Why does Tennessee recruit so well in Georgia?
That’s a good topic with UGA squaring off with Tennessee on Saturday in an SEC East showdown that has heavy recruiting implications.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones needs another haul from the state of Georgia like the 1997 class which boasted the 1998 BCS National Champions in Knoxville. Former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer and his staff raided Georgia for an elite tailback (Jamal Lewis), offensive lineman (Cosey Coleman) and defensive back (Deon Grant) who all had great success for the Volunteers.
There’s the chance for Tennessee to have epic recruiting success in Georgia this year. The Volunteers are among the favorites for 4-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown (Buford, Ga.), 4-star athlete Marquez Callaway (Warner Robins, Ga.), 5-star receiver Kyle Davis (Lawrenceville, Ga.), 5-star athlete Mecole Hardman, Jr. (Elberton, Ga.), 4-star OL E.J. Price (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and 4-star legacy DB Nigel Warrior (Suwanne, Ga.), among others.
The Volunteers already have a commitment from Riverdale 4-star defensive end Chidi Okonya. He’s the No. 24 player in Georgia this year. Can Tennessee snatch away a few more with a staff that features two former UGA assistants?
Here are five reasons why Tennessee recruits so well in Georgia:
Necessity: Tennessee doesn’t have the population to sustain a Top 10 program based on the players within its borders alone. That was evident back when Johnny Majors was roaming the sidelines at Neyland Stadium. When the Volunteers have been at their best over the last 25 years, the starting lineup has had cherry-picked players from other Southern states like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Proximity: If Mom and Dad want to see their blue-chipper play, then a road trip to Tennessee can be managed 6-7 weekends every fall. The metropolitan area of Atlanta is located around three hours from Knoxville.
Fertile territory — The state of Georgia’s recruiting haul is only surpassed by California, Florida and Texas these days. Just check out the NFL rosters this fall. Atlanta’s status as one of the largest population centers in the South is a big reason for that. The 2016 class provides a perfect means to compare the talent in each state. Each one of those six Peach State targets listed above would be the highest-rated player in Tennessee this year. There’s a few more than that, too. There are 17 players in the state of the Georgia this year who would qualify as the top-rated player in Tennessee.
Opportunity — UGA coach Mark Richt has made the point over the years that his program can’t sign them all. They can only hope to sign the best, but depth chart issues and playing time opportunities sometimes line up better at other programs. The 2016 class also illustrates that point well in terms of comparing the depth of talent from each state. There are seven 4-star prospects in Tennessee. There are 26 of those guys in Georgia this year. Georgia also has Tennessee outnumbered in the amount of prospects who have been rated at the 3-star level and above by a 179-50 margin.
Tradition — Tennessee, by anyone’s definition, is a big-time program that does it right on Saturdays. There’s that cramped 102,000-seat seat stadium that’s well-known across the South, the jam-packed concourses along with all the school’s traditions like running out of the T, the Volunteer Navy and that unforgettable fight song. If the Volunteers can get a big-time recruit on campus, the atmosphere won’t let them down. Tennessee does it right. Peyton Manning played there for four years and that’s instant credibility for any recruit wondering if an elite player can reach his NFL goals from Knoxville.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.