A&M, Ohio State, Kansas State and Notre Dame. “To have the opportunity to go to a school like that, or an Ohio State. Unless you live in Ohio, or if you live in Texas, it’s really hard to go to those schools. So part of the achievement of being one of the guys not from Texas definitely appealed to me there.”

Whatever the reason might be for a prospect from Georgia to come to Texas, the Longhorns coaching staff is hoping that it’ll be enough to get them to join Johnson’s fraternity.

This year, more so than any other in coach Mack Brown’s tenure at Texas, the Longhorns are pursuing commitments from Georgia recruits.

To date, Texas has offered eight 2014 Georgia recruits: Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, GA./Norcross), Andrew Williams (McDonough, GA/Eagles Landing Christian Academy) Elisha Shaw (Tucker, GA/Tucker), Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, GA/Liberty County) Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, GA/Peachtree Ridge), Nick Chubb (Cedartown, GA/Cedartown), Adam Choice (Thomasville, GA/Thomas County Central High) and Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, GA/Sandy Creek).

The Longhorns might be a longshot with some of them, but they figure they’ve got more of a chance now than in the past with the ties offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who grew up in Georgia and coached in Georgia. Plus, Brown is making a concerted effort to take more chances with out-of-state recruits.

Searels, who grew up in Trion, Ga., played in the SEC and coached LSU’s offensive line from 2003-06, spent 2007 to 2009 as Georgia’s offensive line coach and was the Bulldogs’ running game coordinator and offensive line coach in 2010.

His expertise in Georgia didn’t shine through during his first three seasons in Baton Rouge, La., when the Tigers signed 67 recruits with none coming from his home state. In his final season, however, LSU signed three from the Peach State.

It was a completely different story in his four years at Georgia, when 56 of the Bulldogs’ 89 signees (62.9 percent) came from inside the state.

For as great as those numbers might have been for Searels at the time, it gives a troubling look at the kind of uphill battle he is facing now. Georgia prospects like to play for Georgia. The prestige of the SEC is pretty appealing, too.

In the 2013 class, the SEC signed 349 players to football scholarships with 57 (16.3 percent) coming from Georgia. The Bulldogs were the biggest supplier of those signees with 18, followed by South Carolina and Vanderbilt with seven apiece and Florida with six.

A&M and Kentucky were the only schools to not sign a Georgia recruit, while Missouri, Mississippi State and Arkansas each signed one.

Jonathan Gess, the coach of Texas target Williams at McDonough (Ga.) Eagles Landing Christian Academy, knows what kind of challenge the Longhorns are facing.

“I think it’s really tough because in Georgia you’ve got a stronghold from schools like Clemson, South Carolina, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Ole Miss even,” he said. “There are a lot of schools that already recruit Georgia kids really hard.”

Not to mention those programs from that sometimes forgotten power conference, the ACC, which signed 237 signees in 2013. Thirty one (13.08 percent) were from Georgia.

Granted, the SEC didn’t pursue many of those players, nor were they sought by Texas. But programs like Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech recruit Georgia well. The Tigers signed five in 2013, while the Yellow Jackets signed eight.

“You are also dealing with the ACC,” Gess said. “The two best schools that recruit here are Clemson and Florida State. Florida State is three hours from us, and Clemson is two hours from us. You’ve got the SEC schools, sure. But then you’ve got the best-recruiting ACC schools that have a lot of intrigue here.”

The state of Texas isn’t exactly synonymous with attracting players from Georgia either, though there are a few in-state schools with Georgia prospects on their roster.

Baylor has three players, including K.J. Morton, a two-year letterman at safety who made 32 tackles a season ago. TCU has four, including Jordan Moore, the No. 15-ranked safety in 2012. Texas A&M has a place-kicker and a special teams player, while Texas Tech doesn’t have anyone from Georgia.

All of that aside, Texas isn’t exactly walking into quicksand here. But the Horns must get recruits on campus to have a chance, according to Gess.

“I think the University of Texas has that star appeal,” he said. “I’ve always heard it is an amazing college atmosphere. I definitely think they are like Notre Dame. They can recruit nationwide. It’s just a matter of, can you get those kids out there? It’s the same thing for Notre Dame. If they can get a kid to campus they can recruit the kid. That’s the big question, how do you get them out there.”

Adam Choice
Four-star running back Adam Choice said he grew up a fan of Texas despite living in the heart of SEC country.
Summer camps are one option. Another possibility is official visits, which are paid for by the school. There’s a good chance a few Georgia recruits are exploring those options.

Choice, the No. 26 running back in the nation, surprisingly said he grew up a Longhorns fan. He, for one, isn’t concerned with conference appeal.

“I don’t have a preference what conference I play in, but having offers from the SEC is an honor,” he said. “I am just grateful for every offer. I can’t complain about anything.”

It could be a little bit tougher to pull Williams away from the southeast, but he’s at least appreciative of Texas' sales pitch and will likely take a visit.

“Oh absolutely, Coach Searels came by on [April 25],” Williams said. “We couldn’t talk very much but it was great seeing him and coach [Oscar] Giles. They told me, which really surprised me, that I was their No. 1 DE. It didn’t register with me. Texas has a lot of great athletes. Our relationship has grown a lot this year so that was great.”

Effort means a lot to recruits nowadays. They want to feel wanted.

When Searels arrived in Austin from Georgia, one of the first things he did was call current Bulldogs offensive lineman John Theus, who was being recruited at the time, to let him know of the move. At the very least it got Theus to consider a visit to Texas.

It’s having a similar affect on Williams.

“Absolutely that is huge,” he said. “The fact that they came all the way to Georgia to tell me I was their No. 1 defensive end really speaks volumes. Texas is definitely one of the schools that I want to visit this summer.”

Who knows, maybe it will end up in a commitment. Maybe it won’t.

Johnson is anxious to have some more Georgia players join the small fraternity at Texas.

“The door is open,” he said.