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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Bobo targets the 229

By Radi Nabulsi

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can often be heard shouting across the practice fields in an accent that could be described as a southern drawl. Detractors -- and Bobo’s success on the recruiting trail has earned him many -- would describe his voice as “backwoods” or “countrified,” maybe even “hillbilly.”

But that country-boy swagger rings true to his roots and is the language Bobo’s recruiting targets speak. If it isn’t their first language, it is their second and they slip into it like a favorite baseball cap when Bobo talks to them.

You can’t fake country. The heat and hard work exposes fakery and affectations. Outsiders don’t understand it and fail when they talk down to prospects in South Georgia, thinking that provincial equates to stupid. South Georgia is a region of pride, money and success, and navigating it requires more than just a firm handshake and eye contact. If you want to be successful in an area that produces nationally coveted recruits every year, a smart coach needs integrity, authenticity and time.

Bobo knows this. He walks the walk so to speak and as his success in South Georgia grows, so to does the Bulldogs' fortunes. Bobo, who played quarterback for Georgia from 1994-97, has planted his flag in the heart of the 229 area code and is fighting off the likes of Florida, Alabama, Auburn and Florida State. In fact, he has created a Twitter hashtag, #229Takeover, which demonstrates his goal of keeping those prospects in-state.

Mike Bobo
Mike Bobo's southern Georgia roots have been big for the Bulldogs in recruiting the talent-rich 229 area code.
In his 13 years as a Georgia coach, four as a player and two as a graduate assistant, Bobo has seen firsthand the impact of South Georgia playmakers. A native of Thomasville, Ga., a town mere minutes from the Georgia–Florida border, Bobo left his own mark on Bulldogs record books and still holds three passing records. The 2013 Bulldogs’ team will also rely on some southern talent.

Malcolm Mitchell is Georgia’s top receiver and arguably its best cornerback. Jay Rome, the son of the legendary Stan Rome, is poised to have a breakout year at tight end, as is wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley. Xzavier Ward is listed ahead of John Theus at right tackle since Theus was injured in the spring, but Ward has earned playing time after bulking up from his freshman season. Ray Drew is expected to play often at defensive end. Josh Harvey-Clemons is listed as the starting strong safety. The list goes on.

With that type of production in mind, Bobo was after more southern standouts for the Class of 2014. Last Thursday he was able to throw out his #229takeover hashtag after picking up a commitment from ESPN 150 athlete Malkom Parrish (Quitman, Ga./Brooks County). The 5-foot-10, 185-pound rising senior will play cornerback for Georgia and has already been compared to former Georgia superstar Brandon Boykin, who is lighting it up for the Philadelphia Eagles. Parrish had offers from all over the south but chose the Bulldogs, giving Georgia its first commit from a top-10 player in the Peach State.

Parrish was part of Georiga’s trifecta last week, as the Bulldogs picked up commits from Parrish, ESPN 150 running back Nick Chubb and ESPN 300 quarterback Jacob Park in a span of four days. While Chubb and Park aren't from the 229 so to speak, Bobo will take it.

And he isn’t stopping there. Class of 2015 defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (Albany, Ga./Westover) was in Athens on June 8, camping at the school that gave him his first offer. When Thompson left, he had Georgia as his top school.

Named TitleTown USA by ESPN, Valdosta is one of the main cities in the 229 area code and home of some of the state’s best players over the years. Valdosta High School head coach Rance Gillespie has seen Bobo in action and was there when Mitchell and Rome were being recruited.

“Mike has a gift with people, period,” Gillespie said. “That is the most important part in recruiting -- the ability to relate to kids. The first thing the kids want after the get past the big logos is to get comfortable with the people. I think Mike has the ability to relate and get a feel for a kid in a short conversation. Mike works at it. There are few coordinators that have an area as big as his. He grew up here and can draw on stories from the area and the people he know here.”

So can one of his main rivals. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is from Bainbridge, Ga., right in the heart of the 229, and he winds up often battling Bobo head-to-head over prospects -- getting his fair share. With such a tough competitor, Bobo knows he can’t take the area for granted.

“Mike is genuine and with his dad being a head coach all those years, he can come in and relate to the coaches and you can’t say that about everybody that comes in your door,” Gillespie said. “So no matter how big he gets and what honors come his way, he is still down to earth, and that goes a long way.”