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Post What’s with all of the Sunshine State commitments?

Monday June 22, 2009

With the recent announcement of three verbal commitments from the Jacksonville area, Georgia’s recruiting success in the state of Florida is getting some notice. They’re not just finding recruiting success in Jacksonville; the incoming Bulldog class contains three high-profile prospects from further down the peninsula, and two more from the Orlando area have pledged to sign in 2010.

Is it the Georgia-Florida game’s proximity to Jacksonville? Proponents of keeping the game in Jacksonville (of which I am one) sometimes claim that a game in the area helps the program stay on the mind of prospects and high schools in south Georgia and north Florida. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. As the Times-Union points out, these three recent commitments are more than Georgia’s landed from the Jacksonville area in seven years (Chapas and Evans). Besides, it’s not as if the WLOCP has been the best advertisement for Georgia football lately.

There’s a simpler explanation.

“You look at Georgia’s staff, and they have strong connections here,” Sullivan said. “Assistant coach John Lilly was at Florida State for 13 years, so he’s recruited here for a long time. Coach Stacy Searels recruited this area when he was at Auburn. Their recruiting coordinator, Rodney Gardner, also has strong ties here.”

That’s just the start. Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez grew up in, played college football in, and coached in the state. Even John Jancek has coaching experience in Florida and was just this year offered the chance to join the Univ. of South Florida staff. Lilly wasn’t only an assistant at FSU; he also served as recruiting coordinator with impressive results.

Under Lilly’s direction, four of FSU’s recruiting classes between 2002 and 2007 were ranked in the top four in the nation. The Seminoles’ 2001 and 2005 classes were ranked number one nationally in some polls.

There have also been shifts in the college football landscape. Those of us with a little gray in our hair likely have a much different perspective about the in-state choices for the Florida prospects. They weren’t alive during Miami’s glory years in the 1980s. Current recruits were in the second grade when Steve Spurrier won his last SEC title and FSU last finished in the AP top 10. Urban Meyer has guaranteed Florida’s relevance for the near future, but what about the other programs?

Since the arrival of Mark Richt (and the third grade for current prospects), Georgia has won 10 more games than Miami and 15 more games than FSU. Since these recruits entered high school in the fall of 2006, FSU has gone just 23-16. Miami is just 19-19. Georgia is 30-9. South Florida, Wake Forest, and even troubled programs like Michigan, Tennessee, and Auburn have won more games than FSU and Miami during the high school careers of the current class of rising high school seniors. Certainly most of these recruits aren’t without a sense of history, and they’re not oblivious to the legacies of success at FSU and Miami, but those schools’ relative performance during these formative years has opened the door not only for in-state competition at Florida but also for schools like Georgia.

It’s natural that some will question whether too much emphasis is being placed on out-of-state prospects especially after so much talk about “closing the borders” earlier in Richt’s career. But offering top out-of-state targets early is a pretty common tactic, and sometimes you have to go where the talent is if a certain position is a little soft in the home state. Both Florida and Georgia currently have five out-of-state commitments (though Florida has six more pledges overall). Make no mistake – Georgia’s top in-state prospects know who they are and are getting plenty of attention from the staff.

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